West Point Leaving Defense Department's Email System

FILE -- In this April 9, 2014 photo, West Point cadets walk on campus during lunchtime break at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
FILE -- In this April 9, 2014 photo, West Point cadets walk on campus during lunchtime break at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is pulling away from the Defense Department's email system, a move that could show the U.S. Army how to communicate differently in the future.

Beginning this month, West Point will break free from the Pentagon-controlled .mil network and move to a commercially managed .edu network as part of a larger effort to upgrade its website, email and cyber presence, according to a West Point press release posted by the Defense Visual Information Service.

West Point is currently serving as a pilot program for the Army by switching its network and email from Defense Department-controlled systems to commercially owned and operated platforms, the release states.

The need for a change emerged in 2015 when West Point officials realized that the tight security measures of the DoD network hindered the way the academy did business, as well as its ability to compete with universities such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

"We are the Army's only university, so my peers are Penn State, Harvard and Yale," said Col. Edward Teague, West Point's chief information officer. "My peer is not the CIO at the 18th Airborne Corps. I have to set the staff, faculty and cadets up here for success by giving them appropriate [information technology] that is [commensurate] with the No. 1 public university in the United States.

"We identified that there was a divide between what we needed to do as a university, as an academy, when you think about the university education missions versus what has to happen to be a military unit on a military network," he said.

The academy also launched a new website Dec. 20 at the web address WestPoint.edu, part of a branding transition from USMA to West Point, according to the release.

These moves may appear to distance the academy from the Army, but one of the program's goals is to serve as a model to the service of what can be accomplished with commercial systems instead of "building and running everything in house," the release states.

The pilot program will also demonstrate to the Army the ability to secure a cloud-based system, while at the same time enabling a free flow of ideas and greater accessibility.

"We are looking at what are those core competencies that the Army doesn't have to be in charge of. I submit that email is one of them. I submit that websites are another and storage," Teague said in the release. "It made a lot of sense for us to manage our own email system a long time ago because not a lot of people had it and you couldn't really buy something off the shelf. Now, you can."

Military.com tried to contact Teague to find out more about how the Army might use the findings from the pilot but did not receive a response by press time.

West Point's changes will take place throughout fiscal 2019 and be enhanced in fiscal 2020 before officials begin collecting and analyzing data on the changes starting in fiscal 2021, according to the release.

"Security is paramount, but we also think that enabling IT in a way that people can work in the environment that we are used to now, which is work anywhere on any device, we are getting closer and closer to that as time passes," Teague said in the release.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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