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Navy Gets Common Office Automation Language for Text Processing and Document Interchange.

Navy Gets Common Office Automation Language for Text Processing and Document Interchange

A Spaniard, a Frenchman and an Englishman want to converse, but don't speak one another's language. Yet, since they all understand Latin, they can talk. Of course, after any one of them grasps what another is saying, he translates it into his own tongue--the one he's accustomed to mentally processing. Later, if he shares the information with fellow countrymen, he communicates in his native tongue.

Using simple communication principles similar to those just described, the Department of the Navy Office Automation and Communications System (DONOACS) Project team has found an ingenious solution to the problem of electronically sharing text between and among formerly "incompatible' office automation terminals.

Commander Robert Gray, director of the DONOACS Project, says the concept is easy to grasp if one thinks of, say, Xerox, DEC and Datapoint as three different nationalities, and the Navy's new Document Interchange Format (DIF) as the machine equivalent of the Latin language.

"The DIF standard is a "software filter' implemented by each vendor,' says Gray. "In everyday operation, terminal users will rely on normal vendor codes for centering, setting tabs, what have you. However, when individuals need to exchange documents with people using other vendors' terminals, they will load vendorprovided DIF software. This software translates the sending terminal's internal code into DIF coding. If the unit relies on codes DIF doesn't recognize, they simply drop out in communication. On the receiving end, the DIF software transforms its own codes into character sets and machine codes native to the terminal. DIF is an intermediate language, which exists only in translation.

"The key is that the addressee gets text that's fully processable, since it incorporates all of the receiving terminal's codes,' Gray continues. "Document exchange has limited value if users can simply look at incoming text on a screen. In most cases, people receiving documents want to edit them, extract portions for their files, make notations or do other processing. DIF lets them do so.'

Information on DIF has been published by the Department of Commerce's National Bureau of Standards, which-- along with the Navy and several vendors --has been deeply involved in its development. And word of the format's existence has triggered inquiries from other government agencies and privatesector organizations.

In the DONOACS Laboratory, Xerox and Datapoint already have successfully tested their implementations of DIF (which is independent of communications protocol) on their own office automation products. As soon as a third vendor successfully tests DIF, the Navy plans to freeze its standard. Once a military specification is promulgated, office automation equipment purchased or leased by the Navy will eventually be limited to vendors committed to supporting DIF.

That carrot has helped DONOACS woo vendors, Gray admits. "However, he stresses that DIF contributes to a multivendor environment that will benefit all parties. When DONOACS announced its DIF initiative in April 1983, 11 vendors accepted an initial invitation to participate. Today, more than 60 interested parties are involved. "DIF will let the Navy exercise more freedom in selecting the best office automation tools for applications,' Gray points out. "No single vendor has all the answers.'

It Limits Up-Front Investment

He cites other benefits of the Document Interchange Format, too, including a limited up-front investment in research and development and manageable support requirements.

Gray notes that alternative documentinterchange solutions, including the use of front-end computers with special software as document-exchange buffers, were considered and rejected. He feels that if the Navy had attempted to develop its own translation software, DIF efforts could easily have overrun the DONOACS Project, which counts implementation of DIF as just one of its ambitious goals.

"Before starting such a development effort, we would have had to learn the internals of all the equipment we wanted to interface,' he says. "Then, if we'd successfully produced a Navy add-on software package, vendors would have been under no obligation to support, upgrade or incorporate it in new equipment. So, we'd have been continually writing and debugging new DIF programs. Minutia would have bogged us down.

"With DIF, we maintain management control, while each vendor absorbs the cost of implementing it into its regular system software,' he adds. "So the project is being done at minimal cost to the government. Just as significantly, when vendors incorporate DIF into their standard operating systems, they make a commitment to ongoing support.'

Lieutenant Commander Gary Evans, who heads the DONOACS Laboratory at the Washington, DC Navy Yard, where vendors' DIF implementations are tested, says that the format's 45 control functions offer approximately 98 percent functionality.

