The Army is interested in acquiring an e-mail system that eventually could serve the entire Defense Department, a top technology official said during a luncheon on Friday.
The service plans to award a contract during the second quarter of fiscal 2010 for a pilot version of the system, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson said during an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association meeting in Arlington, Va. The trial version would serve 150,000 e-mail accounts.
Officials in mid-August began collecting ideas from industry, noting in an Aug. 17 request for information that they would like to build the system around standard commercial software, including Microsoft Exchange e-mail, Microsoft SharePoint and Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry Enterprise Server applications.
The Army plans to take a managed services approach to the initiative, which is the tactic the Navy used with the Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract it awarded to EDS in 2000. Under a managed services contract, a vendor runs an entire system -- such as e-mail -- for a customer, with the customer paying for the service delivered.
The project has the potential to move 1.2 million uniformed personnel and 650,000 Defense civilians onto a single e-mail platform. Currently, Defense employees and military members use myriad systems that do not mesh well, Sorensen said. For example, even though Defense in theory has a universal e-mail directory, it often is difficult to find a Marine e-mail address using the Army e-mail system, he said. The Army alone has 17 separate e-mail directories, he added.
The U.S. Transportation Command and the Defense Information Systems Agency already have signed on to the effort, and it has the high-level backing of Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to Sorenson.
Brig. Gen. George Allen, chief information officer of the Marine Corps, told luncheon attendees he did not want to commit to using the Defense enterprise e-mail system until it was in place and he had a chance to evaluate it.
Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., said it makes sense for the Army to take a managed service approach to enterprise e-mail because it will get Defense out of the business of buying, distributing and managing software. He predicted a range of vendors, from systems integrators to telecommunications companies, would bid on the contract.