SOA promotes a sea change for the US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard dipped its toes cautiously into the SOA waters -- a measured approach of 'build a little, test a little.' Part 2 of a 3-part report.

This is the second of three installments of my discussion with Jim Jennis, chief technology officer for the US Coast Guard Operations Systems Center, and Steve Munson, SOA branch chief for the US Coast Guard, about the department's growing roster of service-orientation initiatives. In the first post, Munson and Jennis described the business case for SOA within the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard dipped its toes cautiously into the SOA waters

The Coast Guard's SOA initiatives had top-level support early on from the upper echelons of management. “We'd been challenged by our new commandant, Admiral [Thad] Allen, to become a department leader in SOA, and the department was taking a hard look at that time on where they wanted to go with their SOA roadmap,” Munson explains. “So it was just an opportune moment for us to dive into this, and see if there was any technologies that made sense, and that we could leverage. So we've taken a very deliberate, very measured approach to this, and started with a lot of small pilot projects, to validate, not only the technologies, but the architectural concepts that we're trying to support with them.”

Even with strong organizational support, the Coast Guard's SOA team approached the effort from the ground up, starting with smaller pilot projects. The approach was “build a little, test a little,” Jennis says. “We took a very measured and deliberate approach to SOA – no 'big-bang' projects. Everything was carefully architected and focused at the business architecture, the mission support of the Coast Guard first and foremost. And the technology implementations were validated and tested against that architecture in business-focused pilots. That is key to our success so far – being able to take things slow, validate the architecture, focus on the business, and make sure got it right before we started rolling this stuff out in production.”

Since the Coast Guard's IT budget is small and highly fragmented across functional areas, the team did not have a big budget in which to engage its SOA effort, Jennis and Munson say. But the effort has delivered results well beyond the relatively lean expenditures made for the program. For example, the Coast Guard now can quickly pull up real-time data on ships that are entering US waters.

“We can also support maritime domain awareness by fusing data from multiple different data sources,” Munson adds. “We have, for example, requirements from homeland security for ship-arrival notifications 96 hours before a vessel enters a US port. That data can be fused with a long-range tracking system that identifies whether vessels are really going where they say they are going. Its tremendous value to promoting homeland security.”

The Coast Guard has also employed SOA to better track and manage its spare parts inventory – potentially saving the service tens of millions of dollars. “We developed what we call an 'authoritative parts service' that was able to identify and accurately catalog the value of the Coast Guard's spare parts inventory,” Munson says. “We identified in that category more than $60 million worth of incorrect Coast Guard inventory evaluation. Measuring that against the federal cost of funds index – which is like interest on your money – it saved the Coast Guard $60 million, times the value of the federal cost of funds.”

Next post: By necessity, a RESTful approach -- and unresolved issues.