Network-centric project management: Integrators develop advanced tools to handle complex projects

Exostar is helping integrators securely manage subcontractor documents, said Jeff Nigriny, the company's chief security officer.

J. Adam Fenster

As the military's weapons and information systems become increasingly complex, integrators that build these systems have discovered they need project management tools equally complex and advanced.

One of these tools, developed by Exostar LLC, Herndon, Va., enables prime contractors to manage the myriad of subcontractor documents generated over the life of a project.

Exostar, founded as a partnership between BAE Systems plc, Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co. and Rolls-Royce Corp., offers an online repository that integrators can use as a collaboration space to work with supporting suppliers.

"The intent was to create an independent company to deal with their supply chains more efficiently," said Ludo Van Vooren, director of marketing for Exostar. Through Exostar, vendors can provide computer-aided drawings or other documents to prime contractors.

For the supplier, Exostar eliminates the need to establish a separate conduit for each team member. For the prime contractor, Exostar provides a space to collaborate with suppliers outside its own firewall.

Exostar also can assure integrity between team partners. Last July, the Air Force temporarily suspended Boeing from satellite work when it learned that one of Boeing's employees, formerly employed by Lockheed Martin, provided Boeing with Lockheed Martin documents related to a satellite contract bid the two companies were competing for.

By providing a neutral, third-party repository, Exostar can prevent such potential conflicts-of-interest -- not an easy task given the military's rigorous security requirements.

Operating as a managed service, Exostar's solution encrypts a document so that it can be opened only by those who hold its encryption key, usually the integrator and the collaborating suppliers. Conversely, only Exostar itself has access to the logs of who opened what material, so the paper trail cannot be compromised.

Identities of participants are verified through an independent managed public key infrastructure service from VeriSign Inc., Mountain View, Calif., according to Jeff Nigriny, Exostar's chief security officer.

BAE, Computer Sciences Corp. and other companies use Exostar to coordinate purchase and repair orders for the Eurofighter Typhoon, a multicountry fighter aircraft program.

Another program management tool under development is the Third Generation Program Management system, or 3GPM. This system will help program managers estimate how one change in a project will affect the overall program. For example, what would be the added cost a two-day delay? Or what kind of holdup would taking three workers off a project cause?

The ability to predict potential cost increases and delays is important: Integrators don't want a surprised customer.

The system, which is being developed by Anteon International Corp. and Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratory, is piloted by a defense agency, said Mike Cassidy, group senior vice president at Anteon's System Engineering Group.

Traditionally, project management programs are digital dashboards showing cost, schedule, performance and other metrics in an easy-to-digest visual format. However, the data used for these portals was most often culled from scheduled reports from team leaders. It was not live data.

The 3GPM system goes a step further. Using live data, it allows the program manager to predict how anticipated changes affect the program in areas such as cost, schedule, requirements and other metrics. Intelligent software agents from Lockheed Martin predict how anticipated changes affect the delivery of the entire system. The system uses the WorkLenz software from Métier Ltd., Washington, to take in data from different formats.

Using 3GPM, program managers can predict how changes in one variable, such as loss of funding or a slip in schedule, can affect the overall project.

Program mangers usually have rule-of-thumb methods for predicting how changes can affect a project. This software formalizes these rules and shows the hidden consequences of these actions.

"Logically, because these projects are so complex, there would be some things that, intuitively, we wouldn't expect to happen," Cassidy said.

Anteon itself may use the system as a feature it can offer to agencies when bidding on contracts.

"We strongly believe that offering integrated data environment solutions in these complex programs is a discriminator for us," Cassidy said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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