The Intelligence Community Desktop Environment will support thick, thin and mobile form factors. (Spc. Joshua Edwards / U.S. Army)
Uniting the entire Intelligence Community (IC) under a common desktop environment promises to help managers, analysts and other system users generate and share information more productively and efficiently.
The environment’s foundation is already in place. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence-Agency (NGA) deployed the first stage of the Intelligence Community Desktop Environment (IC DTE) last summer. Almost 4,000 users at the two agencies are taking advantage of the technology’s simpler access structure, flexible device support and sophisticated new collaboration tools.
Despite the many benefits the environment is expected to provide, expanding the system across the entire IC won’t be easy.
“As we move toward consolidating agency IT systems, the primary challenge is accommodating the different security requirements between the agencies,” said Kendrea DeLauter, desktop environment director for the IC DTE Joint Program Management Office (JMPO). IC DTE JPMO serves as the community liaison to facilitate the implementation of the IC DTE. The JPMO is currently comprised of officers from the DIA, NGA and ODNI.
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Addressing varying needs
DeLauter noted mission needs vary significantly between agencies, which makes delivering a common solution that addresses a broad range of mission needs a challenging task. “For example, some customers require graphically intensive capabilities, while others may only need basic office automation,” DeLauter said. “Some agencies support a global workforce, while other agencies are much more centralized.”
Brad Curran, a senior aerospace and defense industry analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan, said getting all IC and military agencies to agree on common IC DTE technologies, processes and benchmarks creates another major challenge. “It is unclear how planning is being coordinated between the different agencies, with different requirements and goals,” he said, “but, hopefully, stovepiped or redundant systems can be eliminated with a joint system that also meets each agency’s unique requirements.”
The benefits IC DTE is expected to generate will more than justify the effort expended to create the environment, according to DeLauter. “By giving users access to common desktop tools and robust security features, the IC DTE promises to enhance intelligence integration and collaboration within and across the IC agencies and components while simultaneously increasing the architecture’s security posture,” she said.
Curran said the IC DTE will help agencies become more responsive to emerging situations and missions. A common environment would make it easier for multiple IC organizations to create ad hoc virtual specialist teams to collaborate on hot projects. Other potential benefits include decreased costs, the ability to leverage mature commercial technologies, more frequent tech refreshes, easier training, enhanced data fusion and reporting, a better ability to leverage historical trends, earlier detection of “rogue insiders,” and easier foreign, open-source and social network intelligence collections.
According to DeLauter, the IC DTE will consolidate numerous disparate legacy domains into a single domain supported by multiple physical nodes. The IC DTE will also be capable of supporting a variety of endpoint devices in thick, thin and mobile form factors. “It will provide key common services like a common operating system, email, unified communications, collaboration tools, office automation, print and directory services, user mobility, and access to other IC Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE) services, including applications in the IC’s AppsMall, GovCloud and Commercial Cloud Services (C2S),” DeLauter said.
Data integration is the key focus of transition planning, DeLauter said. “Generally, challenges are associated with security access controls and the volume of data that has to be migrated for a customer to have a seamless transition experience,” she said. “ICITE establishes a cohesive architecture and a more uniform structure that every agency understands and to which every agency can build.”
Individual agencies will also be able to plan and manage the transition of their current services into IC DTE and perform the required engineering and integration. “Each agency is also planning what to transition, when transitions can occur and which legacy systems can be turned off,” DeLauter said. “The established governance process provides for collaboration across the IC to benefit from lessons learned and to provide guidance as required.”
Once complete, the IC DTE should provide a seamless desktop environment spanning the entire IC. “We can assume the environment will look like a scalable single architecture with continuous monitoring, multiple security levels and access areas so each agency/analyst can share, but only be able to access data on a need-to-know basis,” Curran said.
Full deployment remains several years away, however. “It is still in the prototype stage,” Curran said. “They will take it slow and make sure it is secure and functioning well.”
“We expect Phase 1 to conclude by the end of fiscal year 2015 and Phase 2 to begin in fiscal year 2015,” DeLauter said, “with the goal of integrating the remainder of the IC into the IC DTE by the end of fiscal year 2018.”