Army E-mail will use the Microsoft ‘Cloud’, but Google is not happy

This contract to Microsoft originated a large debate about the method used for the assignement: see, the following articles by

  • J. Nicholas Hoover, www.informationweek.comArmy Consolidates Email Under DISA Cloud
  • Joe Gould,  Army E-mail Headed to Unified ‘Cloud’ in Next Year,  and 
  • Mary Jo Google sues U.S. government over hosted e-mail bid against Microsoft
  • Judy Bradt Is Google’s recent suit against DOI based more on an entitlement mindset or a misguided understanding of transparency?

Army Consolidates Email Under DISA Cloud

The U.S. Army hopes to save $100 million annually by moving from its current network of many disparate e-mail systems to one enterprise system hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency in what Army CIO and Lt. Gen Jeffrey Sorenson said Monday is just the first step in a much wider military email consolidation effort.

Currently, the Army spends about $400 million annually on e-mail, administering innumerable isolated e-mail instantiations all around the world running different instances and sometimes different versions of Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory.

That means that, despite the high costs, soldiers often can’t share calendars or find other soldiers by their e-mail addresses, hardware is underutilized, and top IT managers don’t have a single view of service availability, and administrative functions are needlessly duplicated. For example, at Virginia’s Fort Belvoir alone, there are 15 e-mail instances and six help desks.

The new effort, inked in a September deal with DISA but first detailed on Monday, would result in one toll-free enterprise service desk and one shared enterprise email service for 1.4 million common access card users in the Army. Instead of spending more than $100 per seat per year, the new deal will cost the Army less than $39 per seat per year.

Army E-mail Headed to Unified ‘Cloud’ in Next Year

The Army has announced plans to migrate 1.6 million e-mail and calendar accounts from its local servers scattered around the world to a unified cloud computing environment managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
The service plans to begin shifting the accounts in early 2011 and finish in September, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the chief technology officer/G-6, told reporters on Wednesday at AUSA.
Part of the CIO/G-6′s broader effort to consolidating the Army’s global network, the Army has already taken steps to eliminate the thousands of local servers, which are often underused, and the accompanying help desks, Sorenson said.
“We know we can be more efficient,” Sorenson said. “For example, Fort Belvoir [Va.] today has 15 e-mail servers and six different help desks on a single installation. … Other posts, camps and stations have similar redundancies. Our goal is to make e-mail capability more efficient and ultimately more effective for our soldiers and civilians.”
Sorenson said the move will cover 1.4 million unclassified and 200,000 secret network users’ e-mail and calendar accounts on Army Microsoft Exchange, and it will include Transportation Command, European Command and Africa Command. The plan is to have the CIO/G-6 migrate in January, Army headquarters migrate in February, and follow with the rest by Sept 30.
Soldiers would have a single e-mail account and network identity at their posts and while deployed. In turn, Sorenson said the Army aims to create a single “global address list” or worldwide directory of Army personnel.
To provide technical support, the Army has launched a Army Enterprise Service Desk and a global phone number. In February 2010, seven CONUS installations began using the service desk.
The Microsoft licensing agreement covers Office products like PowerPoint, Word and Excel, which would remain on local computers.
Sorenson said he is working to eventually add SharePoint, a suite of collaborative business tools that would reside on and be accessible through the cloud.
“We’re trying to meet the needs of the market,” Sorenson said. “There are folks signed up now on SharePoint, but it’s this installation, this one, this one and this one. We want to deliver it as an enterprise.”
Sorenson left the door open to possible changes for Army Knowledge Online, the service’s web portal for e-mail, blogs, file storage, instant messenger and chat, but he said that it topic was too early to discuss. In the near future at least, soldiers should not expect any changes to AKO, he said.
The Army initially considered a commercial provider, like Google, to manage its cloud computing, but Sorenson said the effort was slowed by bureaucratic issues associated with the acquisitions process. He decided in April and finalized in September plans to go with DISA, which could quickly, easily and securely provide the necessary services while retaining existing Microsoft licenses. DISA also provides up to 10 gigabits per second of throughput capacity.
“The question with Google was, ‘Where’s that data being stored?’ We don’t know,” Sorenson said. “As a result, we had security concerns and we couldn’t walk through that with Google in a timely manner.”
As the Army eliminates servers instead of buying them, the DISA arrangement will save the Army more than $100 million in fiscal 2012 and beyond, said Sorenson. The enterprise service agreement with DISA is expected to reduce costs associated with server maintenance and going from paying $100 to $39 per user each year.
Other services are expected to eventually follow the Army in partnerships with DISA, according to Alfred Rivera, DISA’s director for computing services. The venture will eventually support combatant commands and lead into a joint network, he said.
As with gmail or other web-based e-mail services, Army users would access their e-mail, other applications and stored data, packaged as “pods,” not at a local server, but using the web, from a central point. In this case, the pods would reside at DISA’s 14 server “decks,” nine of which operate e-mail.
“When we move into the DISA decks, it’s going be just like Google,” Sorenson said. “You’re going to be getting it from the cloud as opposed to a local server. All you’re doing is collapsing a lot of servers that are probably not functioning at more than 20 percent capacity. You get rid of that hardware, you reduce your energy costs and you provide more functionality so the service is expanded.”

