Portal tech comes marching in

Defence R&D Canada (DRDC) is developing a portal prototype intended to provide military personnel with a single point of access to Canadian Forces operations information.

DRDC is an agency of the Department of National Defence that handles the technology requirements of the Canadian Forces. This project, dubbed COP 21 (Common Operational Picture for the 21 st Century) Technology Demonstration, will help address staff officers’ needs for better tools to integrate military operations data.

According to Luc Dumouchel, program manager of information operations for xwave in Ottawa, the integrator that DRDC has commissioned to build the prototype, officers must access various information sources – including databases, Web sites and streaming media – to put together daily briefings for their commanders. The information is “distributed all over the place,” and xwave’s job is to “bring that [information] on somebody’s desktop so the officers can gather it and make sense of it,” Dumouchel said.

Denis Gouin, project manager for the COP 21 Technology Demonstration at DRDC in Valcartier, Que., said there are already several information management tools in use, but they’re not very efficient because “[the officers] need to move from one workstation to another to get access to other sources of information.”

The new portal, he said, will provide access to maps, imagery, information management and collaboration services, mission-specific content and operational task support, among other things.

Under the terms of the $2.6-million contract, xwave will work on the project with defence scientists at DRDC Valcartier, as well as with systems integrator Thales Systems Canada, information management solutions provider Compusult Ltd. and BEA Systems, an application infrastructure software company, to design and develop the decision-support portal for the deputy chief of the defence staff.

“BEA is the portal development environment,” said Dumouchel. “It affords us the basics of portal structure, and we can customize inside of the portal to meet the needs of this particular problem.”

The project will undergo what Dumouchel called a “spiral development process” – xwave will deliver the first prototype to the scientists, who will then offer feedback and suggestions for improvement. According to Gouin, the DRDC scientists will play a key role in the continual development of this solution. “They will be involved in design and analysis, not just contract managers,” Gouin said.

This sets the COP 21 project apart from other initiatives of this scale, where scientists would normally be involved in only the earlier stages, such as coming up with the initial idea and laying out the contract.

At press time, xwave was getting ready to deliver the first version of the prototype, which “starts the ball rolling,” said xwave’s general manager of sales, Don McClure. The second version is due in November. “That will be more likely the final version, and all next year we will be conducting tests and experiments to see how well the system works,” McClure said.

The project is slated for completion by March 2005, after which DRDC will decide whether it will actually use the resulting system, Dumouchel added.

One of the key challenges, said DRDC’s Gouin, is the sheer scope of the project. “We’re addressing a lot of ground,” he said. “The technology is mature, but in terms of integration and function, we need to integrate quite a number of various sources and legacy systems.”

Dumouchel agreed, adding that the integration has do be done in an efficient and timely manner. “The main challenge is to work with the scientist counterparts to identify what is the relevant information to be accessed, where it is and how to bring it to the fore in a useful, meaningful way.”

Budget is not as much a concern, added Gouin, as Thales, Compusult and BEA are contributing a total of $1.8 million toward the project.