Department of Defense Focuses on IT Innovation

by Thomas Payne, Director, ITT Information Integration Systems

Some of the most important technological developments that have improved society in general have resulted directly from innovations built for military operations. Technologies developed by the Department of Defense (DOD), for example – to integrate, share, and protect information supporting large-scale military campaigns – can be adapted to advance the way that civilian agencies and organizations manage their information. To exploit the most modern technologies, therefore, private businesses and state, local,  and non-DOD federal agencies should look more closely at information management tools that the military and DOD have already developed.

Consider this: Toentify and understand the interconnected network of people and activities in various terrorist organizations responsible for building and planting improvised  explosive devices (IEDs), an analyst would need a truly innovative, collaborative, and analytical technological framework. The information architecture and tools that enable intelligence analysts and operators to rapidly respond to warfighter requests on enemy networks, battle space conditions, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) optimization, and threat trends are the same tools that can completely transform the way that civilian organizations analyze and respond to similar data. Customization of that technology not only is possible but also might well be critical to advance information management in other sectors, such as those responsible for homeland security and law enforcement.

A New Model – Centers of Analytic Excellence In this new model, information of value is gained through tailored open architecture and secure information integration and the sharing of enterprise solutions. The goal of data integration is to transform raw data into actionable knowledge.

Like many other organizations, DOD faced several daunting issues at first: outdated storage and retrieval systems, for example, the inability to find information fast enough, inflexible sharing and searching processes, and the inability to layer and integrate information.

The new model creates “centers of analytic excellence,” as described by DHS (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary Janet Napolitano, using open architecture and best-of-breed non-proprietary hardware and software. Among the many advantages achieved with the DOD’s solution are the following:

  • Instant access to analytical-quality data;
  • The use of metadata tags to speed search;
  • Smart applications with built-in integration mechanisms;
  • The establishment of a collaborative environment; and
  • The ability to tailor various applications and tools.

Open Architecture and the Dimensional Data Model How is this type of model created? The first step involves establishing an open-architecture framework with enough flexibility to meet both evolving needs and emerging threats. Open architecture also delivers the best structure for innovations in collaboration, intelligent search, and real-time analytics.

Within the backbone of an open architecture structure, core data environments are created based on the metadata developed. The core search environment features tools that catalogue, process, and tag the metadata. The data is then further tagged both by security “domain” level (Special Access, Top Secret, Secret, Confidential, and Unified) and by releasability. The data is processed by a set of entity and relationship extractors including geo-coding, name recognition, phone numbers, bank accounts, and other information facets. These facets are then captured to create a unique “dimensional data model” – one that has far-reaching implications for all organizations.

To think dimensionally about data means to approach a rich data system in such a way as to create useful and effective search and share capabilities. Organizations need this ability to respond immediately to unanticipated events, intelligently share information across divisions, obtain and receive real-time tech support, provide the continuous fusion and aggregation of data, and support federated search capabilities – while also maintaining a cost-effective budget.

Information Sharing and Protection When sharing takes place within a single security domain, this model uses many of the same tools and methods as those used in a modern business environment. Because security domains are carefully tagged, when the level of information sensitivity increases, so does the level of its protection, resulting in increasingly rigorous controls and more limited access.

Sharing becomes more difficult across security domains; a challenge similar to providing safeguards for privacy, U.S. persons data, and law enforcement sensitive data. When moving from the most strictly controlled to the least, information sharing is governed by thousands of laws, policies, regulations, and rules. All of these gate-keeping measures are in place, of course, to protect the integrity of the data and to control user access. DOD has funded dozens of software and hardware solutions, however, to provide for the efficient and safe exchange of information between two or more parties operating at different security levels.

More complex situations require that information be shared among different government agencies and public/private communities as well as across different security domains. Here, data protection is achieved through user education and awareness as well as through technological means. Again, DOD is playing a leading role in this area: critical infrastructure and information protection activities, being addressed in federal policy and law, are intended to enhance the security of the public and private infrastructures that are essential to the nation’s physical, cyber, and economic security.

Real Life Applications As discussed earlier, a critical aspect of this new model is the ability to integrate disparate data and share it not only across multiple departments and organizations but also across different security levels. The following scenarios illustrate how improved capabilities can have a profound impact in real-world situations.

Case 1: A border patrol agent must make a decision on whether or not to detain an individual. In this situation, the agent needs to query information sources with a variety of raw data – e.g., passports, fingerprints, images – and to receive a timely and relevant response in return.

Solution: The agent uses a web-based secure system that allows data sharing across multiple agencies and security levels. The system possesses an “attribute-based access control” capability, which means that the agent can access data cleared to his/her appropriate security level. Information owners can aggregate and share requested data controlled to his or her level, and to the levels of other agents who might be involved. With this greater collaborative engagement capability, the agent can know immediately whether to detain that individual or let him/her go.

Case 2: An agent must respond to a domestic terrorist threat. Post-attack, this agent needs to quickly investigate and protect against further threats by accessing and integrating data in disparate silos and across all security levels in the federal, state, and local domains.

Solution: The agent uses the UDOP (User Defined Operational Picture) tool that is part of his or her database. With UDOP, the agent focuses on the specific information of value on his or her exact level of concern (federal, state, local, and/or tribal) in order to coordinate a response. This same tool – much appreciated by senior level officers – can be used to plan, brief, and monitor mission execution in one system.

Organizations outside of the military could apply the same technology to improve response times and collaboration across horizontal divisions – while also protecting the integrity of the data. Within the healthcare and medical fields, this type of robust searching and sharing could prove a priceless asset in saving lives.

What Are the Next Steps? Instead of dealing with outdated data structures and spending money on research and development, companies and government agencies should look to the military’s new model for insight and advancement. Oneea is to start where the Department of Defense did – with ITT, a top-10 U.S. defense contractor and one of the largest information systems providers to the federal government. Using “centers of analytic excellence” is how ITT is helping DOD stay ahead of the curve, and customizing this new technology will prove invaluable to new critical areas.

ITT’s goal, using its in-depth engineering and programmatic expertise, is to meet emerging trends and transformational needs of both government and commercial customers in the areas of information integration, protection and sharing, and services. The power in ITT’s tools, as demonstrated in the scenarios above, provides organizations the capability to plan, brief, and execute with just one system.


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________________________________ Thomas Payne is the director of ITT’s Information Integration Systems Department, which delivers information integration solutions based on a proven non-proprietary open architecture that integrates best-of-breed applications.  The department is part of ITT Information Systems, which has over 11,600 employees globally; its corporate headquarters is  in Herndon, Virginia.