Great expectations for AKO
Army asks contractors for innovations and upgrades to online knowledge portal
"AKO has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years, with multiple vendors involved, so we're just trying to achieve the enterprise goal with a single systems integrator running it for us." ? Col. Tom Hogan, an Army deputy program executive officer for enterprise information systems.
Like any Web portal, the Army's gateway, called Army Knowledge Online, was intended to be a place that consolidated hundreds of applications and services, such as e-mail and people search.
So far, that effort has been successful: AKO has nearly 1.8 million account holders, and the portal is closing in on its 300 millionth login, according to the Army.
Now Army officials are on the verge of naming one systems integrator to run AKO for a possible seven-year, $500 million contract. The prime contractor will be charged not only with maintaining the successful portal, but also with ushering in updates and improvement.
"AKO is performing very well, and we're just looking to make it better," said Col. Tom Hogan, an Army deputy program executive officer for enterprise information systems. "AKO has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years, with multiple vendors involved, so we're just trying to achieve the enterprise goal with a single systems integrator running it for us."
Responsibility for AKO is moving from the Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command to Hogan's EIS division. That switch was the impetus to go with a single integrator.
"It's our way of doing business. We're an acquisitions organization, so when we were given the mission to run AKO, that's what we saw as the best way to run it," Hogan said.
CONTRACTING TEAMS TAKE THE FIELD
Army officials would not release the names of the companies bidding on the contract, but Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., confirmed they are in the running. Industry observers said two other prime contracting teams also are vying for the deal: a Boeing Co. and EDS Corp. partnership; and a CherryRoad Technologies Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. partnership.
Companies bidding for the contract have submitted written proposals, and oral pitches are expected to take place in May, according to industry sources. A winner could be announced by late May, with the award in June.
Booz Allen officials think the company's strategy-based technology consulting would be a good fit for running and expanding AKO, said Angela Messer, a Booz Allen principal in charge of Army and IT systems work.
"When you couple that with a deep domain understanding of the Army, which is what we have, and the reputation of being vendor neutral and a trusted adviser, we will be able to pull in the right solution," Messer said.
Booz Allen's team has six large and six small businesses, including General Dynamics Corp., SI International Inc., Microsoft Corp.and BAE Systems Inc., Messer said.
The winning team will certainly need to work with other vendors and companies in fulfilling the contract over the next seven years, said Megan Gamse with market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va.
"This runs the whole gamut as far as systems integration, maintenance, security and other tasks," said Gamse, Input's manager of defense opportunities. "I think it's a great opportunity for our vendor community to shine with a project that's already been successful --unlike the Navy-Marine Corp Intranet, which was kind of starting from scratch."
One of the challenges of the AKO contract is that the Army will rely on the contractor to recommend how to run the portal.
"We're really open to the vendors' ideas, so we've really left it wide open as to how they can provide portal solutions," Hogan said. "We're definitely not driving them toward a solution. How they do it, we're not telling them. That's a change from the existing contract."
That freedom makes AKO an attractive project, said Lee Hall, Lockheed Martin's director of enterprise solutions.
"What struck me is that the Army is saying, 'We need somebody to come work with us and map out that evolution,' " Hall said. "We're going to try and make the infrastructure as reliable and sound as possible, but as flexible to accommodate scalability as new users come on and new missions come into play."
Lockheed Martin's team includes Science Applications International Corp., Computer Sciences Corp. and Roundarch Inc., which specializes in design and implementation of portals, as well as expertise in content management and integration of solutions.
The evolution of AKO likely will build on the successful features of today's site, said Input's Gamse.
"I think the main focus of this next contract is to make AKO more personalized," she said. "That's where we'll see the major focus with, of course, the maintenance of security and minimizing the redundancy of applications."
Expanding AKO's worldwide reach, especially to warfighters, will also be a top priority.
"It's relatively easy to have access from a sustaining base somewhere," Lockheed Martin's Hall said. "It's a little harder for the guy that's out there running around in a Humvee to have access. That's going to be one of the biggest challenges: How do you deliver data to that bandwidth-limited environment? We've got some ideas on how to do that, and hopefully the customer will see them as good ideas." *
Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at dbeizer@postnewsweek