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AKO services to be cut for some, expanded for others

Aug. 6, 2013 - 03:45PM   |  
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The Army plans to stop providing online file storage, email and other collaborative services for Army retirees and family members next year, and expand such services for Army personnel by 2015 or later.

The Army plans to provide soldiers and Army civilians with video teleconferencing, text and voice chat, among other online cloud-based enterprise services under the umbrella of “Unified Communications.” Officials say the plan, part of efforts to replace its intranet Army Knowledge Online with services hosted in the Defense Information Systems Agency cloud, will mean easier collaboration between organizations and tighter cybersecurity.

“We think we can deliver this capability in ‘15 — fully-open, competed — to all Army, the [non-classified] NIPRNet and [classified] SIPRNet at the same time,” Mike Krieger, the Army deputy chief information officer/G-6, told Army Times in an Aug. 1 interview. “You’ll be able to see everybody in the Army and pick who you want to chat or do a Skype-like video chat with across the Army.”

The CIO/G-6 is expected to announce this week that it completed its two-year effort to migrate email users to enterprise email hosted in the DISA cloud. The move involved more than 1.4 million users in the NIPRNet, short for Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network, and more than 100,000 users on the SIPRNet, or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

The list includes not only the Army, but the Joint Staff, several combatant commands plans for the Office the Secretary of Defense staff and Air Force headquarters.

“We believe if we design it jointly, the other services will migrate to it,” Krieger said. “We believe the Air Force will follow suit, and we’re going to design the acquisition [for Unified Communications] such that the other services will be able to get on board if they bring funding to the table.”

The comments follow Army Secretary John McHugh‘s announcement in an April 26 memo that the Army would “sunset the technological systems that underpin AKO today,” but maintain “the AKO trademark.”

With the move, the Army is dividing users into two groups, soldiers and Army civilians who have military-issued Common Access Cards that grant them access email and other services, and Army retirees and family members, who do not have CAC cards. The latter group typically accessed AKO and the services it offered with a user name and password combination, now considered a cyber-security gap.

As the Army’s plan takes effect, only users with CAC cards — soldiers and Army civilians — will be able to access enterprise services. They will use the CAC card to log into the same AKO front end. AKO would look much the same as it does today, with the big changes will be on the back end as the services move to DISA servers.

“The big difference is the Army today maintains the infrastructure of AKO, and its large, and there’s a cost to maintain it,” said Doug Wiltsie, chief of the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems. “By moving out of that infrastructure and obtaining storage and processing capability with DISA primarily, we remove a lot of that cost and just have to pay per user.”

Soldiers and civilians logging into AKO will eventually see new applications, like Sharepoint, which is chiefly used for file and document management.

The Army has launched an ongoing pilot for 40,000 users across eight to ten organizations to learn what’s needed to implement the plan, Wiltsie said.

The Army has issued a pre-solititation notice for “unified communication” services to include instant messaging, video teleconferencing and voice-over-internet calls. These services are expected to work on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices.

Wiltsie said his office is analyzing defense industry feedback and his goal is to issue a request for proposals in 2014 implement it in 2015 or 2016.

A patchwork of similar services have been available within some Army organizations, particularly in the tactical force, but the plan is to provide the services to everyone. Because of a fragmented network architecture in the Army, members of disparate organizations with similar services could not use them to communicate with one another.

“A lot of what we’re talking about is already available commercially, but we’ll be providing it securely for CAC card holders,” Krieger said. “The problem for us is we have to provide it on the classified and unclassified side, and even on the unclassified side we have to hold a higher standard on the [user identity] authentication and higher standard for the security.”

Another wrinkle is the system has to show the presence of all 4.3 million CAC-holding users on the DoD Global Address list, Krieger said.

It’s because of the ubiquity of commercial services like DropBox, Gmail and Twitter, and tight defense budgets, Army leaders feel confident about ending like services for retirees and family members.

“They’re going to probably have even more robust services, because we’re encouraging them to use commercial services,” Krieger said. “It’s a little slower on the military side because we want to add the stronger identity management and stronger security.”

McHugh explained in his memo that it was “no longer economically viable,” for the Army to provide services that are available on the commercial internet, “through a plethora of commercial capabilities offered at no cost to the public.” Waivers issued in 2003 and 2007 to provide the accounts non-Army personnel are due to be rescinded.

“This availability renders our previous exceptions to the policy unnecessary, and, in fact statistics show a continuing decline in the use of these portions of AKO,” McHugh said in the memo.

A timetable has not been approved, but retirees are likely to be phased out in the first or second quarter of 2014, Krieger said. The plan is to purge inactive users first and allow the smaller, active community of users a over a longer period.

“We’re trying to work with the community to say here’s going to be a time line, and here’s a time line for when we’ll finally shut you off,” he said. “We haven’t gotten a lot of push back, [the feedback from retirees] is more about what’s the time-line, when is this going to happen.

The Army chief information officer and assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology are expected to provide details of a draw-down strategy and the time-line for an execution order due to be published in September.

Meanwhile, the CIO/G-6 has created a web site to help retirees and family members plan for the changes.

Instead of accessing pay and benefit information on AKO, retirees and family will have to use the Defense Department Self-Service Logon, or DS Logon, web portal. To get an account, users must go to “DS Logon - My Access Center.” The DS Logon system is set to become the primary method for all DoD and Veterans Affairs web authentication in the near future.

DS Logon allows DoD and VA members and affiliates to access applications that include eBenefits, Tricare Online, Beneficiary Web Enrollment, MilConnect, Transferability of Education Benefits, Health Net Federal Services, Humana Military, MyTricare.com, and Tricare-overseas.com, among others.

Non-Army users who need access to AKO will have to have an Army sponsor, according to an Army news release. Sponsorship is permitted only for non-Army users who must access Army applications or collaborate with Army personnel for service business.

McHugh said the Army must remain connected with its retirees, and that the chief of personnel and the chief information officer are expected to issue guidance about how that will happen.

An Army social media portal that is expected to serve Army retirees and family members has since debuted online without fanfare. The site, GTSY, for “Good to See You,” will have a lower security threshold, password protection, for retirees and family members without DoD-issued Common Access Cards, officials said.

The site, scheduled to be officially unveiled in the fall, is maintained by the G-1.

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