It Includes Essential Functions

"We sacrificed some nice-to-have features, like a code to indicate a color printribbon change,' Evans explains. "But DIF includes all essential document, page and line format functions, plus break, rendition and miscellaneous functions such as code for required and nonrequired hyphens. DIF supports many functions not provided for in the ASCII code set, including decimal tab, centering and underlining. The specifics were hammered out in meetings of representatives of DONOACS, the National Bureau of Standards and vendors. The cooperation and give-and-take was fantastic.'

Gray feels that the success of DIF is largely due to the decision to start from "the right end of the telescope. We didn't take all code from all vendors and strive for compatibility,' he says. "Rather, we nailed down the functions we needed to implement in order to obtain readable documents, and then set about developing a relatively simple code set that all vendors could use. Limiting DIF to text--we didn't look at graphics--and focusing on essentials kept the project's size and time schedule within manageable bounds.'

Background on the DONOACS Project provides insights into how and why DIF came to be. A 1979 policy memorandum from the Secretary of the Navy to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps launched the project. Basically, the Secretary said that proliferation of independent--and incompatible--computer-assisted administrative management systems had to cease. Instead, a centrally controlled but "decentrally operated' Navy headquarters system was to be developed and implemented by a newly established project office--DONOACS.

If Creates Automation Standards

DIF is but one offshoot of the project's charter to create a standard office automation network that will serve the Navy Secretariat and Navy and Marine Corps headquarters commands in the National Capitol Region, integrating what might otherwise be nonstandard or incompatible systems.

"We will put in a backbone communications network,' says Gray. "This highspeed, multiple-channel wide-area network will provide a communications tie for individual pieces of equipment and local-area networks (LANs). Initially, this network will be used for nonclassified information. LANs, like the pilot networks we've already established, will continue to provide for information exchange within specific commands.

"The integrated network is an ambitious effort that requires solving not only code translation problems, but also those associated with electrical interfaces, communications protocols and addressing schemes,' he adds. "For example, without addressing schemes, the system would be akin to a telephone system for which no one had a phone book.'

However, the assignment for the eightperson DONOACS Project team is limited to providing operational systems support to the Secretary of the Navy's staff offices, plus developing an office automation plan for them and providing an office automation link between the Navy headquarters commands and the National Capitol Region. Each subordinate command will continue to determine and budget for its own requirements.

It Requires Compatible Equipment

"We are basically a change agent in a top-down management effort,' says Commander Gray. "Each Navy organization, like the Chief of Naval Operations, has always been able to buy its own equipment, based on its unique requirements. That won't change. However, the individual commands will have to buy equipment that's compatible with our centralized communications effort so they can plug into our network. Since our network also is compatible with the national DoD (Department of Defense) Data Network, this means users will automatically be linked to hundreds of other users.'

Gray notes that the resulting networks will eliminate incompatibility headaches, which can arise, for example, as a result of the Secretary of the Navy staff offices having 18 different administrative systems using equipment from nine vendors. These networks will also open the door to many new cost-saving opportunities, he points out.

"The Navy spends about $45 million annually on postage,' he observes. "Approximately 42 percent of that mail is internal, and in the National Capitol Region it sometimes takes two to three days for documents to be delivered between the Pentagon and outlying buildings. With electronic mail and a document-interchange program, postal costs could be cut significantly. What's more, the ability to access information in 30 seconds rather than two days could offer equally important productivity benefits.'

DONOACS already has helped many Navy knowledge workers increase their productivity, Gray adds, pointing out that middle managers in the military usually have far less administrative support than their civilian counterparts and often do their own filing, photocopying and research. (In the Pentagon, there are three officers to one enlisted person.)

"Single-vendor LAN pilots installed between 1981 and 1983 in the first phase of the DONOACS Project already have demonstrated the functionality of LANs,' he says. "Within individual commands, these networks are helping significantly to cut down the time it takes to process an action, which may be anything from a mere piece of correspondence to a major decision.'

