As final NMCI seats are placed, Navy and contractor share views on pros and cons, ups and downs.
The Naval Network and Space Operations Command in San Diego was the second U.S. Navy organization to be part of the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI).
The mission objective for the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet was a simple, one-line item: Combine the thousands of systems, applications and control mechanisms in the entire U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps together into one uniform, well-managed network. Simple, but far from easy. The promised payback from this undertaking was also simple: enhanced security, increased efficiency and the capacity to move more military personnel from the computer management field onto the battlefield. Now, as the project approaches the end of its initial contract period—even taking user rumbling and grumbling into account—the world’s largest private network appears to be working as planned.
With one month remaining on the original contract, approximately 95 percent of the more than 350,000 Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) individual seats initially ordered are now in place. Only seats in the most challenging fields such as the intelligence and nuclear communities remain to be installed. In keeping with the ever-changing essence of technology, lead contractor EDS Corporation is now updating the technology of approximately 40 percent of the completed seats. This will ensure that users can exploit capabilities developed in the seven years since the Navy signed the contract to create the NMCI with the Plano, Texas-based firm. The service’s goal is to refresh approximately 100,000 of the seats annually. So far, the process has progressed smoothly and customer satisfaction has jumped markedly.
The significance of the NMCI grows with each step the armed services take toward network-centric warfare. Lessons learned by both the Navy and the contractor have been as painful as any suffered by pioneers. But the experience gained on each side is the core material for the textbook many military organizations are following as they get out of the information technology business and into the business at hand: defending the nation by taking advantage of networking.
The road to where the NMCI currently resides has been a rocky one. Among the early hurdles in the service’s lane was the discovery that its systems were home to more than 100,000 applications; the service was prepared to handle a total closer to 10,000.
Potential security risks precluded all of these legacy applications from being installed on NMCI systems, so the problem had to be tackled from two angles. First, applications that were absolutely necessary for a command to fulfill its mission were quarantined on the old network until they could be tested to determine the next step. Second, area managers were assigned to scrutinize the legacy applications in 23 functional areas to determine which to keep and which to delete. To remain in use, applications had to be tested to ensure that they met specific security requirements and interoperated with Windows 2000, the operating system of the initial NMCI rollout. Testing to ensure that applications meet these criteria continues as necessary.
All of the seats being rolled out today feature Microsoft XP. The Navy is now testing Vista, Microsoft’s newest operating system, because some of the software developed by companies other than Microsoft and prior to
But the Navy was not the only organization experiencing problems from the NMCI implementation. EDS found itself spending money it could not immediately recoup from the Navy because payment was contingent on installation, not equipment purchase. Some reports indicate a six-month lag between purchase and installation mostly because of legacy system issues. Navy officials disagree with this figure and say it is closer to 30 to 45 days. Similar problems occurred with infrastructure update expenses.
Equally important to these high-level challenges were problems the NMCI’s new users were facing. Most of the issues they raised had to do with some aspect of performance, explains Col. Lyle M. Cross, USMC, acting program manager, NMCI,
Performance problems could be tied to any number of causes, Col. Cross points out. Sometimes just increasing the amount of random access memory proved to be a relatively inexpensive stopgap solution that could be put into place until the scheduled technology refresh occurred. In some cases, the refresh schedule was adjusted to address performance problems sooner than planned, Col. Cross says.
The Navy and EDS team also has taken a proactive approach to resolving these issues through the Enterprise Performance Management Database (EPMD). Col. Cross relates that during the past couple of years, probes have been installed that monitor performance in near real time down to the device level. Feedback from the probes is collected weekly, and EDS opens internal trouble tickets as necessary to address the causes of the performance problems. Plans call for installing the probes down to the desktop level by the end of 2007.
Although from the users’ perspective the intranet installation seemed to be one problem after another, the benefits of the NMCI cannot be dismissed. In addition to giving birth to innovative solutions such as the EPMD that can now be used in other large networks, the intranet has enhanced security of the Navy’s networks.
Paola Arbour, interim chief operating officer at EDS for the NMCI program, points to the cryptographic log-on as one of the most significant advantages in helping the Navy comply with U.S. Defense Department mandates. When the department required the development and issuance of a single token to ensure security to both physical locations and networks, the Common Access Card (CAC) was created to foot the bill. Each CAC includes the credentials of the individual who holds it and allows personnel to enter both facilities and networks according to the access they have been granted.
