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The DPO's Corporate Services Vision: Learning from e-commerce leaders

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - The Internet is arguably the most far-reaching innovation that the global population has experienced in recent generations. Like the automobile, television, and telephone, the information highway has evolved from being a luxury to a necessity and has impacted our lives in ways once unimaginable. And, it's happened in a remarkably short period of time.

It was little more than a decade ago on Jan. 13, 1996, when CNN ran a story with the headline, "New survey finds Internet use is surging." Text that caption of recent history to a teenager, and they'll probably reply with something like, "OMG, R U 4 REAL!"

As the internet grew, so did business opportunities. Amazon.com was one of the first companies to sell goods over the internet and faced skepticism about its business model. Launched in 1995, it began as an online bookstore but soon diversified its product lines to everything from electronic goods to apparel and furniture.

Today, Amazon operates globally through a single portal connecting customers to products and services often made available via other vendors. This happens without you, the customer, even knowing that other companies are involved. The product you order often comes from another company's inventory. You probably didn't give any thought to the fact that you paid via a service offered by yet another company. Nor, did you have any concerns about which company would deliver the product. You went to one Web site to place your order, select a delivery option, then pay. Shopping over the internet has become a normal way of life.

Many Americans have engaged in e-commerce. E-commerce, or Business-to-Consumer (B2C), links computer systems between the vendor, host, and buyer. B2C companies like Amazon.com, Hotels.com and Travelocity.com found a niche and have led the change in how consumers buy goods and services.

The consumer perspective is that these host companies link buyers to products. Less apparent, and possibly more important, is the realization that the host interconnects information systems (of the trading partners) necessary to complete the purchasing workflow via the internet. Recently, these interconnections are accomplished through Web services.

Web services are often employed via a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), which is a system design methodology that allows widespread and flexible sharing of services or capabilities created by a provider for the benefit of a service consumer.

Services are software components that serve as the endpoint connections for other applications to access for a specific function. The services have stand-alone functionality and are governed by standards. Amazon.com acts as the host, connecting services from various vendors that provide products, payment, and delivery.

The U.S. Transportation Command, in its role as the Department of Defense's (DOD) Distribution Process Owner (DPO) and Distribution Portfolio Manager (DPfM), can be viewed as being similar, connecting services integral to the transportation and distribution functions for the DOD.

Specifically, the DPO enables services for planning, ordering, shipping, tracking and paying for the distribution of goods and personnel. Like Amazon.com, the DPO is the single interface for these services which are built by USTRANSCOM component commands and partners in the DOD's areas of distribution and transportation. It's this similarity that is at the heart of the DPO's Corporate Services Vision (CSV).

The current DPO enterprise computing environment is strained. Requirements are growing as the DPO strives to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the Joint Deployment and Distribution Environment (JDDE). At the same time, redundancies in systems are growing as separate areas/organizations within the distribution pipeline develop their own solutions. All of this is happening while resources continue to shrink.

"There are hundreds of systems and thousands of interfaces that are being maintained at a high cost," said Robert Osborn, deputy director, Distribution Portfolio Management at USTRANSCOM. "We must change the way we do business."

The DOD develops interfaces based on requirements that are viewed from a system perspective. Many commercial organizations recognized that such conventional approaches led to lower levels of agility, increased levels of complexity, and higher cost. As a result, companies like Amazon.com employ a SOA for their business.

Osborn and his team have studied commercial applications of SOA and he believes, "we must transition from a tightly-coupled, point-to-point interface to a services-oriented environment, one that is loosely coupled, flexible, agile, and transparent to the end user."

An SOA achieves loose coupling through its architecture and the application of standards. Traditional SOA approaches allow for producers of services to simply create them, place them in a registry for discovery, and serve them to any and all potential consumers. At the DPO, the CSV is beyond simple standards.

The DPO's "SOA with a twist" approach uses their revolutionary actionable Enterprise Architecture to prescribe what each Program of Record will build to support the overall DPO mission. Unlike the general SOA approach, the DPO is using the SOA standards as a baseline but is augmenting those standards with specific engineering implementation guidance to ensure that capabilities within the DPO domain are built with an overall enterprise perspective. Operational workflows will be engineered by the enterprise, and service interactions will be prescribed and mandated to the application developers.

The vision for the DPO SOA, and the benefits envisioned for the CSV, are to break down silos, eliminate duplication and inconsistencies, and enable the convergence of business processes within the DPO area of responsibility.

As part of DOD's Business Transformation Initiative, the DPfM is driving towards a SOA, transitioning from programmatic systems capabilities to the identification, development and implementation of core DPO capabilities.

"As we identify DPO core capabilities for development and implementation, we will prescribe interfaces to our customers and suppliers," explained Osborn. "They will use these prescribed interfaces to gain access to deployment and distribution capabilities."

How will the DPO determine the prescribed interfaces and funding for future SOA solutions? The foundation of any implementation methodology is governance. The DPO improved its previous governance processes to support the CSV. This Corporate Governance Process (CGP) forces all Distribution requirements to be assessed from an enterprise perspective against the To-Be (desired) Enterprise Architecture (EA).

Requirements that require further review and/or may have a high impact on existing systems, programs, and initiatives (SPIs) are reviewed through USTRANSCOM's Enterprise Requirements Review Council (ERRC).

The ERRC is a group of general officers co-chaired by the command's operations and plans director (TCJ3) and the director of strategy, policy, programs and logistics (TCJ5/4). Outputs from the ERRC include prioritized enterprise requirements.

These requirements are then sent to the Resource Strategy Board (RSB) which is chaired by the USTRANSCOM Chief of Staff (TCCS) and includes the DPfM and USTRANSCOM's chief financial officer (TCJ8), as well as the command's acquisition & legal officers as advisory members.

The RSB reviews the prioritized ERRC requirements and applies funding decisions, resulting in fiscally executable solutions.

The resourced requirements packages are approved by the Portfolio Review Council, chaired by the deputy commander. The recommended courses of action are then presented to the USTRANSCOM Commander for approval.

Also included in the CGP is the Execution & Effects Review to determine how well capabilities have been delivered according to plan. As new capabilities are identified and delivered, the To-Be Enterprise Architecture is updated accordingly.

Over the past few years, the DPfM has been focused on the reduction of the number of IT systems in inventory. This was important to gain efficiencies.

"Now that we have reduced the number to a manageable level, we can focus on moving the CSV forward," said Osborn. Ultimately, the successful creation of a DPO SOA environment will avoid costs by reducing point-to-point interfaces, and reduce the cost per interface from $250,000 to $50,000.

The SOA concept behind companies like Amazon.com is very similar to the CSV envisioned by the DPO. Both Amazon.com and the DPO act as single entry points in their enterprise to provide business or mission oriented workflows. Just like the Amazon search, select, ship, and pay workflow for purchasing an MP3 player, DPO is defining and building similar mission-centric workflows to provide an efficient Distribution experience for the warfighter.

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