Coast Guard makes waves with SOA

Federal 100 award winner Capt. Mike Ryan is using SOA technology to forge powerful links across the Coast Guard and with external partners.

As told to Brian Robinson

Capt. Mike Ryan took command of the Coast Guard's Operations Systems Center in 2008 as the service was seeking to modernize its IT infrastructure. Under his leadership, the center developed the Semper Paratus Enterprise Architecture Realization (SPEAR) service-oriented architecture, which will save the Coast Guard millions of dollars. It has already improved data sharing and enhanced the service's response to incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

When that spill of national significance took place, we obviously recognized there was going to be a large thirst for information, particularly maritime domain information. Because the SOA framework was in place, it really became a matter of just hearing from the operational community what information they believed they needed. Then our technical staff was able to quickly identify sources for that information and establish a new service to allow that dataset to flow across our enterprise service bus.

In the not too distant past, the way you dealt with these types of data needs was with a very manually intensive process of extracting data from various systems, putting it into spreadsheets and then providing that static content back to somebody who had to manipulate it into something useful.

During Deepwater Horizon, our senior leaders were receiving frequent updates about the kind of information the Coast Guard was getting and how we were using SPEAR to get valuable information out to the response community about such things as where vessels were, what capabilities were available, what was happening with the oil plume and so on.

It was clearly a case where not only my command but other elements in the Coast Guard and in government really leveraged data sharing and information access to put it to its best use. It also reinforced with our senior leaders why they made the right business decisions in years prior to make that truly a vital capability for our service and the nation’s public.

Semper Paratus is the Coast Guard motto, so SPEAR's the label that we've applied to help our personnel and system sponsors identify with the SOA framework. We settled on a foundation of asynchronous messaging rather than some other flavor of SOA because we wanted all our key stakeholders to understand that's how we were going to [do] business. And we also used the publish-and-subscribe methodology so our customers could reuse the code sets.

SPEAR has become pervasive throughout all segments of the Coast Guard's IT community and has helped remove many of the artificial barriers that had developed between various facilities. It's brought the CIOs of the field-level units closer together. On that front, SPEAR has been a huge force multiplier.

It's also had a major effect in other areas. We have a lot of joint ventures with the Acquisition Directorate, for example, and as they go out and interface with industry on new procurements, they are bringing these new principles to the table. [SPEAR has] also opened a lot of doors and created partnerships with other people, from those driving the boats to those running shore-side operations. It's been an initiative that's really transcended all the organizational boundaries.

But Deepwater Horizon, when people saw the effect of providing time-critical and urgent data during a major disaster, has raised SPEAR’s profile much higher. Without a doubt, across all my system teams and across all my program sponsors, when I now sit at the table and say there’s the opportunity for them to use SOA principles to get access and rights to datasets that can provide value, they understand what we are talking about and that it doesn’t have to be something overwhelming.

Read more about the 2011 Federal 100 award winners.