By Marshall "Tip" Slater
Chief Financial Officer
Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium
This missive is a combination of ideas that have been presented to me in a number of settings. First through working in industry, then the thought group Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC), and finally the government customers who have discussed their most pressing problems.
The concept I’m presenting is an approach for implementing interoperability of products and services in multiple marketplaces.
All grand ideas (and global interoperability is a grand idea) need to have a viable path to implementation. Today, while the idea of achieving real interoperability is grand, the implementation is fractured at best and sabotaged at worst. As a result, projects become cost sinks resulting in gigantic stove pipes, large enough that individuals and groups believe they’ve already achieved the grand vision.
The reality of its incompleteness becomes exposed during disasters when designated emergency services are rendered helpless because their supplies are elsewhere; where citizens become the emergency service providers because they have truly interoperable devices built for daily use; and interoperability needed beforehand becomes its own disaster afterwards.
Managing interoperability has many components. This story illustrates a real-world use case of overcoming the hurdles that prevent interoperable solutions.
I had the opportunity to manage several industry facilities and the high-speed network that integrated them as well as peer organizations. The facilities presented and tested live, virtual and constructive (LVC) simulations where the LVC players were in the USA, parts of Europe, and the Middle-East. This integration was presented to viewers in other locations as well.
Live were real people and equipment such as F-16 fighter jets, Virtual components were simulators with people inside such as airborne radar aircraft, and Constructive were computer simulations of additional forces, adversary, friendly and neutral. The computer simulations included terrain, and the effects of natural disasters
Integrating these capabilities primarily among three main sites and secondarily to/with smaller customer sites required a high degree of interoperability, not only at the physical technical level, but also at the organizational procedural level.
Huge investments were made in the brick and mortar facilities, and as small amounts of capability were added the complexity increased multifold. As the senior manager, I discovered that the operation was beginning to diverge instead of converging. The operation became more difficult as increased capabilities were added. Man-hours skyrocketed every time we added a facility that was not a standard part of our operation. Management became increasingly difficult to achieve while the demand for quality results became a serious challenge.
Nevertheless, I was extremely fortunate that additional resources became available. The first was the company’s internal Organizational Development group, whose role it was to study and evaluate organizations from various perspectives (i.e. operations, personnel) and provide the management team an outside objective look at his or her organization. The second was a newly formed non-profit organization – the NCOIC, an organization designed to study interoperability, its technical capability and those surrounding factors that enabled its implementation. It is a truly global and diverse thought group
So, as my organization found itself maxed out implementing two facilities that were diverging, the team was also requested to add both more company and non-company facilities to the environment. A critical point had been reached where I felt existing effort simply wasn’t sufficient to make things work. So, I requested the help of the above mentioned internal Organizational Development (OD) group.
Three months of study by the OD produced an evaluation that was surprising at first glance, but, then made perfect sense upon further consideration. My demand for the facilities to interoperate at a moment’s notice was not a high priority for my managers. The facilities, fully managed by my subordinate managers, had complete control of the operations, acquisition and processes. They worked for me on paper; but, as I discovered from the study, the senior VPs in each local area had more influence than I did. All the facilities and managers responded to the same external forces. As it turned out, I (considered a “hard ass”) wasn't really in charge at all.
Knowing the VPs had the political clout as well as influence over the budget, I needed to meet their needs and still achieve interoperability and reduce effort required to make this LVC world come to life. Subsequently I turned to the NCOIC.
The first thing the NCOIC taught me was to realize that there are minimums that have to be respected. Minimum Level of Interoperability (MLI) had to be understood as a basic before any other step was taken. The NCOIC MLI simply stated that information had to be digitized, communication established, and finally a registration set-up implemented.
The next knowledge point the NCOIC provided was the QuadTrangle™, which was in fact in development at the time though the rationale and thoughts hadn’t been as quantified as it is now. However, the basic concept was present and stated that although technology is foundational, there are three other critical factors that impact interoperability. Culture is the first and probably the hardest to overcome. Business Value, whereby the monetary gains and losses will prevail regardless of the organization is second, and finally Governance – rules, regulations and laws. Some can be addressed or changed to facilitate interoperability, but many must be adhered to regardless of the impact. The result is that once everything is put into the mix, technology is the most flexible, yet it is the point at which most organizations start their projects.
The final piece I needed in order to address the organizational issues was the NCOIC Management Model. Again, this was in the concept phase and later used as a foundation that advised a newly formed NATO acquisition organization to successfully develop. The Management Model stated that the foundation of the interoperability process needs to be generic and the application level unique. The Management Model emphasized that using MLI allows your network to be developed as the foundation. The next step is to make sure the equipment is interoperable across the organization, and finally that the middleware supports each organization’s applications and needs.
Taking lessons learned from the internal organizational study, I restructured my organization. Understanding the VPs would have a large say in approval or disapproval, I placed an individual whom the VPs trusted in charge of the facility presentations and abstractly the facilities. Then a new organization was created that assumed control over all the equipment, budget and design. No facility could ever again develop separately within this realm. Finally, the network became an organization that operated in support of the facilities, both ours and others, independent and with two objectives -- security and continuous connectivity.
The NCOIC provided the MLI, the QuadTrangle™ keystone dimensions and the implementation Management Model. The Organizational Development team provided the problem to be solved. These critical organizational changes allowed us to generate arguably the finest worldwide LVC capability that has been created to date.
By the way, manpower never rose, man hours stayed constant, and cost per LVC event dropped from $7 million per event to less than $700 thousand per event. The NCOIC was seen as a thought leader and really had the implementation tools that were used to change business models and provide direction to the world-wide interoperability desired, and yet the global challenge of crossing domains other than the unique but complex LVC environment still had to be addressed.
At this point several government customer sets approached the NCOIC. Their points boiled down to “why can’t I purchase predetermined interoperable products and services?” Their idea was that multiple domains should be able to interoperate. Right now, each domain attempts to achieve interoperability within the domain. However, at the multinational level where lives are the commodity and speed the solution, the uniqueness of each domain was literally killing people.
The NCOIC has since worked the problem with the customers and has over five years’ experience in addressing the possible solution to this pre-acquisition problem. Interoperability Verification (IV), a concept now in the initial stages of development, is designed to provide a risk assessment of products and services interoperability capability. Tools have been designed and/or purchased, and testing is in development and that will eventually provide lists of IV products and services.
For the first time, the possibility of interoperable domains is not only possible, but likely. Manufacturers will need to build to environments that belong to the customers, not the manufacturers. New solutions will become possible and the ultimate objective of saving lives and making societies beneficial to all becomes a reality.