Carl G. O'Berry
Vice President, Strategic Architecture
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems
"Lessons from Commercial Industry: What makes the 'Net' work?"
October 08, 2003
Network-centric business has meant a common architecture, with common interfaces, common standards and common protocols.
Defense companies must adapt network technology to warfare in response to evolving user needs.
Changing to a net-centric business involves enormous changes in company culture as well as agility in response to fast evolving technology.
User concepts of operations must also be formulated with respect to advancing technology; but must also drive cultural and doctrinal changes-perhaps of the greatest magnitude in history.
- Take this vision from Sun's website:
Everyone and everything connected to the network. Eventually every man, woman, and child on the planet will be connected to the network. So will virtually everything with a digital or electrical heartbeat -- from mobile phones to automobiles, thermostats to razor blades -- with RFID tags on them. The resulting network traffic will require highly scalable, reliable systems, from Sun.
- Cisco has a similar vision. At a recent Boeing offsite a Cisco participant referred to the eventuality where "everything is a node on the network."
- We likewise hear most of industry -- particularly enterprises in the information technology sector -- pointing to the likelihood of a universally interactive digital world
- For the sake of discussion let's accept that there appears to be at least a start toward a shared vision
- A brief look at the current commercial marketplace in this evolving information age shows -- not surprisingly -- similarities to our industrial age heritage
- Is there a competitive environment? -- Yes!
- Are there multiple providers of systems (platforms, etc.)? -- Of course!
- Are our expectations rising with respect to the power of the network? -- Unquestionably!
- Similarities, yes -- but market differences are quite striking. Take the furiously dynamic digital phone business as an example:
- Commercial providers figuring out ways to ensure access -- perhaps a form of interoperability, however reluctant?
- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Cingular digital systems are becoming increasingly capable of sharing network services -- arguably a form of interoperability -- to some level.
- In other words, commercial services seem at last oriented toward providing an environment for information exchange that -- although it may use many different methods and forms -- looks to the user somewhat like a contiguous infrastructure and messaging fabric.
- An important lesson from current market experience is the willingness of the consumer to quickly embrace the changes resulting from this interoperability and see its potential -- an interesting dynamic for industrial enterprises to consider.
- The differences and similarities between the industrial age and the information age, of course, are much more complex than this short burst can address; but there are some interesting areas of tension associated with the current shifting from age to age:
- For one, the nature of capitalist business has been forged in the smelters of the industrial age. Competition is the heart and soul of the industrial age. Competition is the salvation of the consumer, the purifier of the market place.
- There seems to be an enduring tendency for industrial age companies to act alone against the forces of competition, to strive and survive in the market place as champions of enduring struggle for sales, growth, and recognition.
- The dawning information age, on the other hand, has introduced exciting new capabilities, distributed decision and control processes, unprecedented awareness at the consumer level, and growing dissatisfaction with industrial age concepts.
- There is a hunger for faster responses to needs, for greater security, for instantaneous access to information. The Internet has grown from a scarcely noticeable government experiment in the early 1990s to a colossus of communication, information sharing, and mischief -- virtually shrinking the world to living room size -- all in a dozen years.
- There seems to be a dichotomy in the fabric of consumer expectation, business and community interest, and national and international relationships that points to a need for greater cooperation on many fronts in the face of an onslaught of asymmetric threats to such interests.
- Now what does this portend for the warrior or other operational consumer of information technology?
- Call it Information Superiority; Network-Centric Warfare; or the Digital Battlefield -- at the end of the day the current market dynamics can lead to vastly improved ability to reliably interoperate.
- The expectations of the Defense customer -- or the homeland security customer, or any other operator of complex systems -- are on the rise!
- There is pressure on all fronts for systems, services, and platforms -- produced by different industry elements and enterprises -- to emerge from the chute ready to enable Joint Vision 2020.
- There is an expectation that new systems will meld at some level with current systems to increase their capability and will simultaneously provide vastly improved information sharing and services, and operational capabilities.
- Three questions seem to appropriate to this network centric operations forum:
- Is industrial age autonomy in the business sector causing us to overlook the power and capability that information technology might deliver if applied optimally through networked systems?
- Does not industry have a responsibility to provide the means of growing information infrastructure to enable such capabilities?
- Is it possible to create within commercial industry a meaningful response to the expectations of its customers despite lingering "stand alone" production methods of the industrial age that tend to work against collaboration at some levels that could be no longer relevant?
- There are ways to gain immense leverage from information technology -- all its products and services -- to the betterment of the government or commercial consumer that will meet and exceed expectations, without compromising competition or the ability of companies to operate as individual enterprises:
- A common architectural base applied to ensure inherent interoperability regardless of provider, and
- An Industry-led initiative at the substrate level of the present global infrastructure, forged by industry -- in response to accepted industry and government standards -- that need violate neither competition expectations nor industry's competitive autonomy
- If, through such endeavors, information age systems, services, and platforms might be rendered inherently interoperable regardless of who produces them, it's entirely possible to achieve unimaginably greater levels of capability as such systems are networked together.
- It is also likely that -- if a common digital communication and information services substrate were available -- industry would gain greater leverage from its investments and intellectual capital through creation of greater capabilities for its customers, who would find ways to utilize such systems that we cannot even imagine as we produce them.
- I submit that this is what enabling net-centric operations is really all about:
- A willingness to embrace the notion that industry is responsible for leading the way to creating interoperability on a scale where non-linear gains are possible in the operational venue.
- A willingness for industry and consumer alike to embrace changes consistent with the information age and focus collectively on leveraging the resultant potential.
- There are many encouraging signs of accelerating change in industry and there is a transformational mindset in Defense that is propagating to numerous other venues. Commercial markets are the drivers for the advancement of technology and its increasing rate of change.
- Symposia like this one reflect the importance of net-centric operations to Defense; but the need for net-centric operational principles is rampant and growing in all human pursuits.
- A reminder: Joint Vision 2020 is a global vision, with global implications. Its realization will require a global focus and working together on an unprecedented scale. Failure to realize the vision is really not an option.
- Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to think out loud about our collective importance in the advancement of net centric technology.