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Mitre's mighty MII intranet brings experts together

February 3, 1999
Web posted at: 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT)

by Tom Field


(IDG) -- What if you could devise a single information system that knows everything your company knows? Picture it: a Web-based knowledge bank that stores information about every significant task your company performs. Imagine each of your employees plugged into this system—dependent on it for everything from filling out time sheets to sharing updates of ongoing projects. Think what value you would deliver if, for every question your customers asked, you could instantly locate your in-house experts and secure the perfect answer within moments.

How might such a system change the way you do business? Ask The Mitre Corp. The Mitre Information Infrastructure (MII), built by and for the federally funded research and development center based both in Bedford, Mass., and chart McLean, Va., has done more than deliver the enhanced functions detailed above. It has transformed Mitre's culture.

Before MII, expertise at Mitre was static, a closely held commodity within each of the company's three independent business units. No one even knew who Mitre's in-house experts were, never mind how to tap and share their knowledge.

Today with MII the experts are easily identified, and their expertise is fluid, shared not only within the company but also with Mitre's federal government customers.

And although Mitre's size and budget are government-restricted—the company cannot increase its own workload or even make a profit—MII allows Mitre to deliver more work faster for its customers. Since 1995, Mitre has invested $7.19 million in the system, netting an ROI of $54.91 million in reduced operating costs and improved productivity.

"If our goal is to be the organization that makes a difference for our customers, we've got to do more [for them]," says Andrea H. Weiss, Mitre vice president and CIO. "With MII, in the same amount of time and money, we can do more."

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In awarding Mitre a 1999 Enterprise Value Award, CIO's judges were impressed by the MII system and the culture change it supported. "Mitre did an exceptional job of developing a very robust, rich and widely used set of management tools," says Judge John Glaser, vice president and CIO of Partners HealthCare System Inc., in Boston. "The extent of use was remarkable, the diversity of material was remarkable and given what Mitre is—a knowledge management organization—these tools advance the very core of their being."

Marching orders

Mitre was incorporated in 1958, assigned to integrate the U.S. Air Force's Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system—the first digital electronic command and control system to monitor U.S. airspace in real-time. No one knows what the name "Mitre" was meant to signify. But since the original board of trustees was stacked with representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Rand Corp. (another nonprofit R&D organization), it's likely that Mitre is an acronym for "MIT Research" or "MIT, Rand and Engineering."

Despite the cryptic name, Mitre's mission is crystal clear: to use leading-edge technology to develop innovative, practical improvements for its customers' systems and processes. Mitre has four primary customers: the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. intelligence community and the Internal Revenue Service.

It has developed such innovative solutions as the Airborne Warning and Control System for the Air Force, a National Airspace System to improve air traffic management for the FAA and Intelink, an intranet for sharing discreet intelligence information for the U.S. intelligence community.

Yet when President Victor A. DeMarines took office in 1996, he believed Mitre did not leverage its expertise as well as it could. "We had a culture where fiefdoms had developed their own pockets of knowledge," DeMarines says. Worse, these fiefdoms acted like rivals and, faced with increasing budget scrutiny from the feds, DeMarines felt this internal rivalry compromised Mitre's ability to deliver more bang for the government's bucks. Says DeMarines, "We had to develop a culture for sharing."

But to sustain such a cultural shift, Mitre needed an information architecture that would not just enable but encourage sharing. DeMarines brought this problem to Andrea Weiss, a 20-year Mitre veteran promoted to be the company's first-ever CIO in February 1997.

Weiss knew how Mitre worked. "If you wanted an answer to a question, you had to have a 'people network,'" Weiss says. "You needed to know someone who knew someone who knew who was expert in what." DeMarines challenged Weiss to help change this culture—to build an information system that would allow Mitre executives to, as Weiss says, "know what we know, use what we know and bring it all to bear on all of our customers' jobs."

Birth of a system

Although MII was born with DeMarines' challenge, the system was conceived in 1993, at the same time that Mitre technologists were working on the Intelink project.

Starting with a wide area information system-based pilot, Mitre engineers built a rudimentary corporate intranet in 1994. By 1995, a TCP/IP-based network was in place throughout Mitre, and all employees had access to Mitre's employee directory, administrative policies and corporate information.

But to achieve DeMarines' goal, Weiss had to enrich this basic network with information deemed essential to employees' everyday lives. Weiss and her team met with senior managers as well as rank-and-file employees and emerged with a set of business requirements that resulted in these MII features:

  • Corporate Directory: Not just names and numbers, this application includes personal profiles and rsums of all Mitre employees as well as any material they may have published in their specific areas of expertise.

  • Lessons Learned Library: The Systems Engineering Process Library (SEPL) captures best practices of key software systems deployed throughout Mitre. The Risk Assessment and Management Program (RAMP) collects 10 years' worth of lessons learned from all Mitre projects.

  • Improved Efficiency Reports: All the laborious HR documents—time sheets, service requests and so on—can be filled out on MII, as can property inventory and tracking forms (key documents in a government-funded organization). A facility-scheduling application lets users locate, schedule and equip meeting space throughout Mitre.

Winning over the skeptics

In part, Mitre executives saw MII as a field of dreams—if they built it, the users would come—but they also knew they needed to sell the system. DeMarines did his part through executive sponsorship. "I make sure people know that [MII] is what the CEO wants," says DeMarines, who is now CEO.

Weiss concentrated on making MII attractive. She teased users by putting cumbersome paperwork and processes online. Take the company phone book, for instance: At first, it was available in hard copy and on MII. But as users increasingly relied on the MII version, the printed version was discontinued.

Before long, time cards, expense sheets and technical information were impossible to find—except on MII. "We're all the time looking for certain hooks to get people into [MII]," Weiss says. "And once we've got someone there, they're going to spend some time [with MII]."

"I like to think we're behaving dramatically different today than we were two years ago," says Harold Sorenson, senior vice president and general manager of Mitre's Center for Air Force C2 Systems. A veteran of the "fiefdom" days, Sorenson now hears people talk knowledgeably about Mitre projects they've never even worked on. He sees collaboration among people who never would have talked to each other pre-MII. "It's still early in the move, but people's approach to work is changing," Sorenson says.

Culture shift

Globally, all 63 of Mitre's sites are connected to MII. Mitre's more than 4,000 employees interact with the system daily. MII's primary Web servers record up to 10 million transactions per month.

Internally, each of Mitre's business units has programs underway to further leverage MII companywide. Outside the firewall, a new MII extranet lets select customers benefit from Mitre's project information and technical expertise.

"MII is part of delivering the company," DeMarines says. "Before we had MII, we were very successful. Now we're still very successful, and we bring the rest of the company's resources to bear with every customer."

Weiss, who met DeMarines' initial challenge, feels the system has come to embody Mitre's mission statement, "Solutions that make a difference." "It's not just a jingle," Weiss says. "It's the way of life for us."

Tom Field is a senior writer for CIO.

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