Google sues U.S. government over hosted e-mail bid against Microsoft

Google is suing the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) over a bid for a new hosted e-mail system which Google claims unfairly benefits Microsoft.

The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on October 29, calls out the DOI for not considering Google Apps in its Request for Quotation (RFQ). The DOI RFQ specified that the DOI was looking for a new, unified e-mail, calendaring and collaboration solution, but limited the acceptable options to Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) Federal suite only. The contract is worth $49.3 million over five years.

Google is making the argument that this is “unduly restrictive of competition,” noted TechDirt, which has a copy of the 37-page complaint embedded on its Web site.

According to the complaint, the DOJ specified that it needed a private-cloud solution for security reasons. BPOS Federal is a dedicated, locked-down version of BPOS that is basically like a privately hosted version of Microsoft’s Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Communications Online and Live Meeting. Google Apps for Government is a multi-tenant hosted solution.

The DOI justified its restriction of acceptable products to Microsoft because of Microsoft’s unified/consolidated e-mail and enhanced security features. (It sounds like the DOI also was seeking FISMA certification for the solution, which is something Microsoft is promising for BPOS but isn’t likely to deliver until some time in 2011 with its Office 365 BPOS successor.)

Google has complained before about being barred from bidding on a government contract against Microsoft. Google complained earlier this year that the state of California blocked the company from being considered in an e-mail system bid. The State ended up awarding the contract to Microsoft and its partner CSC despite Google’s objections, and claimed Google was unable to meet its requirements.

I’ve asked Microsoft for comment on Google’s DOI suit. No word back so far …

Is Google’s recent suit against DOI based more on an entitlement mindset or a misguided understanding of transparency?

“The process for winning government contracts is truly based on the ability of a supplier to legitimately and transparently win preference with government buyers.”

Judy Bradt: “It never ceases to amaze me when a supplier cries foul in terms of the government bid process claiming unfair, or in the case of Google relative to the DOI awarding a contract to Microsoft, “unduly restrictive of competition.”  One cannot help but wonder if such outcries are rooted in a false entitlement mindset or, a misguided understanding of transparency.

Let’s face it, and in line with Bradt’s winning preference with government buyers statement referenced above, whether in the public or private sectors people ultimately buy from someone they know, like and trust . . . period!

Anyone who has competed for and won large contracts understand this underlying principal, and the corresponding realization that “Transparency is not the holding fast to the illusion of a level playing field, but is achieved through a clear understanding of the layout of the field itself.”

On many occasions, including during my presentations on transparency in the government procurement process in which I include the above quote, I try to drive the know, like and trust concept home as early in the talk as possible.

In conjunction with another point of sage advice from Bradt who stresses that “waiting until an RFP/RFQ is issued is like showing up at the starting line of a long race without training and expecting to win,”  relationships in which there is a well established, confident rapport shape the decision-making process long before an RFQ is actually released for bidding.  This is especially true as the cost and complexity of the goods or services being acquired exponentially increase.  Or as I like to put it, when I go to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, I do not really care if I know or like the person behind the counter, I just want to make sure that the milk is fresh.  However, if I am purchasing a house or looking for a new dentist, you can be darn sure that I am going to want to not only have a rapport with the person in whose abilities I will be relying, but also like and trust them.

The time to start building this level of relationship is not during the response to bid process.  Unfortunately, this is the mistake that most vendors make, as they consider the issuance of an RFQ as the starting point in terms of pursuing government contracts, thereby ignoring what Bradt calls “the five critical pre-RFQ tasks that enable bidders to win true preference status.”

Within this reality framework, the real issue with the Google complaint has little to do with an exclusionary practice on the part of the government, and more to do with the company’s inability to effectively build the necessary know, like and trust rapport that creates the confidence in their ability to deliver a solution that meets the buyer’s requirements.

This is a linchpin issue as illustrated in a comment by Karen Evans during a Roundtable discussion on government transparency.  Evans, who was the U.S. Federal Government’s CIO under the Bush Administration overseeing in excess of $70 billion in IT spend during her tenure, highlighted the fact that one of the key differences between how transparency is viewed in the private sector versus the public sector originates in the reporting hierarchy.

The fact is that within the private sector Evans stressed, “your board is a known quantity that share common interests such as market share, profitability and stock value.”  Even though “opinion regarding the best route to achieve the desired results may differ, the goals are ultimately much clearer and less convoluted by partisan or regional interests.”

“This of course is a factor in the public sector” the CIO continued, as the public sector board is the “535 people in the House of Representatives in the Senate, where jurisdictional interests and competing priorities contribute, at least in part, to the risk averse lens through which transparency is viewed.”

“This aversion to risk, in essence exposing oneself to open criticism in the pages of say the Washington Post” according to Evans, “prevents people from the taking the kind of necessary risks that are required to improve services.”

In other words, it is not the features, functions and benefits overview of a particular product or service that counts but, the relationship building process that establishes the necessary trust in said benefits so as to substantially reduce and even eliminate the risk to which Evans has referred.

Or to put it more succinctly, Google should spend less time with their head in the product cloud, and more time on the ground building meaningful relationships that replace fear, uncertainty and doubt “FUD,” with a know, like and trust value proposition.

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