Advanced Technology Demonstration Illustrates Efficient Service Solutions

June 1999
By Maryann Lawlor
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Vendors focus on systems, applications interoperability to provide ideas for addressing common concerns.

A microcosm of the global information grid, the key to network-centric operations, will provide GovTechNet International ’99 attendees with a preview of the possibilities that military, government and industry cooperation will offer in the future. More than 20 companies and government organizations have joined forces to present an advanced technology demonstration designed to reveal how individual capabilities can convene in a single environment to offer end-users data and processes that help solve challenges.

The networked array will complement a technology-rich exhibit floor, featuring hundreds of applications and hands-on displays. Representatives from government agencies, military commands and commercial vendors will offer visitors the opportunity to discuss common concerns and explore operational solutions.

The advanced technology backbone (SIGNAL, May 1999, page 69) will host a multitude of applications. It will give convention attendees a chance to examine closely the benefits of operating in a common environment and understand how processes resulting from lessons learned in the commercial sector can improve procedures governmentwide. Industry and government officials agree that technology will allow both sectors to conduct business more efficiently, freeing up revenue to invest in future capabilities.

Bringing various applications to a central location is beneficial for the variety of customers who traditionally attend the convention because each attendee has a different set of requirements, according to John J. Garstka. He is the scientific and technical adviser to the Joint Staff directorate for command, control, communications and computers at the Pentagon.

Some applications address specific needs of the military, including visualization tools that provide a picture of the battlefield, electronic (e-) mail and virtual whiteboard capabilities that support command and control missions, and logistics programs that deliver in-transit visibility of assets. Combining these in one environment on a global scale enables the military to conduct enhanced mission planning, Garstka says. The advanced technology demonstration (ATD) at GovTechNet International ’99 will allow attendees to experience and explore the benefits of a coordinated environment on a smaller scale, while still providing an abundance of selections. In particular, military visitors will be able to see for themselves that vendors are serious about interoperability issues, he adds.

While commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, like many of those displayed at the convention, offer a multitude of solutions, Garstka believes government off-the-shelf products are still required or that some COTS offerings must be tailored to meet the specific needs of the government or military. What is more critical in this demonstration, however, is the opportunity it presents to military and government representatives to become aware of how industry is using technology to operate more efficiently. These techniques can then be incorporated into government initiatives, Garstka says.

“What’s happening is that tools are being developed for commercial use that can be used to solve the problems of the military and government. It’s a mindset issue. The same challenges that we face, the commercial world faces, and they are facing these challenges, and communications [technology] is solving them. Whether it’s two car dealerships or planners putting together an air operations order, they need to move the information, not the people,” he states.

“What information technology enables in commercial, military and government are new types of relationships, new organizations and new processes. It enables organizations and technology to coevolve,” Garstka adds.

The ATD backbone, while touting some impressive technologies, is really a means to showcase these end-user applications, according to Joshua R. Icore, field systems engineer, Secure Computing Corporation government division, Vienna, Virginia. “This demonstrates a ‘data tone’—like a dial tone you hear when you pick up a telephone. So you get a ‘data tone’ whenever opening up a computer, and all the data you need to do your job is available, correct and in the format you need. It’s not about the network anymore. It’s about what the network can do,” he explains.

Icore breaks down the information grid into three levels. Network management is the foundation and includes bandwidth shaping, congestion control, quality of service and fault tolerance. Network services is the next level and involves voice over Internet protocol (IP), voice over asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), video over IP and video over ATM. Security is also a part of this level and comprises items such as encryption, virtual private networks and firewalls. Enterprise management is the third level. In an organization, these technologies allow network administration to take place in a central location from the desktop. This helps determine how to manage information assets.

Above all these are what Icore calls the enablers—the applications infrastructure, including databases, data mining, World Wide Web servers, applications servers, video or audio streamers, video conferencing and remote or distance-learning technology. These were the “hot” applications one or two years ago, he says. This year, what’s hot is remote collaboration, intelligent information management classrooms that include interactive video distance learning and collaboration, virtual meeting rooms and, most of all, a common look and feel to services, but it has to be tailored to what the individual user wants, Icore maintains.

Requirements vary and depend on the end-user. For example, Icore offers that the Defense Department needs all the items related to information superiority; research efforts call for real-time collaboration capability; and the government requires programs to increase and improve service to the citizen.

Icore agrees with Garstka that vendor interoperability is one key point of the ATD. This testbed environment shows customers that they will not have to be tied to one vendor. However, he adds that all the necessary components for complete interoperability are not yet in place, but industry is moving closer to this goal.

