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Shedding Human Resources Systems

October 21, 2010
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Air Force Personnel Center is transferring virtually all human resources-related information technology responsibilities to the Defense Information Systems Agency, becoming a customer rather than a human resources systems owner, according to Robert Berger, deputy director, Personnel Data Systems at Air Force Personnel Center. The service is migrating its Total Force Service Center to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) Defense Enterprise Computing Center, a fee-for-service organization providing processing capability, systems management, communications and data storage in a reliable and secure cloud-computing environment.

The Total Force Service Center is a virtual connection to Air Force Personnel Service centers in San Antonio and Denver. It provides seamless, continuous access to personnel information, services and tools through a central call-in telephone number, e-mail or the Internet. It serves regular Air Force, Air National Guard, Reserve, civilian and retiree personnel.

In January, the regular Air Force will complete the process of migrating human resources functions to the cloud environment. In May, the Air Force Reserves will do the same thing. Also next year, DISA will rehost the Air Force Personnel Data System, the system of record for human resources applications. While the service will retain responsibility for a few activities, for all practical purposes, it will be a DISA customer for human resources applications.

“Someone else develops the hardware and software and hosts the system. We are just a customer using the service,” Berger says. He adds that moving to DISA’s cloud environment makes sense for several reasons. For one thing, DISA offers greater redundancy than the Air Force’s own disaster recovery plan. “If, God forbid, disaster strikes at one DISA center, we would redirect work through another with little disruption for users. Before, we were really rolling the dice,” Berger asserts.

Over time, the Air Force may offer a wider range of Web-based services, such as access from mobile phones or from all domains rather than just from .mil domains. Those options, however, require greater security and authentication and will take time. Eventually, the service might also provide a chat function on its human resources portal.

The effort is a partnership between the Air Force, DISA and RightNow Technologies Inc., which provides software-as-service applications for the DISA cloud, applications designed to improve customer experiences. RightNow runs the software, while DISA owns and operates the infrastructure and network. The Air Force Personnel Center has used RightNow’s customer relationship management software since 2006.

By transferring ownership, the Air Force will also be able to make hardware and software upgrades that it can’t do at its own data centers, which operate on Windows 2000 while the rest of the world is on Vista and moving to Windows 7. In addition, the Air Force’s current Oracle platform will be unsustainable in four years, Berger explains. The Air Force will optimize services in the Vista environment before upgrading further to Windows 7. Because of necessary certification and verification processes, the military will always be a step behind the commercial world, according to Berger.

He describes the Air Force’s new way of doing business as “breaking glass,” and he says the service fully embraces the enterprise approach. Still, he warns that the transition will almost certainly face challenges. “You always take some risks any time you turn things over to someone else. There will be a few speed bumps that we’ll have to flatten,” Berger says. “To say we are breaking glass is an understatement.”