DISA's Frugal Admiral
The infotech commander leaves the door open to integrators, but only part way
Sometime next month, Rear Adm. John A. Gauss expects to have a favorite fantasy fulfilled when he helps pull the plug on the granddaddy of all military legacy systems, the Worldwide Military Command Control System. As the commander of the Joint Interoperability and Engineering Organization for the Defense Information Systems Agency, Gauss is responsible for advancing WWMCCS' long anticipated replacement, a seamless web of communications networks, computers and software, otherwise known as the Global Command and Control System. The massive network offers 416 military commands access to 16 databases around the world. Best of all, it relies largely on commercially available products. For his part, Gauss remains bullish on buying products and services from the commercial market. But the admiral isn't ready to outsource GCCS operations to any one integrator. In fact, he advocates awarding integrators only task-specific contracts. Moreover, Gauss has a piece of advice for all integrators interested in doing business with the DoD: "Leave your marketing reps at home, send your engineers instead." WT spoke with Gauss about what role integrators will play in the DoD's expanding integration efforts.
WT: How much are you spending on the integration of computer products for the Global Command and Control System?
GAUSS: We have a good idea of what we're spending, but we need to look at it from the perspective of what technology we're integrating.... We have embarked on a process that has led to a document called the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment Integration and Run Time Specification. The document defines a technical process for integrating applications in a UNIX environment, allowing applications to share resources. [It also lets] you define the integration process so you can build tools to automate the process. So when you go to the site and a new computer program shows up, you can use the tools embedded in the system to do point-and-click installation, just like you would do at home. That is an innovation that has come out of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Our systems integrator [partners] are able to deploy those tools, and my cost for integrating these applications is nowhere near what it would be if we hadn't found a way to automate the process. As a result, we are spending about $7 million a year on Global Command and Control [integration services], and that's a rough number. I would say that is plus or minus 10 percent. That's not bad for something as complex as Global Command and Control.
WT: Would that number have been much larger two years ago?
GAUSS: I wasn't here then, but I would say from the technology base we've cut the cost of integrating products by more than 50 percent. And I can think back to my Navy days and remember how costs would skyrocket when we'd have to deploy teams of engineers to fix things.
WT: What percentage of your costs are related to third-party integration?
GAUSS: About 15 percent of what I spend goes to the integrators.
WT: Next year at this time, will that number have grown?
GAUSS: No, it will be 15 percent because I've built a process factory.
WT: So it can't grow anymore?
GAUSS: Correct, but I may get more efficient and get more volume. If that's the case, it may drop, but it will not grow.
WT: Wouldn't a lot of integrators like to encourage you to revisit that number and enlarge it?
GAUSS: Well, yes.
WT: When integrators encourage you to hand off more business to them, what is the response?
GAUSS: We have task-oriented contracts. Integrators will tell us they have a wonderful process that has already saved other customers millions of dollars and that we have to try it. I look at my current set of requirements and the number of contractors I am already working with, and the first question is, 'How do I go about contracting with you?' They respond by saying they can find a vehicle, or they try and have us use a vehicle through another government agency. My answer is, 'That sounds like it would be in violation of the economy act,' which basically says if you have the skills in-house you shouldn't contract them.
WT: How much of DoD integration activities involve commercial products?
GAUSS: Everything that I'm involved with is a commercial product. That is, everything in the hardware domain are main line commercial products.
WT: This offers a cost advantage?
GAUSS: Well, cost and performance for all sorts of reasons. I prefer to buy whatever I can find at a [retail computer store] or wherever. [Because] DoD is a very small portion of these developers' overall market, their corporate success depends on the ruggedness of their computers. I'm buying performance, and industry's investment keeps me current in technology. But if I buy a board that has been built just for my purpose, I'm the only market. I am the one that assumes the risk.
WT: What does this mean for integrating products?
GAUSS: When folks were building closed systems, and when you had giant integrators who could integrate everything for you, you needed those services. But computer systems are now standard compliant. You take them to the site and string your fiber, plug them in, change your connectors and you're done. Why do I need to pay an integrator to do that for me when they are plug-and-play? The technology allows us to get rid of some of the old ways of doing business. There are integrators out there that are trying to hold on to the old paradigm and put it in terms of value-added services for the new generation of technology, and that dog doesn't always run.
WT: How do you determine when to incorporate a third-party integrator into a project?
GAUSS: There is a discipline that is involved and the oversight of that discipline is clearly a government function. The execution of the discipline can be done in-house or out. I like to think of it as a government-industry team that is badgeless. It's a question of putting the right resource on the job. There are pieces of the pie that go to industry, and you fill up the pieces of the pie. You fund this stuff to your available dollars, so you have to prioritize and flow it through in priority order. It's not a question of 'Do I need more integration?' It's a question of having a defined method of doing business or a defined process where industry has a role. And since no one company in my view has cornered the market on IT to optimize the process, you will use different elements of industry where they offer the best expertise inside this development.
WT: How do you measure the success or failure of an integrator partner?
GAUSS: There are four areas: cost, schedule, performance and flexibility.
WT: They better not escalate the cost?
GAUSS: If we tell them to do something, and then because of restacking of priorities, we must tell them to stop and proceed down something else, we caused an inefficiency and we can't pass that to them.
WT: That's when they might score high in flexibility?
GAUSS: Yes. If they are flexible and can move. We have to look at what caused the costs if something was poorly executed and it wasn't industry's problem. Then they will be scored accordingly.
WT: What about scheduling?
GAUSS: [Integrators] are always balancing cost schedule performance as you measure your risk. Sometimes you have required dates that you must meet. If the dates you must meet are more aggressive than you would like you must be able to manage your risk. If the date is the driver, the integrator must balance it with performance and cost. Something must give and we will have to manage the risk. Sometimes quality is the driver and schedule is secondary.
WT: Do you fear you may become too dependent on any one integrator?
GAUSS: I'm not concerned about that. In fact, I've never been concerned about industry. If it performs well and continues doing the work, that's great. If they don't perform well, then they won't continue doing business with us. With task-oriented contracts you can do that.
WT: Are you working with integrators in the area of data security?
GAUSS: To a very limited degree. A lot of this commercial hardware is truly plug-and-play, and our networks are now this way. We lease commercial services and buy commercial hardware and install it.
WT: When you describe the magnitude of integrating DoD's systems, do you detail the number of computer platforms now in use?
GAUSS: I'm trying to get people to think about using a different paradigm. Look at each of your friends and how at home they probably have different computer models and processors. Yet they are all called PCs. We're trying to get away from the [differentiation]. We want workstation to mean the same thing, and so it's a workstation with common software capabilities.
WT: Can you describe the procedure for incorporating integrators into the process?
GAUSS: We have already imposed the technical process for the UNIX community. So we only need to give them the tools and the integration standard. There are always training problems when you start something new. But we have folks now who can integrate some very complex applications in a short period of time.
WT: Is your dependence on integrators increasing?
GAUSS: We have a large dependence on industry, but because the process is well-defined, we are not dependent on any one contractor. Now a lot of integration services are being supplied in own our test facilities, but we remain industry-dependent.