Air Force wrestling with how best to define an IT 'enterprise'

Thursday - 10/4/2012, 5:40am EDT

Jared Serbu, DoD reporter, Federal News Radio

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Cutting off locally-delivered technology services and moving them to an enterprisewide set of offerings is a top priority for the Air Force. But defining exactly what an IT enterprise looks like for an organization as big as a military service is proving to be a challenge.

The Air Force is in the midst of building an IT construct known as AFNET. At its core, it's about taking common technology functions that until now have been operated by individual commands around the world and delivering them as enterprise services for the entire Air Force. Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force's new chief information officer, has labeled it one of his top three tasks.

For organizations such as the Air Combat Command, that means making the transition from being an IT provider to being an IT consumer. And Brig. Gen. David Uhrich, the director of communications at ACC said it's tougher than it sounds.

"The first thing I'd like to know, is what the heck is the enterprise? Has anybody seen a definition of the core services the enterprise will provide? As a consumer, that makes me uncomfortable," he said during a panel discussion hosted by AFCEA D.C. earlier this week. "We're going to be a consumer of enterprise services, but we haven't gotten to the point where we're able to articulate and agree that these are the services the enterprise will provide and these are the services that you'll provide on your own."

Shifting capabilities

Uhrich said at his command, IT workers who are accustomed to providing services will shift their attention to building capabilities that are unique to Air Combat Command. The enterprise, he said, though it's not entirely defined, likely will include things such as email services, which the Air Force will run on its own for now, but might soon transition into the even larger Defense Department enterprise offered by the Defense Information Systems Agency. Uhrich also said functions such as the network infrastructure, data centers, cloud services and workflow management tools also expected to move from locally controlled to centrally-managed.

"The task management tool is out there in places, but when you think about enterprise, you don't want it in places, you want it everywhere and you want it in a consistent manner," he said. "Also, portals. We use portals for everything. Right now, we provide our own portals, and that needs to become an enterprise offering."

The Air Force's move from local IT services and toward an enterprisewide view comes as DoD is building a militarywide information enterprise on an even larger scale. The Joint Information Environment will be a years-long, iterative process, not a single program.

But Frank Konieczny, the chief technology officer in the Air Force CIO's office, said it means the Air Force and the other military services will have to learn to share.

"Sometimes it's very difficult for DoD people to share things, but with the budget situation that everybody's in and the Cyber Command emphasis on operational control and situational awareness, this is what's happening," he said. "For instance, a standard is going to come out and define enterprise data centers for JIE. Certain data centers around the world are going to be selected as candidates."

Konieczny said the long-term intent is to migrate all applications into those enterprise data centers, which will offer standardized platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, storage-as-a-service and backup and recovery capabilities.

Acquisitions are key to the effort

The Air Force and the other military services will need to start building and buying IT capabilities that are aligned to enterprise standards defined by the DoD CIO, and they're not expecting any new money to consolidate and simplify their networks. Uhrich said that will have to mean smart, realistic acquisitions.

"It's all about best value and balance. As the voice of the warfighter, I want 100 percent mission assurance, but the acquirer tells me I can't afford it," he said. "We have to do the best we can with what we have, and that's going to be the challenge between the consumer and the provider."

But that won't necessarily mean a rush toward low price technically-acceptable evaluation procedures for contracts, said Essye Miller, the director of information management at Air Force headquarters who is managing a large procurement to modernize the Air Force's IT infrastructure in the national capital region.

"Our intent is not to go solely toward LPTA, but we have to understand our requirements and the value that a capability brings," she said. "We have to find a balance though. If I see where the requirement is providing a basic capability and there's no differentiation, it makes sense to go low-price. We have to go with best value for the government, and it's going to be a struggle to find a balance. But I think we're at the point where we can't afford to buy the platinum version of everything anymore."

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