DoD Enterprise Email – A Tough Choice.

November 2, 2012
Cyber Security
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Those that have been around DoD a while understand what a long twisted road we have travelled to roll out email systems that work across services.   In the beginning, the email systems were established by the service component that used them, so they were tailored to the unique needs of that particular group of users.  This resulted in some stunningly proficient “hot-spots” of high technology, and some dismally under-connected users – the “haves” and the “have not’s”.  Individual expertise and local funding, not operational requirements or needs of DoD created these disparities.  They didn’t work well together; they were abysmally non-interoperable.  They were hard to keep updated and secure. And, they were expensive!

For the past ten years these separate “legacy” networks have been sought out and consolidated into ever larger networks for the sake of efficiency, interoperability, security and cost.  Whether that effort stops at the Service Level or is rolled up to the Joint Level is a hotly contested matter.

Buying commonly and mutually used software through an Enterprise Software Agreement (at the DISA level) makes sense on many levels.   Costs can be negotiated with the providers to get the best value for DoD and to have current, standard versions of software that can be used across the DoD enterprise: therefore more interoperable and secure.   DISA’s Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI) will continue to add increasing value to DoD’s future.

Providing email to users is a more difficult question.  In my experience, services will pay more and accept less to retain control of their important systems and processes.  This is important, because to break a service component of this naturally self-preserving precept, something extreme and external needs to happen. Pressure from outside the service must be applied.  Recent pressures, partly from security concerns but mostly from budgeting anxieties, are giving new life to the idea of a DoD wide email system.

A few months back I heard DoD CIO Ms. Terry Takai lead a panel of the component CIOs.  When asked if she would push the services into a common DISA provided DoD Enterprise Email system (DEE), the component CIO’s engaged in a lively and divergent debate.  Bottom line:  The Army has done the return on investment (ROI) study and decided to make the move.  The Air Force is watching how this roll out goes and is considering making the move.  The Marine Corps is vehemently opposed to anything but a USMC system, and the Navy, also having done an ROI study, has concluded the opposite of the Army and is staying with their Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) solution.

NGEN, as anyone in the industry knows, is the $10B (or $5B… or … pick a number) follow on to the Navy and Marine Corps Internet (NMCI) program that consolidated all (or… most) Navy networks.  Due to numerous delays in getting the RFP out, the contract has been extended (and again extended) to cover the gap.  The time and technology gap between the original requirements, the RFP, the proposals, and then eventually (hopefully) the award, continue to wear down the final product.   GAO published an audit (GAO-12-956 19SEP20112 detailing the risks inherent in this very expensive and service specific solution to email.  It is a very unflattering review of the NGEN process and a cautionary warning of the risks involved.

It’s extremely hard to compare the costs across the services between capabilities, expenses, security and timelines involved in the service specific vice enterprise capabilities. Most of them are intertwined in many ways and at many levels.  I’d love to see those ROI’s done by Navy and Army.   What’s the value of a service-specific email address ( vice the more unwieldy DEE address (something like in an environment of tough choices concerning a reducing DoD budget when it’s harder to pay more, just to retain control.  

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