For example, USTransCom currently employs an aerial port operations system called the GATES (Global Air Transportation and Execution System) and a seaport operations system called the WPS (Worldwide Port System). Basla estimates that nearly 90 percent of those systems’ activities are common between them. The key to eliminating that overlap, he says, will be to reduce the number of IT systems in use by exposing essential functionality as services. That might mean altering existing processes, but the critical goal is to maintain the full capabilities that the original systems provided.
Where to strike first
The first step in that process will be to identify functional areas that are good candidates for the transition to services. “I challenge the folks in our architecture and our integration [teams] to define those top-level services that we think are essential to our core business areas,” Basla says. “That’s the first thing: Understand who your customers are and what they require. And then the next thing is: What are those processes that you use in order to deliver those goods and services?”
Manifesting of cargo and passengers is one example, currently handled by multiple systems that USTransCom could easily consolidate into services. Basla says his team’s first task is to identify other such “25-meter targets” — military jargon for “low-hanging fruit” — that will become the initial testing grounds of its SOA efforts.
When decomposing functional areas into services, Basla says, the trick is to strike a balance. You want the resulting services to be granular enough that all of the capabilities that users require of the system are understood, accounted for, and can be delivered. At the same time, you don’t want to create services that are so granular that the resulting portfolio of services grows too large and difficult to manage.
Data management will be a key aspect of USTransCom’s transition to SOA. “We understand our processes very well. We are getting our arms around our data sets,” Basla says. He points to the DoD’s standard set of data elements for financial information systems as a good example of how USTransCom should develop a standard data set for its own distribution systems.
“We aren’t going to get every data element that has everything to do with distribution and deployment into that data set,” he says. “It would choke a horse. But we are going to get down to ... the essentials for conducting operations and passing information.”
Taking advantage of intra-agency expertise will also be of critical importance throughout this planning process. USTransCom’s core competency is distribution. When it comes to network services, Basla and his team will rely on Lt. Gen. Charles Croom and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to provide those capabilities. When it comes to IT services that assist in threat assessment for transportation crews, USTransCom will rely on the intelligence community. “We’re going to stay in our lane,” Basla says.
At the same time, USTransCom and its partner agencies rely on cross-departmental knowledge sharing to identify all of the requirements of their IT systems. Experts on transportation subject matter — who Basla calls “functionals” — become core members of IT teams and act as sounding boards for architecture and program functionality. No systems functionality is deployed without first being validated for accuracy and completeness by the functional team members.
Sold on SOA, for now