The largest single-vendor LAN pilot in the DONOACS Project is a Xerox Ethernet local communications network in the offices of the Naval Material Command in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. This communications system, one of seven Ethernet LANs now operating in the Pentagon and nearby facilities, links 40 Xerox 860 information processing systems, 10 Xerox 8010 Star information systems and 18 other network devices, including high-speed laser printers.

Other Xerox pilot locations include the DONOACS Project Management Office (PMO), the DONOACS Laboratory, the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon, and Commander--Naval Air Systems Command in Crystal City.

The Ethernet LANs are linked together via Internetwork Routing Service (IRS). This service allows for exchange of text and graphic documents between organizations and internally within each organization. The DONOACS PMO serves as the "network control center.'

"These networks support executive, professional and administrative/clerical applications and definitely help increase our technological, organizational and people productivity. This "tool' allows us to exchange information faster for more timely decisions,' says Chief Warrant Officer Lynn Freshour, the DONOACS network operations manager and network administrator for the DONOACS Ethernet network.

Another successful single-vendor LAN pilot launched by DONOACS is the Secretariat and Headquarters Information Processing System (SHIPS) for executive correspondence control, which uses a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) network.

Gray notes that due to a recent Xerox initiative, it soon may be possible for individuals on the Navy's Pentagon Ethernet networks to tap into the SHIPS network system--even before the overall wide-area network is formed. "Earlier this year, Xerox announced a DECVT100 terminal-emulation package for its Star workstation,' he explains.

"We're currently trying to inventory existing equipment that's not part of LAN pilots to identify what other links may be needed to make the most of resources already in place,' he adds, pointing out that a considerable amount of stand-alone office automation equipment is already installed in Navy offices on land and at sea. For instance, over 2,000 Xerox 860 information processing systems have been placed aboard Navy ships as part of a fleet automation program.

While the LAN demonstration phase of the DONOACS Project is now complete, work on the network architecture definition phase is continuing. DIF is part of this phase, as is the development and management of the DONOACS lab.

Lab Doubles as a Classroom

This laboratory resource area, located within the Navy Regional Automation Command building at the Washington Navy Yard, provides DONOACS with facilities for DIF testing. Simultaneously, the laboratory, which is equipped with a number of vendors' office automation products, is an educational focal point.

"Office automation equipment is not cheap, so decision-makers need to be well informed about what they're buying,' says Gray. "Though DONOACS will not tell people in subordinate commands what they should or should not buy, our laboratory will give them a chance to view state-of-the-art options. Demonstrations will be tailored to let them see how various products can be used for prime applications. In this noncompetitive environment, senior officers will be able to make more-enlightened, informed decisions on equipment that eventually will be brought into the integrated network.'

Now that the laboratory is functioning and DIF testing is under way, DONOACS also has begun planning the multi-vendor pilots that are on its thirdphase, 1985 calendar. These pilots will glue together many existing local-area networks, plus some new equipment. Project management is confident that DIF progress will help smooth its transition from a single-vendor to multi-vendor network environment.

Certainly, DIF will have major Navy and DoD applications, as the standard is being shared with the Air Force and Army. Furthermore, Evans feels it also may become a de facto government and industry standard.

Format Suits Existing Equipment

"While DIF is limited to text, the exchange of text alone will meet a great many communications needs,' he says. "I think DIF will appeal to other groups, because they can use it without making any hardware purchases or changes in their communications formats. In addition, the use of DIF can let organizations incorporate equipment that may have been in the field for several years into new communications networks.'

Gray concurs that DIF can solve the most-pressing communications problems quickly, while noting that some organizations may prefer to wait for more-global communications-interchange solutions that address voice, graphics and image, as well as text transfer.

"If others outside the Navy can benefit from DIF, that's great,' he concludes. "But our efforts address real and immediate Navy needs. Our solutions may not be global, but they are solving the Navy's most-pressing interorganization textprocessing, electronic-mail and document-interchange problems.'

Photo: Commander Robert Gray, DONOACS director, uses workstation to consult his appointments calendar.

Photo: Lieutenant Commander Gary Evans heads DONOACS Laboratory, where Navy managers get product demos.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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