All Eyes on Messaging System Rollout

The DMS commercial version is seen as a boon to electronic commerce

A commercial version of the government's Defense Messaging System could be just around the corner or several years away, depending on who you talk to in industry. But when it reaches mainstream industry -- possibly in as little as six months -- officials fully expect it to jump-start electronic commerce.

DMS, which will give the Department of Defense a completely secure system over which messages about weapons development and battlefield strategy can be sent, will replace a 30-year-old system.

The DMS contract was awarded in May 1995 to Loral Federal Systems in Manassas, Va., which is now part of Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md. The two-year DMS contract is worth $1.6 billion and includes options for another six years. Lockheed's project partners include Boeing, Lotus, Microsoft and Oracle.

While the federal part of the system is moving along, Lockheed has spent less time marketing it as a commercial application. "Our primary priority is DoD rollout, then we'll look at the commercial side," said Charles Massey, program director for DMS at Lockheed Martin. The DMS program could reach 2 million users when fully operable, Massey said, which should happen in the next few years. The project now has hundreds of government customers, including the Air Force and the Defense Information Systems Network.

Private industries such as aerospace and banking may be especially interested in a secure e-mail system. "Any organization that requires reliable messaging capability requires the features of a DMS system," said Massey. Companies that do business with the government will especially be attracted to the program, he said. While lack of security is a primary force working against electronic commerce, a system such as DMS could give companies some much-needed safety assurance. If it's good enough for national defense, potential commercial users might think the system should be able to protect credit card use, bill payment systems or a company business plan.

In a speech at the recent DMS Exposition and Users conference in Reston, Va., Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of defense, said DMS will be valuable for both commercial and government use. "The Defense Messaging System is an integral part of making electronic business and electronic warfighting widely available and accepted," Paige said. A testing program is underway, he said, to ensure that DMS commercial products are compatible. Such analysis takes time, he admitted. "I wish we could accomplish the testing faster, but it is essential that a thorough job be done in this area so the users can be assured of top quality products that perform as advertised and have the requisite interoperability," Paige said.

DMS watchers have noticed the snail's pace of a commercial offering. "The DoD people are focused on getting the product out.... A commercial [offering] may be taking a back seat because of that," said Chris Inskeep, senior security engineer, GeoLogics Corp., Alexandria, Va.

Industry officials agree there are two hurdles to overcome before commercialization will work: educating a company enough about the product and meeting its price restraints.

Massey said Lockheed will eventually hold training seminars to teach companies about the benefits of secure messaging and guaranteed delivery. "Once you understand it, you realize it's a good thing to have," said Inskeep. "But if managers don't understand what they're buying, they're going to put a decision off."

Convinced of the usefulness, companies next must compare the system's price to their pocketbooks. People will pay a premium for a system as sophisticated as DMS. But are they willing to pay as much as government? A 50 percent reduction in price would make the sale more reasonable, said Inskeep.

However, Massey maintains government pricing is reasonable for commercial use. He admits that money is a big issue. "Any [such] system is a large investment," he said. "[Companies] look at it closely in terms of return on investment. They have a budget."

Massey said although government and commercial organizations won't use the system for the same activities, they will use it in a similar manner. An advantage of DMS is that different levels of security are available. One security level, for example, would be used for an interoffice e-mail organizing a lunch meeting, another for weapon plans.

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