Defense Infrastructure Revamp Forges Single British Network

September 2003
By Henry Kenyon

Reorganization efforts eliminate stove pipes, emphasize data transfer, access.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence has launched a massive restructuring of its information technology infrastructure to increase efficiency and information sharing across the entire organization. A key element of this program is dismantling individual systems and networks to create a single overarching architecture. The goal is to seamlessly move data from front line forces to those parts of the national defense structure, such as intelligence and command centers, whose analysis and decisions can then be shared within the government or transmitted back to the warfighter.

Many federal organizations in Western Europe and North America are undertaking efforts to eliminate stovepiped information systems. Whether in civilian or military endeavors, open information sharing techniques offer increased efficiency and decision-making speed, resulting in improved service for the customer base. By embracing these changes, organizations can achieve 21st century business models.

The United Kingdom’s Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) program is an example of these efforts. It seeks to replace the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s (MOD’s) individual networks and data sharing structures with a single enterprisewide structure, explains Caroline Boughton, communications manager, DII Integrated Project Team, Corsham, England.

Driven by the need for change within the MOD and the British government, the DII program is aimed at improving the command and management of the multinational battlespace. This is part of a broader government information-age agenda that includes a defense information strategy, Boughton says. She notes that in recent years, the MOD has instituted an information governance regime that aims to connect different parts of the organization’s infrastructure to increase data sharing.

Another external factor is legislative. The U.K. Freedom of Information Act calls for more open information structures in the government to facilitate access to materials. “Without a joint operating structure, we wouldn’t have a hope of doing that,” she says.

The DII program leaves software purchases mainly up to individual users. “We separated the applications from the infrastructure because in recent years there’s become an awareness that this is the best way to buy this sort of technology,” Boughton maintains.

Some applications will go to specific users while others are distributed across the entire military. A shared network facilitates this kind of distribution. “We couldn’t do that with hundreds of separate infrastructures. We would have to port an application each time to every separate infrastructure. The costs become enormous,” she says.

Some MOD-wide applications, such as financial management systems and human resources software, depend on the DII to operate within a single network. But some parts of the ministry have tools—logistics, for example—that are unique to those departments and will be left in place. Boughton notes that while the DII does not manage defensewide software programs, it will enable them to be rolled out.

The DII encompasses information systems operating from unclassified levels to those above top secret. It covers all fixed facilities in the U.K. and abroad, most warships and submarines, and mobile deployed headquarters. The system will potentially include up to 150,000 network-access devices—laptop, handheld and desktop computers—and 300,000 user accounts. Computers and accounts will cover all MOD employees, from desktop users in England to front line soldiers accessing data through wireless equipment.

Once it is launched, the program will permit MOD agencies to share data and to prevent duplication of efforts. Additional savings will be realized when a smaller staff is required to operate a single, integrated network instead of multiple independent ones.

The DII reduces costs by decreasing the number of computing facilities needed and by economies of scale achieved when one large infrastructure replaces many smaller ones. The MOD also expects to save development costs by using commercial technology wherever possible and relying on the prime contractor to provide innovative solutions. The DII will enable the installation of ministrywide business processes to increase the efficiency of day-to-day operations. The new architecture permits the MOD to improve the integration of battlefield systems with support applications, leading to improved decision making and intelligence collection and analysis. A common network also offers a greater benefit from investments in surveillance and command and control systems.

An important part of this work will be to replace several hundred individual corporate systems currently in the MOD. For example, the U.K. Defence Procurement Agency has roughly 40,000 desktop computers and two small local area networks with several hundred users. It is these types of smaller units that must become part of a unified defense system, she says.

Although the DII is intended to make the MOD more efficient, it is not really about saving money, Boughton explains, but savings will occur with the DII in place across the entire ministry. The new architecture will lead to increased savings and efficiencies, but not necessarily as a result of the project itself, she says. The DII is projected to save the British government roughly £4 billion ($6.4 billion) over the next 10 years. But other programs and departments, not the DII, will probably get credit for those efficiencies because of the size and scope of the effort, she speculates.

Parts of the infrastructure already exist, but the difficulty is in connecting them, Boughton offers. The MOD is in the process of selecting bidders to handle this integration work. Members of the competing teams include BAE Systems, IBM, Electronic Data Systems, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, Computer Sciences Corporation and British Telecom. The contract will be awarded in the second quarter of 2004.

The implementation phase of the program is called DII Future, or DII(F), which is scheduled to be fully operational by 2008. Meanwhile, the contract winner also will have to manage parts of the existing infrastructure in ways that provide a smooth transition to DII(F). “You couldn’t possibly roll out 150,000 workstations in that period of time and buy a whole new system like that. What we are looking for our future delivery partner to do is come up with ways of connecting existing systems and then rolling out the infrastructure in three large increments,” explains Boughton.

However, the MOD also faces several immediate information technology needs because its existing systems must be maintained until the DII(F) launches. A three-pronged strategy is underway to manage this transition. The first goal is maintaining legacy systems. Boughton notes that it is becoming increasingly difficult to support older software packages such as Windows NT 4. These related software and hardware issues must be addressed in the short term. “Basically, our systems have become unsupportable. We must solve problems now because we can’t sit and do nothing before DII(F) is delivered in late 2004 or early 2005,” she says.

Besides maintaining existing software and equipment, the MOD DII team is preparing a convergent system consisting of the latest commercial products to serve as a bridge to the DII(F). She notes that roughly 15,000 to 20,000 workstations will operate on this architecture before the full DII implementation begins. Originally designed as a technology demonstrator, the system was put into place after the extent of the current infrastructure’s deficiencies became apparent. Much of this interim work involves constructing a new facility and refurbishing MOD headquarters.

However, the transition to the DII(F) remains a gray area because the contract outlines only needed services and their required levels. It is up to the contractor to design the most efficient architecture. “The way the DII(F) contract is being procured is on a service basis. We’ve got a service requirement document that states the level of service we need. We are not being prescriptive in how the partner delivers the service. We’re just telling them the services we want,” Boughton says.

The DII(F) vision calls for a managed infrastructure that enables collaborative planning, work and data sharing across the entire organization. Another requirement is secure information access, electronic document and records management, and access to any mission, business or local application for any authorized user. The completed infrastructure also will have standard interfaces to external systems—to replace duplicate connections—and provide every user with the quality of service appropriate to their operational or business requirements.

Within this managed infrastructure, the DII(F) offers services in several areas such as user access, applications, network and communications, support, security and management, and implementation services. The services cover areas such as electronic media, documentation storage, collaborative tools, integrated voice and video services, authentication and authorization, and legacy system support. Each of these service areas will be delivered across five environments: offices, shared use areas, mobile users, dedicated home workers and deployed operations.

But challenges remain. Funding was an issue until the ministry transferred money earmarked for support to various stovepiped networks to the DII. Boughton notes that current risks to the program include failure to implement necessary changes in the business process and rationalization. “It’s very easy to say in a contract that we want to put in all these applications, but we’ve got to make sure that we only move over the ones we must have because there is a cost involved in every one,” she says.

Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.