The Army's ongoing development of its unified capabilities initiative continues to move forward, even if it's not at the pace some would prefer.
A long-awaited request for proposals to buy commercial IT under the umbrella of unified capabilities (UC) may not come out until the end of fiscal 2016, according to Army officials. The initiative, which has been in the works since at last early 2014, would provide Defense Department users with common IT offerings such as classified and unclassified voice-over-IP communications, improved video conferencing and enhanced messaging among several software-based options.
At least one reason for the delay in progress toward UC was concern over the best ways to integrate commercial cloud technologies, and that's an area officials are still working through, even with the Army's recent cloud strategy now in place.
"As we move to cloud we're looking at unified capabilities, untethering the soldiers from the workplace [with] chat, video, voice" and video teleconferencing, said Army CIO/G6 LTG Robert Ferrell. "That will be the arm and the hand for our soldiers, regardless of location. We're working with industry partners to shape the requirements, the [program executive office] community, and we and hope to have an RFP on the street by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016."
Ferrell spoke to reporters as part of an Army media panel held Oct. 14 at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington.
The Army, specifically the Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS), is working with the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Air Force on UC. Leaders at all of the agencies are watching closely what the Air Force already is doing under its Collaboration Pathfinder contract, which provides DoD with a dedicated Microsoft Office 365 cloud platform that includes email, instant messaging, desktop voice and video communications and user storage capabilities.
Ferrell said as the Army develops the UC RFP, he and other officials are keeping a close eye on where the Air Force goes with the Pathfinder program.
"We within the Army are paying attention to that to capture lessons learned," Ferrell said. "As you know it's all about what you need, not what you want, and the portfolio can be very large. So we're working with [Army Training and Doctrine Command], with [Army Forces Command], with our PEO community to define what we need in that portfolio."
Cloud, though, remains a confounding factor in how to provide UC as a commercial offering to users across different organizations and, especially, different levels of security classification.
"We've been spending a lot of time on this, namely PEO EIS, and I think most people understand the complexity of what we're trying to do, because we have different kinds of data that have to fall within different clouds," said Kevin Fahey, director of the Army's system of systems engineering and integration directorate. "Obviously unclassified data is the easiest, but even our unclassified data we try to protect, because in some instances with unclassified data if you connect enough of it, it becomes sensitive. [So] there are certain commercial capabilities that we need to do from the unclassified perspective, then work through the secret and higher classification levels...PEO-EIS is working with CIO/G-6 and DISA and the other services on that. We're all in the same boat."