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Enterprise E-Mail and Collaboration Application for DoD?

E-mail and collaboration (E&C) is the most attractive first step that leads to the realization of DoD enterprise-wide systems. E&C features are generic. They are functionally identical for everyone. Creating a shared directory of addresses and implementing security is well understood. Implementing E&C, as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), offers huge cost reductions. For instance, Microsoft Office 365 offers cloud-based E&C for $288/seat/year. Google offers a wide range of E&C services plus applications for $50/seat/year.

The only comparable cost for a similar service is the Navy Marine Corps Internet (NMCI), which is primarily targeted for the handling of E&C. The projected replacement cost is $2.9 billion/year or $7,700 per seat. Though the services offered by the replacement are not strictly comparable with a SaaS solution, the gap between a cloud system and the Navy proposal is too large to be overlooked. The life-cycle cash flow difference is in tens of billions.

If DoD could standardize on a secure E&C cloud additional enterprise-wide efforts would follow. The question is whether DoD should implement E&C by upgrading the current Navy operated environment, or to embark on a totally new direction using SaaS that runs on a secure Internet.
 There has been already a good example of the successful migration of 80,000 GSA employees to the Google cloud. GSA simply disconnected from legacy e-mail and replaced it with a completely new low-risk service that delivers short-term net savings.

Army has now started moving its E&C to DISA. When attempting to take over DISA found that the existing network was polluted with inconsistencies. Local operators were acting as if they owned all applications by adding features and attachments. As an example, locations had improperly configured firewalls. Contractors applied unpatched software versions. Different circuit cards could not be synchronized. Consequently, local systems would not be interoperable when consolidated. Local variations had to be modified before systems could relocate into a unified environment. The Army conversion to an enterprise E&C has now been halted to clean up existing systems. The current choice is to migrate local versions to centrally administered server-farms.

Meanwhile, Congress has asked for an Army solution that would also fit Air Force, Navy and the Marines. That is an enormously demanding requirement, which calls for policy-level directions from the DoD CIO.

Standardizing e-mail for DoD includes a long list of add-ons such as application code security at NIPR and SIPR levels, provisions for archiving of all messages as well as assured back ups of transactions. All of these will have to be standardized, if enterprise system interoperability can deliver major cost reductions. Unfortunately, a wide variety of such add-ons are already code-embedded into the DoD servers and desktops. Existing systems are also integrated into Microsoft solutions where they would not qualify as an open source solution.

The effort to unify DoD e-mail has also run into integration problems for mobile devices. Interfacing with Android, Microsoft and Apple smart phones limits acquisition choices. Therefore, new policy-level directives will have to be issued that dictate which devices are allowed to connect to the network.
With rising pressure to reduce IT spending, there is an interest in considering centrally procured off-the-shelf commercial SaaS applications instead of proceeding with extremely expensive incremental migrations from the legacy environment.

Replacing all of the existing E&C with a single SaaS would accelerate the progression towards enterprise systems. Vendors would be able to compete for the lowest cost services without the hurdle of cross-platform conversion. Local modifications to support specific needs could be then bolted on by the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as long as open source application interfaces would be followed.

The critical issue in organizing enterprise e-mail and collaboration concerns the accountability for managing a shared computing environment for DoD. What is emerging is a shift of oversight from local CIOs to the operational accountability by the Cyber Command. Local CIOs could then concentrate on accelerating progress to catch up with commercial practices.

DISA is now proceeding with the implementation of the Army’s E&C. Progress is watched to see whether the 1992 goal of making DISA an enterprise services utility can be realized.

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