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2021-11-05
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Army 365 - Another Demonstrated Failure of Serving Users

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Tagged As: AKO, Army, Fail, and Technology

Eight years ago, the Army rolled out a decent platform upgrade in the worst possible way. The venerable AKO (Army Knowledge Online) email system was replaced by DEE (Defense Enterprise Email). It was an important upgrade that brought stability, greater browser compatibility, increased storage capacity, and presumably better security. But in doing so, the Army didn't simply migrate users from one platform to another - it threw out all traces of your former account by creating a new email address, running them simultaneously unbeknownst to users, and purging all old email if users did not have access to Outlook to create .pst backup files (which afflicted most of the users).

No CIO would survive the wrath of their CEO and company shareholders for pulling a stunt like that.

In 2021, the Army decided to repeat that playbook again. Choosing an integrated package from Microsoft, the Army opted to roll out Army 365 which, like the DEE upgrade before it, represents a commitment to refreshing the IT systems presented to the users. Once again there is increased storage, file sharing, integrated webapps for live collaboration, etc. The deadline for migrating users was set for 6 November, 2021. But that deadline does not represent when users can expect to simply have access to a new system seamlessly.

  • New accounts were live simultaneously resulting in email replies delivered to an account users were not checking.
  • Users were tasked to migrate their own email with gigabytes of .pst files.
  • Users could only do their own migration from a .mil network (tough luck Reservists).
  • Users could only do their own migration using a government computer with a managed Outlook account (tough luck Reservists and junior enlisted).
  • Users were once again given new email addresses.
  • Gone was the almost intuitive mail.mil domain for a less obvious URL.
  • Due to licensing choices, not everyone in the Army [junior enlisted specifically] could even have an email account.
  • And once again, if users don't migrate their own mail, it all gets purged.

Army - perhaps you heard of the the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. 31) that requires all federal agencies to maintain records that document their activities, file records for safe storage and efficient retrieval, and dispose of records according to agency schedules? While violating the Act is certainly a possible course of action, it should not be THE course of action.

  • Technological negligence is not an acceptable excuse for violating the law (destruction of records).
  • Technological negligence is not an acceptable reason to disrupt users (change workflow and contact info needlessly).
  • Technological negligence is not an acceptable reason to make users do your job for you (perform their own manual migration).
  • Technological negligence is not an acceptable reason to require users to need equipment they don't have (government networks, computers, and Outlook accounts).

The magic-8-ball suggests it's highly likely that by 2030, the entire force will once again migrate to require new @e-quantum-army.mil accounts, be forced to do it themselves from a combat zone in Taiwan while fighting China, lose all their official records again, and subsequently access that information through seemingly randomly generated FQDNs.

UPDATE: Not only did the Army manage to choose a course of action that wiped out a considerable number of official records, but the implementation is requiring the force to break security protocols to perform even the simplest of actions. If a service member is emailed a document they need to digitally sign, it is impossible to actually download the document to perform this task due to restrictive policies against saving or printing attachments without an official USG computer on a .mil network. This configuration affects at least 37% of the entire force (nearly all Reservists do not have USG issued equipment or .mil access). At present, the only solution is for personnel to forward emails to alternate accounts, perform the necessary actions, and then reply to the original request with those documents.



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