Net-centric, in its most common definition, refers to “participation as a part of a continuously evolving, complex community of people, devices, information and services interconnected by a communications network to optimise resource management and provide superior information on events and conditions needed to empower decision makers.” It will be clear from the definition that “net-centric” does not refer to a network as such. It is a term that covers all elements constituting the environment referred to as “net-centric”.
Exchanges between members of the community are based not on cumbersome individual interfaces and point to point connections but a flexible network paradigm that is never a hindrance to the evolution of the net-centric community. scaffold net promotes a “many-to-many” exchange of data, enabling a multiplicity of users and applications to make use of the same data which in itself extends way beyond the traditional, predefined and package oriented data set while still being standardised sufficiently to ensure global interoperability. The aim of a net-centric system is to make all data visible, available and usable, when needed and where needed, to accelerate and improve the decision making process.
In a net-centric environment, unanticipated but authorised users can find and use data more quickly. The net-centric environment is populated with all data on a “post and share before processing” basis enabling authorised users and applications to access data without wait time for processing, exploitation and dissemination. This approach also enables vendors to develop value added services, tailored to specific needs but still based on the shared data.
In the context of Air Traffic Management (ATM), the data to be provided is that concerning the state (past, present and future) of the ATM Network. Participants in this complex community created by the net-centric concept can make use of a vastly enlarged scope of acceptable data sources and data types (aircraft platforms, airspace user systems, etc.) while their own data also reaches the community on a level never previously achieved.
How are decisions different in a net-centric environment?
Information sharing and the end-user applications it enables is the most beneficial enabler of collaborative decision making. The more complete the information that is being shared and the more thorough its accessibility to the community involved, the higher the benefit potential. In a traditional environment, decisions are often arbitrary and the effects of the decisions are not completely transparent to the partners involved. Information sharing on a limited scale (as is the case in the mainly local information sharing hitherto implemented) results in a substantial improvement in the quality of decisions but this is mainly local and improvements in the overall ATM Network are consequential rather than direct.
If the ATM Network is built using the net-centric approach, decisions are empowered on the basis of information available in the totality of the net-centric environment and interaction among members of the community, irrespective of their role or location, can be based on need rather than feasibility.
Since awareness of the state (past, present or future) of the ATM Network is not limited by lack of involvement of any part as such, finding out the likely or actual consequences of decisions is facilitated, providing an important feed-back loop that further improves the quality of decisions on all levels.
Looking at things from the collaborative decision making (CDM) perspective, it is important to realise that net-centricity is not something created for the sole purpose of making CDM better. Net-centricity is a feature of the complete ATM system design, providing different benefits to different aspects of air traffic management operations. It is when collaboration in decision making exploits also the facilities made possible by the overall net-centric ATM Network, that the superior quality of decisions becomes truly visible.
The concept of services
In traditional system design, information technology (IT) was often driving developments and the functionality being provided in some cases became a limitation on the business it was meant to support. Service orientation is the necessary step to separate the business processes from the IT processes and to enable business considerations to drive the underlying IT requirements. Aligning IT to the business rather than the other way round improves business agility and efficiency.
“Service” in this context is defined as “the delivery of a capability in line with published characteristics, including policies.” This refers to the ATM services required and not the underlying (technical) supporting services and physical assets that need to be deployed. In other words, service refers to the business services and not the information technology services.
Well designed business services must exhibit a number of characteristics that describe the service being offered sufficiently well for the service consumer(s) to clearly understand the service and hence to want to make use them.
On the business level, contracts and service level agreements that put the service in the proper context are very important as they cover not only the function(s) that will be performed but also the non-functional terms and conditions to which the consumer and provider have agreed.
There are several business processes that can be identified in the context of air traffic management. Some are related to the aircraft themselves (e.g. turn-round), others concern the passengers and their baggage. These and all other business processes require specific services to progress and complete in accordance with the business objectives of the process owner. Cleaning and refuelling of the aircraft, passenger check-in, security checking, etc. are just a few examples of the business services that need to be provided in order to achieve the objective, in this case a timely and safe departure.
When viewed on an enterprise level, a given service once defined is often reusable across the enterprise where identical or similar processes are found, resulting in a major potential for cost saving.
The services so defined will then set the requirements for the underlying IT support.
The effects of net-centric integration
The term “integration” is often associated with “centralization” and the elimination/rationalisation of facilities. While from an economic perspective integration may indeed mean all of the above, net-centric integration is about empowering better decision making through the creation of the complex, networked community of people, devices, information and services that generate benefits to all members of the community without necessarily changing the mapping (nature, number and location) of the community members.
At the same time, net-centric integration enables superior business agility and flexibility so that community members may evolve and change (drop out or new ones come in) in response to the changing needs of the users of the system concerned.
In the net-centric context it is not integration as such that changes the enterprise landscape. Such changes, if any, are the result of the economic imperatives that need to be met and which can now be met based on the improved business agility.
The end-user aspects of net-centric operations
One of the less understood aspects of traditional decision making is that it is not really possible to realise when decisions are based on less then full and/or correct information. The garbage in/garbage out principle applies also to the decision making process. At the same time, the effects of less than good decisions may not be immediately visible. In many cases, poor decisions will affect the efficiency of the overall operation without the negative effects even being traceable to individual decisions. So, while everyone may be doing their very best, the result may still be far short of the quality that would be otherwise achievable.