In my recent software integration post, I discussed the complex and myriad challenges that face organizations as they attempt to integrate systems. Sometimes, however, the challenges are deceptively simple.
Take, for example, the US Navy. They are finally making the gargantuan step away from a capital letter only messaging system to one that supports both upper and lower case characters. The upper case requirement dates from the nineteenth century, when telex technology limited text communications to what today looks like SHOUTING. Yes, this system predates even ASCII, and by decades.
It's important to understand, however, that the Navy -- as with any military organization -- has complex security requirements. Specifically, they must support text, data, audio, and video communications on their unclassified, secret, and top secret networks. Each of these three networks leverages TCP/IP, but also includes special capabilities that allow for sophisticated prioritization of messages and the ability for commanders to override prioritization and security rules as necessary.
The current project involves moving from the all-caps legacy software to the Navy Interface for Command Email (NICE) software, which will enable ordinary email to traverse the secret and top secret networks. However, simply replacing the upper caps-only system with a system that supports ASCII, let alone UTF-8 (the Unicode update to ASCII), is more difficult than it sounds. And in fact, such legacy migration is still not in the cards: they will continue to support the ability to convert lower case to upper case in order to interact with the ancient legacy systems, as it is still impractical to replace them.
The good news is that supporting NICE will save the Navy $15 million. In today's "do more with less" sequester environment, any cost savings initiative is welcome. But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could save similar amounts of money simply by implementing an electronic shift key in our IT shops?