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IC’s computing revolution falls behind schedule

DIA cites complexity of desktop testing

Overhauling the way the intelligence community stores and shares internal information sounded hard, and evidence is mounting that it will be.

The community wants to give intelligence workers a new operating system and desktop computing environment so they can easily shift among work sites and offices. The IT side of the house would save millions by getting out of the business of maintaining separate desktops at multiple agencies.

The desktop will be the front end of the community's bold information modernization plan, called ICITE (pronounced eyesite), which is short for Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise.

Testing is turning out to be harder than envisioned, and the schedule is beginning to slip. An initial version of the desktop environment, or DTE, is undergoing 300 separate tests for function and security. The ability to send and receive encrypted emails needs to be verified by a "placebo" user group, as does the desktop's classification tool, its Microsoft SharePoint capability and many other functions.

Once the tests are complete, switching users over won't be like flipping a light switch. Users will keep using their old desktop while running the new one for a while. A User Transition Planning Team has come up with a "170-day model to provide seamless user migration," according to a prepared statement from DIA, which has been assigned the lead role on the desktop work.

DIA turned aside interview requests, but an agency official was put on the hot seat about the status of the desktop during an industry luncheon. He said the community won't be able to meet the March target for having the desktop running at DIA and NGA, which would constitute initial operating capability.

“The IOC piece” – initial operating capability – “it’s slipped and stuff. It’s the testing,” said Gus Taveras, the chief technology officer at DIA.

The idea is to install the desktop gradually across all 17 agencies under an acquisition plan still to be determined.

By turning to a common desktop, cloud computing, apps and widgets, the community hopes to reduce IT spending by 20 percent by 2018. Intel budget wonks have been counting on those savings to ease the pain of the Obama administration’s plan to scale back intelligence spending dramatically in the coming years.

With the desktop in testing, IT officials continue to push ahead on other aspects of the modernization plan.

Taveras said that he’ll have a software development kit, or SDK, ready for industry developers in 30 to 45 days. If all goes as planned, developers will flock to create desktop apps and widgets that the community’s analysts would choose from in an online applications mall populated with stores from various agencies.

The idea is to put the decisions in the hands of analysts. “You get away from this anointed leader picking, ‘Hey, I’m going to use your stuff, I’m going to use your stuff, I’m going to use your stuff,’” Taveras said.

Intelligence officials know they want to tie payments to the popularity of the apps and widgets, but they still need to figure out how to implement that concept, Taveras said.


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