REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 10, 2008 — Some 250 senior operational and IT military leaders from across the world gather in Lisbon, Portugal, today for the two-day Defence Leaders Forum, where they will discuss how information technology can bolster defense and security operations.
The summit is being convened by the NATO Communication and Information Systems Services Agency (NCSA), Microsoft, and Portugal’s Ministry of National Defense. Officials from 22 nations are taking part.
Tim Bloechl, Microsoft’s managing director for worldwide public safety and national security.
Microsoft’s joint sponsorship role underscores the company’s stature in the defense arena, says Tim Bloechl, managing director, worldwide public safety and national security at Microsoft. “We’ve developed close strategic contacts with a number of national militaries, working in partnership with them to ensure they’re equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century and the rapidly changing technology environment,” says Bloechl.
For example, twice a year at its corporate campus near Seattle, Microsoft hosts senior leaders from the international military alliance for strategic briefings. During those meetings, it shares its technology roadmap and conducts needs assessments. NATO is also in the vanguard of military organizations rolling out Windows Vista.
Such relationships are very important to Microsoft. Military organizations rank as the company’s largest and third-largest customers – the US Army and US Air Force respectively – and its top 10 also includes the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.
Access to the latest technological capabilities is critical for today’s military organizations, which have seen their national security and military roles expanded to include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, conflict resolution, disaster response, and humanitarian and public safety tasks.
To help with these new assignments, military and defense customers often are turning to commercial, off-the-shelf software from vendors such as Microsoft, replacing custom-built or legacy systems that can be costly to operate and less flexible.
Commercial software can support many defense organizations’ back-office operations, which are not unlike those of a regular business – spanning functions such as HR, payroll and accounting. There’s growing usage of Microsoft Dynamics business management products. And Microsoft Office Sharepoint is improving s collaboration among militaries internationally, says Bloechl.
But the military also has distinctive needs that set it apart from civilian organizations.
Military software must be highly reliable, stringently secure, and scalable across thousands to millions of users. It must be fully compliant with the latest standards and protocols, interoperable with disparate systems and ultra versatile across the needs of complex organizations. And in an era of budget-conscious governments, military software must be cost-effective to deploy.
Microsoft today has a wide technology footprint in today’s military, where the ease-of-use and flexibility of Microsoft products is winning favor on tasks that range from managing payroll to ensuring encrypted communication.
Microsoft delivers these demanding requirements through platform products such as Office 2007 and Windows Vista that today provide the IT infrastructure for military customers. Many partner-developed, Microsoft-based solutions represent a lifeline to soldiers operating on the front lines in dynamic combat conditions, where access to accurate, timely information can make the difference between lives saved and lost.
Take email. Military and defense organizations must keep the lines of communication open to share the very latest intelligence and operational information. But they must also protect highly sensitive information to ensure it doesn’t fall into unauthorized hands.
It’s a tricky balance to strike and regular email won’t suffice. So Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Titus Labs has developed a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that significantly enhances email security. TMC 3.0, the latest version of Titus Lab’s flagship product, ensures all messages are classified according to their sensitivity level, limiting access to parties with appropriate clearance. This prevents security breaches and inadvertent disclosures.
The tool allows users to designate a security classification for outgoing messages by clicking an icon on their desktop toolbar. If they don’t select a classification, they’re prompted to apply one through a pop-up that appears on their screen like a spellchecker and walks them through a drop-down list of options, based on their organizations’ security policy, to determine the sensitivity of the material being sent. In the case of top-secret emails, it automatically applies encryption.
TMC 3.0 also prevents information “spillage” by instantly labeling messages with attachments with the highest level of security classification contained in the attached materials. The tool accomplishes this through parsing metadata tags embedded in the code within Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and other Office 2007 programs to determine the security status of individual pieces of data in them.
By design, the solution is simple and intuitive to use, says Tim Upton president and CEO of Titus Labs, based in Ottawa, Canada: “We’ve strived to provide extreme ease of use because soldiers may be using the product amid all the distractions of a live military theater. These are not always office workers.”
“We leverage the Office platform, Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft digital rights management and encryption technologies, so that our code is leaner and meaner and it is easier for our customers to deploy, with fewer risks of problem,” adds Upton.
The tool is a growing hit with military customers. It counts 120,000 users within the US Central Command (CENTCOMM), including troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 15,000 more in the Danish military. The Australian Department of Defence recently rolled TMC 3.0 out to 80,000 users to enforce classification of all emails in Outlook, Outlook Web Access and Windows Mobile.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is working directly with the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, to enhance its Knowledge and Information Fusion Exchange (KnIFE) program, which furnishes US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with up-to-the-minute information on the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) via a restricted-access collaborative portal based on Microsoft Office SharePoint.
Microsoft technologies are also in the forefront of efforts to address the growing complexity of defense and security missions, particularly the need to coordinate operations across coalitions straddling disparate military and civilian agencies.
NATO’s Civil Military Overview (CMO) is a portal designed to allow greater collaboration between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and military communities in crisis or reconstruction operations such as the current rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.
CMO utilizes Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 to synthesize data from multiple sources, analyze it, and facilitate information exchange. It also harnesses Microsoft Office Groove 2007 to enable secure and effective cooperation across scattered teams, and Microsoft Office Communications Server to deliver presence information, instant messaging, and virtual conferencing capabilities.
Such projects underline the special responsibilities that come with serving customers such as NATO, says Bloechl. “The things we do to help NATO, not only support NATO but also the NATO Alliance nations, and by extension the Partnership for Peace nations and other contributors to NATO, plus of course the people that NATO helps.”