“We want to show the technology of tomorrow—where you get the data and you don’t pay attention to how it works, just that it works. And you don’t care where the data is either. What you care about is a common feel to what the user sees based on the technology, which is vendor independent. Users get the equivalent of a phone, and it just works,” Icore says.

One ATD backbone participant, Cisco Systems Incorporated, Herndon, Virginia, is demonstrating the versatility that information technology can add to enterprise operations. Plans call for the company to display both IP television (IPTV) and IP telephony capabilities.

By using the network to provide both telephone and data services, deployment and management are simplified and in some cases costs can be cut, Robert J. Deutsch, systems engineering director, federal operations, Cisco, says. For example, tactical military units or emergency response agencies can set up one system to handle both voice and data communications.

Through a networked system, one that knows where an individual is located, contact can be made or messages can be delivered directly, regardless of a person’s current location. Voice mail system limits, such as listening to messages sequentially or forwarding an entire message only to people within the same system, are eliminated. Users now have the options provided by e-mail, he explains.

The company’s IPTV capability includes real-time broadcasts, video broadcasts and video on demand. Multicasting enables the content manager, who schedules, manages, tracks and distributes the video, to send as few copies of the data as possible through the network at one time, minimizing the usage of network resources. The second component of the system, the server, is based on a client-server model. The video is viewed on any commonly used monitor platform that features a browser.

From the viewer, the users can point and click to see which programs are scheduled and then choose the video they want to see. The content manager receives this information and knows which server is closest to the end-user as well as which server is least busy. All of this is transparent to the user, Deutsch explains.

“The use of the network, as we stand now, is that we’re at the beginning of a curve that’s about to explode. The limit now is how the customer gets connected—at home through phone lines. Technology is coming to market right now to change that,” he offers.

The Internet is the base network that connects customers to products and services. With the introduction of new capabilities and information sharing, this network will be able to deliver new personalized services to consumers. Enterprises, both public and private, will be able to service their customers better, Deutsch predicts.

The company’s own global network currently delivers many benefits to its customers and employees. It is used for corporate communications and marketing, supply chain management, employee benefit support, customer service and support, and electronic (e-) commerce. Currently, 80 percent of Cisco’s customer support is delivered via the network, and customer satisfaction is just as high or higher than through traditional methods such as responding to telephone inquiries, Deutsch says. The company receives 75 percent of its product orders through the Internet, resulting in revenue of $8 billion, and saves approximately $500 million per year by conducting business this way. The money can be reinvested in the company’s research and development efforts. “E-commerce gives a substantial amount of savings, and if you’re not doing this, you’re behind your competitor,” he asserts.

Garstka suggests that the government could learn a lesson from the way Cisco delivers employee benefit support. For example, through its global network, the company provides travel guidelines and arrangements as well as reimbursement filing online. This is managed by a limited number of staff members. Deutsch believes this approach could be expanded to the government within agencies and then extended further to service to the customer. Because the process involves taking information access barriers down, he agrees that every agency would have to make a prudent decision about which information and how widely this data would be made available. “Any agency that answers questions by phone now could do this. Personal information can lead to personalized service,” he explains.

Deutsch also agrees with Garstka that many of these changes require a cultural mindset shift on the part of both the provider and user. Service and product providers, including government agencies, must begin to change the way they think about what information should be available and how they can use the Internet in different ways. Once these enhanced services are available, users must take advantage of this new way of acquiring information or obtaining services.

To facilitate these changes, Garstka suggests that GovTechNet exhibitors take advantage of the opportunity to talk with customers one-on-one, but he emphasizes that this will take preparation. “Vendors need to learn more about the customer and their needs. I recommend they do their homework. Understand what the services’ visions are, what they are doing, and what they have been doing in terms of research or experiments. Also, find out and understand where the people standing in front of you are in the organization’s layers. Do they have influence on the acquisition or not? Do they make decisions? Then have talking points to use to those particular people,” he recommends.

The more than 20 organizations participating in ATD are contributing various services such as access, test equipment, switches and security. Some of the representative technologies and applications include the following: U.S. Air Force, voice and Internet application; The Boeing Company, ATM test equipment; Cisco, ATM, voice over IP; GTE, Pathway, WarriorView, InfoWorkSpace; IBM/Lotus, collaboration, e-mail; LSA Photonics, wireless access; Motorola, voice over IP; and Netcom Solutions International, ATM test equipment.