Network Operations Mandate Critical Considerations

July 2008
By Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., USAF (Ret.)

As information systems have shifted from analog to digital and to Internet protocol, network operations (NetOps) increasingly has become the all-important central element of an evolving network-centric operations (NCO) ecosystem. Today, successful NetOps enables better decision-making, improved customer support and more effective business operations.  It allows information access, sharing and collaboration among network users. But effective and efficient NetOps can only be achieved through a holistic management approach. Many organizations experience problems today by not addressing each of what I call the Five Pillars of Netcentricity.

The first pillar is communications infrastructure. In any complex network, enterprise architecture is essential for identifying the most effective hardware, software, applications, network services and transport elements needed for seamless global interoperability. Edge users demand ubiquitous access to information, which requires an integrated infrastructure based on the most globally interoperable network standards and protocols. NetOps forces an end-to-end view of the infrastructure and looks for second-order effects of outages and anomalies. Anything less rules out maximum operational effectiveness.

The second pillar comprises security, privacy and, on a grander scale, cybersecurity. As government, the economy and society become increasingly reliant on networked systems and the sharing of information, the greater the temptation for hackers, terrorists and other cybercriminals to threaten the Free World with weapons of mass disruption. In response, enterprise capabilities must include identity management, access control, data protection, document retention and security, risk and vulnerability management, and enterprise risk services. Only the right people should gain access to the information they need so they can use it for approved purposes.

The third pillar is information management. Information is the fuel that powers any organization, and it must be managed expertly to achieve maximum effectiveness for data integrity, information sharing, collaboration, enterprise resource planning and knowledge management. Information management also is a powerful tool for transforming an organization through change.

The fourth pillar encompasses organization and governance. Entities that benefit the most from NCO realize that improved organizational alignments and network discipline is an ongoing process. Organizations benefit from a flat, less hierarchical structure; policies and procedures that foster information sharing; and strict network configuration management.

The fifth pillar involves people and leadership. Technology is often the easiest part of the equation to tackle, while the bigger challenge is to change the way people think and act in a net-centric environment. In dealing with organizational culture, we must have strong, committed leadership; a collaborative, open environment that emphasizes sharing; the right people in the right jobs; and delegated responsibility, authority and accountability. NCO shifts the culture from “need to know” to “need to share” to “need to allow access.” It also gives people the information and authority to make decisions and take appropriate action. Talent and risk management also are key considerations in this area.

Today, many organizations are benefiting from the power of netcentricity and its controlling element—effective NetOps. By the very nature and vulnerability of modern information networks, we know that effective NetOps must be achieved throughout any organization from the corporate office all the way to the tactical edge users. Even with the growing realization of what NCO and NetOps can provide, chief information officers and other information network professionals are being asked to do more with less. The importance of NetOps continues to grow in the face of decreasing manpower and budgets, network consolidations and significant cybersecurity issues, even during wartime.

As a case in point, my son, Lt. Col. Chad Raduege, USAF, is a communications squadron commander in a mainstream Air Force combat unit. Because of increased mission responsibilities amid mandated manpower reductions over the past two years, Col. Raduege has consolidated various NetOps work centers into a more general “event management” operation with specialists trained in multiple disciplines. They provide 24-hour coverage including standby technicians at their homes with a workforce reduced by 35 percent while routinely deploying to and from combat support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The leadership and management challenges in such a setting are significant. However, successful NetOps are allowing Col. Raduege and others in the public and private sectors to succeed.

But how much added mission, reduced manning and slashed budgets can be sustained? Failure to coordinate governance decisions regarding the five pillars results in capability disconnects and disjointed operational effectiveness. Certainly there is a point of diminished returns where no more expansion and squeezing can be tolerated for effective NCO.

The Defense Department has consistently found that information networks must be controlled, managed and protected as effectively as weapon systems. Today we achieve more in government and industry by using NCO and the power of netcentricity. However, sterling results in any net-centric organization will be realized only through outstanding leadership and effective NetOps that integrate actions across the Five Pillars of Netcentricity.

Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., USAF (Ret.), is chairman of the DeloitteCenter for Network Innovation.