As the Pentagon looks to save more than $400 billion across the Department of Defense over the next decade, department personnel are using a secure, collaborative platform called milSuite to identify duplicative efforts and realize cost-efficiencies across the services.
milSuite is a DoD enterprise-wide suite of collaboration tools that mirrors the functionality of existing social media platforms such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter. Responsibility for milSuite is assigned to the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) Military Technical (MilTech) Solutions Office.
Through milSuite, DoD professionals and leadership can access a growing repository of the military's thousands of organizations, people and systems around the globe. DoD professionals can share their best practices with an enterprise-wide community, as well as leverage knowledge to improve current processes.
"These applications allow us to break down barriers in how we collaborate and share information, because they encourage instant communication and real-time situational awareness," said Emerson Keslar, director of MilTech Solutions, which developed the product and led the effort to institute its use on behalf of the DoD.
More than 190,000 users, from interns to general officers, have joined milSuite since its launch in 2009. Users have leveraged milSuite's milWiki application, modeled after Wikipedia, to share lessons learned on enterprise-wide systems and technologies. They have used its milBook capability, similar to Facebook, to bring thousands of professionals into communities of practice centered on such diverse subjects as chaplaincy, medicine and tactical communications.
"Today, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and DoD civilians can discover information, engage with other experts and collaborate in a protected environment regardless of their location," said Tom Curran, product director for milSuite.
While developing mil-Suite, MilTech Solutions successfully leveraged commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, such as Jive Social Business Software, and open source software that includes MediaWiki and WordPress. This significantly reduced cost, time and manpower associated with development and support.
"MilTech took the COTS products a step further by jumping fully into the development side of the house and building on the existing applications," said Jason Bock, a milSuite support representative. "The Army has many COTS products that are used in the tactical environment, but to develop them in the realm of collaborative websites and social networking was something new for the DoD."
The use of existing products allows milSuite users to benefit from an environment that can easily expand to meet their needs. Users can create custom pages, portals and applications to meet the needs of their individual organizations.
Meeting Individual Needs in a Flexible Environment
Currently, milSuite is composed of four tools: milWiki, a living knowledge bank of military encyclopedia entries; milBook, a professional networking tool and collaborative space for hosting communities of practice; milBlog, a place to share and comment on internal news and events; and milTube, a video-sharing capability. The tools are integrated through a common user profile and linked by a Google search appliance. Users can share unclassified and For Official Use Only information on the platform.
"Because milSuite is already in existence as a DoD product, the Navy can benefit from using it rather than developing their own collaborative platform," said Lt. Cmdr. Erica Kraft of the Navy Reserve, who maintains the "Navy on milBook" group on milSuite. "It is a cost-effective way to partner with the other services."
As of February 2012, more than 2,600 Navy and Marine Corps personnel are registered on milSuite, with more than 200 groups on milBook relating to the Navy, Marine Corps and joint forces.
MilSuite's tools can be used together to create a customized virtual workspace.
In 2011, leadership of the Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) shared a vision to create a secure location where Soldiers can see and learn about the equipment they will encounter in theater. To fulfill its vision, FORSCOM is partnering with MilTech Solutions to develop a customized Virtual Training Portal for Soldiers on milSuite.
"Our goal is to allow non-commissioned officers and junior officers to go to a website, see and then understand the equipment that they are going to receive in theater," said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy to the commanding general of FORSCOM.
Soldiers will be able to read about the equipment in a Weapons Systems Port28 folio (WSP) on milWiki, view training videos on milTube and discuss and share information on milBook. These multiple capabilities will be linked through a cus-tomized FORSCOM homepage on the milsuite.mil domain.
Cmdr. Michael Hudson of Navy Recruiting District Ohio created a portal on milWiki to serve as his organizatio'’s virtual workspace. Through the portal, Hudson is able to reach his entire workforce and share an extensive archive of information without using email. As well as command directives and common operating procedures, the collaboration space includes weekly leadership messages from Hudson, his executive officer, the chief recruiter and the command master chief.
"It's a great communications tool, because everyone can contribute infor-mation and easily put documents or announcements up on the wiki," Hudson said.
Hudson's efforts were echoed by the leadership of the Navy Recruiting Districts of Jacksonville, Fla., and Chicago, who created their own milWiki portals.
Peter Gillis, who serves as the community manager for civilian information technology (IT) professionals in the Marine Corps, created a group on milBook to serve as a virtual workspace for his colleagues stationed around the world. Users can share documents in this workspace to diminish the number of emails they need to send.
"The collaborative opportunities pro-vided by milSuite give us a chance to save money and time," Gillis said.
The online group offers Gillis a cost-effective way to boost productivity and communicate across continents by cut-ting down on email traffic and the need for face-to-face meetings.
On milBook, Gillis engages colleagues in discussions about IT issues, posts relevant Navy and DoD policies for widespread dissemination and advertises events such as the annual Community Workforce Leader Summit, without worrying the information will reach the public domain. His colleagues or other IT professionals can register for his events virtually and provide real-time feedback on policies.
Meeting Knowledge Management Challenges
Creating a living knowledge bank was a driving motive for the creation of milSuite. The product line grew out of a need for new knowledge management solutions for an Army workforce at Fort Monmouth, N.J., that lost personnel due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 2005. Under BRAC legislation, Fort Monmouth was closed in 2011, with its organizations relocating to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and other installations.
Organizations, including some commands from the former Fort Monmouth community, leveraged milSuite to build and update living archives through a milBook group or a collection of milWiki arti-cles. Other Fort Monmouth commands used different capabilities to capture knowledge. In this regard, the expertise of departing leaders and the specialized knowledge of subject matter experts can be captured on virtual documents within milSuite and are easily accessible to new employees.
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) uses milWiki to promote online collaboration for Army field manuals, allowing the knowledge and experiences of Soldiers to be rapidly incorporated into doctrine. In 2010, TRADOC's project was recognized by the White House as a DoD Open Government Initiative.
The next generation of milSuite, version 4.0, is planned for release later this year. The upgrade will include enhancements, including integration with Microsoft SharePoint, the ability to leverage widgets across milSuite and a developers' area that will provide application programming interfaces to extend milSuite products through external resources.
As milSuite continues to expand, MilTech Solutions is working with Army and DoD leadership to begin offering milSuite as an official enterprise product.
Through milSuite, DoD professionals can access knowledge about military missions and programs, and work with others across the enterprise to continue creating cost-effective processes and reduce duplicative efforts. With network firewall protection, more than 190,000 users from branches and organizations across the DoD can share official unclassified information and collaborate.
"In this challenging fiscal environment, it is important that the DoD leverages existing proven technologies to enable the workforce to work more efficiently," Curran said.
"milSuite does this by making more data, information and knowledge available and timely, enhancing the decision making process and enabling collabora-tion outside of the office space."
Registration for milSuite is open to DoD military, civilian and contractor personnel at https://www.milsuite.mil.
Emily Gee is a staff writer supporting the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).