by Ben Bradley

SOAs Enable Collaboration Within the Department of Defense

May 16, 20078 mins
IT StrategyNetworking

Margaret Myers, the Principal Director for the Department of Defense (DoD) Deputy Chief Information Officer, talks about the DoD's service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategy.

Dr. Margaret Myers’ primary focus is on leading the Information Age transformation for the Department by enabling Net-centric warfighting and operations. Her prior positions include acting deputy chief information officer; acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) acquisition; and director of information technology acquisition and investment for the assistant secretary of defense for C3I. She was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in 1992 as the deputy commander and technical director of the U.S. Army Operational Evaluation Command. In 2005, she retired from the U.S. Army Reserve as a colonel. She earned a B.A. in mathematics from Colorado College, an M.S. in operations research from American University, and a Ph.D. in information technology from George Mason University.

BRADLEY: How is the Department of Defense improving data sharing?

MYERS: The DoD is embracing Web-based services and service oriented architectures (SOAs) as a way of breaking down the traditional and ineffective information stovepipes.

In the Cold War, the Soviet Union was pointing missiles us. We were pointing missiles at them. We focused on a single threat—our organization, our infrastructure and our tactics were designed with this single threat in mind. Today the threat is evolving and unknown. So we need to confront this uncertainty with agile fighting forces and systems that support them. Hard-wired information stovepipes won’t work. We must enable information sharing.

No matter how good the software development team, our current and future conflicts are characterized by uncertainty. It is impossible to write a requirements definition that defines our future system requirements. We don’t know where we will be fighting. We don’t know who we will be fighting. We don’t know which allied countries will need access to our systems. We cannot anticipate our information needs in the next conflict.

That type of uncertainty demands agility. To confront uncertainty with agility we are leveraging the power of information. Therefore, data must be visible, accessible, understandable and trusted. The Department’s “Net-Centric Data Strategy” describes our strategy for sharing data with known and unanticipated users (and can be found on our website).

Using Web-based services and implementing SOA is key to how we are changing. Using Web-based services means we are moving away from a reliance on client specific software. SOA supports an information environment built upon loosely coupled, reusable, standards-based services. It promotes data interoperability rather than application interoperability. By using SOA, capability providers can reuse what already exists rather than recreating it every time. New capabilities can be fielded much more quickly, greatly increasing military agility. Ultimately, SOA provides the services to discover, access and use data by the people that need it, when they need it.

Services, which are registered in a service registry, can be used in ways the original developers never envisioned. Many systems can leverage the same capability without an integration penalty.

Most important, the need for time-consuming and individually engineered point-to-point interfaces is eliminated. The practice of buying individual, highly tailored, proprietary systems with a requirement for users to have client specific software must end. This is an important message to industry—particularly to the defense contractors currently building information stovepipes and applications that cannot support agile information sharing.

We are about to release the DoD Net-Centric Services Strategy that describes our vision and goals for realizing this information environment. In keeping with the DoD and Intelligence Community commitment to joint oversight of common service infrastructure standards that enable interoperability and access to information, we are collaborating with the CIO for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on a concurrent release of the IC Services Strategies.

Is the DoD equipped to share? Sharing seems counter-intuitive to security.

“Information is power” was the prevalent attitude in the past. Instead, we must change our mindset to understand and utilize “the power of information.” In fact, information is a strategic asset and as powerful a weapon as anything in our arsenal. If I know more than my enemies, I can defeat them. Our desire to protect our information advantage reduced the utility of that information. Information within the DoD became silo’d as each owner of that information sought to protect it from others. We’re trying to change that. But to do so we must behave as stewards of information and not information owners.

The old model was “need to know.” The new model is “need to share” and “right to know.” The DNI 100 Day Plan even talks about a “responsibility to provide.” As you would expect, there are cultural issues that we’re working to overcome. But we are making progress.

Data enables effective decisions. To make effective decisions, you need access to the right data. Data must be shared. In fact, if no one knows about the data, what good is it?

That is why data, like services, is discoverable. Creators tag data with metadata to make it easier to find. Creators and users of data build and register a shared vocabulary that imparts meaning to the data. Data is available for authorized users when and where they need it. Users are alerted when their data subscriptions are updated or changed.

Explain the shared vocabulary concept.

Communities of Interest (COIs) form when groups of users need to exchange data with others to support a shared mission. For example, we currently have a COI that tracks maritime targets of interest anywhere in the world. This Maritime Domain Awareness COI includes participation from the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation.

A shared vocabulary is necessary for the participants to understand the data about the various assets being tracked. A shared vocabulary helps when advertising the data by enabling more precise searches. A very simple example is the word tank—does it mean an oil tank or a tracked armored vehicle? Our armored divisions don’t want to see information about oil tankers and our maritime units don’t want to see information about tracked armored vehicles.

We have a specification that governs how COIs advertise their data. This metadata specification allows some basic search parameters to be standardized while allowing more precision searches based on context of data. All data must be tagged with metadata so it is useful to other agencies that could benefit from the information. The DoD Metadata Registry provides guidance for improving visibility of each COI through tagging.

Describe some of the growing pains.

CavNet is a great example. CavNet was designed as a Web-based interactive community to help officers in the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq trade information at the tactical level about insurgent tactics, gear and even advice on running effective Civil Affairs operations.

In one case, it was learned that insurgents were booby-trapping posters of Moqtada al-Sadr—a Shiite cleric. When the posters were ripped down, an IED would detonate. This information was posted to CavNet. Another officer, operating in another sector of Baghdad, read about this new tactic on CavNet and briefed his men about this new technique. Later that day, using this information, soldiers were able to spot these booby traps and disarm the IEDs without any casualties. Without CavNet there was no way that this type of tactical information could be disseminated quickly and efficiently.

This is the power of information. It flowed to the people that needed it and it completely bypassed the hierarchical command and control processes of the past. The downside of this approach is that it doesn’t scale. A Marine Expeditionary Force located in another sector of Baghdad doesn’t have access to CavNet because of firewall and access restrictions. Intelligence analysts operating in Virginia have no access to this information. Our challenge is enabling information sharing at an enterprise level. The Net-Centric vision allows an analyst in the Pentagon, a lieutenant in the 1st Marine Division or a major in the 1st Calvary to subscribe to and publish notifications of new insurgent tactics.

What lessons can you share for readers in the private sector?

Information is key. The private sector has led the way in exploiting the Web and the power of information. The DoD needs to learn from that but we will need to lead the way on making sure that we can secure and trust information.

Ben Bradley is a journalist who writes about the intersection of technology and business. His primary interests include the role of marketing and engagement to increase end-user technology adoption, social innovation, stabilization, entrepreneurship, collaboration, networks and groupware. He can be reached at