IT shops have long sought to provide their users with a common interface not tied to any specific IT device. Several military agencies are taking steps to bring this vision to fruition.
Last December, the Defense Department announced a $617 million Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreement (JELA) with Microsoft covering Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system, and associated applications. With Windows 8, Microsoft aims to unify the experiences users have with desktop computers and mobile devices by presenting a common, app-driven user interface.
Contract participants, including the Army, Air Force and Defense Information Systems Agency, also gain access to Microsoft Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013. The Core Infrastructure Client Access License (CAL) Suite, which provides numerous IT administration tools such as security and data center management, is included as well.
Negotiating an agreement for three massive user bases makes the package significantly more cost-effective. According to DoD Deputy CIO David DeVries, the agreement “is a means to provide software licenses at the best value for DISA, Army and Air Force.”
Indeed, the Army reports expected savings of $70 million annually from the agreement, while the Air Force anticipates seeing cost avoidance of about $50 million a year. “DISA will save over $2 million each year, for a total of more than $6 million,” DeVries says.
Opening the Window to Cost Savings
Beyond the cost savings, the agreement allows the participating agencies to get a jump on adopting Windows 8. DISA is testing Windows 8 “for possible implementation within the DoD enterprise in Fiscal Year 2014,” DeVries says.
Similarly, the Army is planning to roll out each of the agreement’s components. Although a late 2013 deployment was originally announced, “the date of deployment has been extended due to budget constraints caused by sequestration,” says Col. Daniel Matchette of the Planning and Engineering office in the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command. “The baseline configurations are tentatively scheduled for release in fiscal 2014.”
Adopting Windows 8 and the associated applications moves the DoD closer to three enterprisewide goals: a unified computing environment, improved security and mobility.
“The agreement is a step toward the Joint Information Environment,” says Alex Rossino, principal research analyst at Deltek.
The JIE is envisioned as a common set of technology standards, products and open architectural approaches, he explains. “These are being implemented to enable system interoperability, enhance security and make capabilities available to any DoD end user on any approved device,” Rossino says.
Other experts concur. “Agreements like the JELA tend to push everyone toward an enterprise standard,” says Shawn McCarthy, a research director at IDC Government Insights. “For instance, with Windows, people tend to have the version that came with their PC. This agreement sets the goal for where the DoD wants its agencies to go. And, when it’s time for agencies to make the transition to Windows 8, everything is already locked in with this agreement.”
With respect to security, moving all commands onto the same platform “puts them on the same security footing,” says Rossino. “Creating a single environment is part of a larger trend across the public and private sectors toward protecting data rather than infrastructure.”
Windows 8 also enables DoD’s drive toward improving user mobility. “The DoD has said that enabling enterprise mobility is a strategic goal,” says Rossino. “By creating the Microsoft software baseline, the JELA helps the DoD get to that end state.”
DeVries confirms DoD’s interest in the mobile characteristics of Windows 8, stating that “DISA has deployed the operating system on several mobile devices.”
The Benefits Are on the Ground
Functionally, military agencies expect various efficiencies from adopting Windows 8 and the other applications.
“Benefits include the ability to transfer software licenses from one agency to another, the establishment of one contract to streamline procurement, and the inclusion of enhanced issue resolution of Microsoft products,” says DeVries.
The advantages of these gains, compared with the traditional compartmentalized approach, are difficult to overstate. “Due to standardizing processes, procedures and content management, there will be tremendous benefits,” says Louis Berard, a former Marine engineer who is now a senior research analyst with the Aberdeen Group. “For example, the expected training deliverables will be cut dramatically. Also, opening up information and communication across all the verticals will allow for significant cost savings.”
Lt Col. Cedric D. Lee, CIO of the Enterprise License Division in the Army’s Chief Integration Office, agrees. The Microsoft agreement “provides value-added benefits to improve technology adoption and use across the Army,” he says. “These benefits include training, deployment planning services and online technical help resources.”
“The entire Army Enterprise will benefit from the use of these products,” Lee continues. “This is about 800,000 end users.”
Implementing Windows 8 also offers another benefit: the accumulated resources of a global business application. “Military agencies will be leveraging the best-in-class practices of the operating system up to this point,” Berard says. “Bringing that knowledge transfer and skill set to the military, or anywhere else in the government, is a huge advantage.”
Further, standardizing on the Windows 8 platform can also help meet federal sustainability goals. “With all the personnel and process efficiencies of going to this operating platform, it should allow for a reduction in the military’s carbon footprint,” Berard says.
If agencies face a challenge from being a Windows 8 early adopter, Berard believes it’s around the creation of appropriate security policies and procedures. “Because the military is such a large organization, some tailoring is required,” he says. “For example, nuclear power will have higher security needs than other types of energy.”
But once the security model is developed, other federal agencies likely will be able to use it as a framework for their Windows 8 rollouts. “The model is transferable,” Berard says.