The Defense Department stated that the CAC system had to be in place within six months of the issuance of its directive. The NMCI team had a CAC implementation plan; however, the rollout time was much longer than the designated six months, Arbour admits.
“The Defense Department uses a system that we stressed to the max because we not only installed the CAC system across the enterprise, but we did it in a six-month window. You can imagine that we had a lot of end users who were not necessarily our best friends during this, but we got it done and weathered the storm. The security is now there so if you are part of the operational arm of the DON [Department of the Navy] and you are tied into the DOD, you’re a very happy person,” Arbour says.
EDS relied heavily on its partners to make the CAC implementation a success story, Arbour shares. “It just was a painful undertaking, and quite frankly we asked our partners, our supplier partners, to do things that they didn’t know they were capable of doing. Our customer knew that was going to happen. When you get a network this size, and you get a user base of over 500,000 users across the world that come and go, you’re going to stress any system,” she states.
Col. Cross and Arbour agree that the huge bump in security that the NMCI has caused is by far one of the biggest benefits of the intranet. Even by 2005, when the
|Naval personnel from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 monitor NMCI communications in the Regimental Operations and Administrative Control room during a field exercise. The Seabees assigned to the battalion volunteered to pose as the red team and used known cyberattack tactics employed by insurgent forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.|
Another benefit of implementing the world’s largest network is the lessons learned by both the customer and the provider. “Never enter into a transformational program like this without a change management approach. That would be one of them.” Arbour states. “Seriously, I think people underestimate the transformational, dynamic nature of information technology. Any time you drive a change into the information technology system, you will always impact something or somebody. If you don’t have a change program wrapped around that, then something or somebody will come back and get you.”
The EDS team also learned that all stakeholders must be included and a governance model must be in place in a project as diverse and large as the NMCI. A governance model was not in place at the beginning of the NMCI project, she adds.
Arbour says that a good governance model helps ensure that individual customers are satisfied with a change as transformational as the NMCI undertaking. Users must be kept informed constantly and consistently, especially as the crest of the change wave heads their way. “As an end user, if you don’t know that a Mac truck is coming your way, and it hits you, you’re going to be upset. So in order for our customers not to be upset, we bring certain pockets of customers together. We put them in a forum, we get all of their feedback, we apply it and we communicate it back to them in writing and with demonstrable change in the environment,” Arbour says.
This kind of communications ensures that users understand that sometimes the problems they are experiencing are not part of the change. “That’s why they [the users] were upset. Nobody talked to them. And now they’re being spoken to and they’re being included in driving the change and the improvement. To me, it’s human nature; it’s logic. Now some of it quite frankly the Navy is never going to get away from because users want their system at work to be exactly as it is at home, and it’s not going to be,” Arbour notes.
For its part, EDS has overhauled its approach to solving users’ problems. It has undertaken a transformation with the goal of being able to resolve an end user’s problem at the service-desk level whenever possible. This would reduce the number of times a user has to send in an item for repair. “We’re trying to make it very, very easy on them,” Arbour says.
Between the Navy’s efforts and those of the contractor, user satisfaction is climbing bit by bit. This is particularly important to EDS because the NMCI contract calls for an 85 percent customer satisfaction rate, and the company is rewarded for successfully meeting and exceeding this goal. Surveys are conducted quarterly to assess satisfaction; the survey was revamped in 2007 to focus more on daily operations, help desk issues, local and remote base operations support and communications.
In the first quarter of 2007, an overall customer satisfaction rating of 80.4 percent was achieved. This percentage dipped in the second quarter to 78.9 percent. Col. Cross states that the results will allow the NMCI team to target improvement initiatives across the intranet project. In the second quarter survey, for example, NMCI customers were most satisfied with EDS’ help desk personnel and least satisfied with the ability to access Web sites. Arbour points out that the Web site access issue is one that tracks back to the Defense Department rather than to NMCI regulations.
In March 2006 the Navy signed a key contract modification with EDS, exercising its option to engage the company on the NMCI project for an additional three years. With the initial contract running out at the end of this month, the agreement to extend the relationship actually occurred earlier than planned. But Col. Cross points out that performance was improving and changing contractors on a project this large would pose costs, risks and problems of its own.
“Fundamentally, it was an opportunity for the government to continue what was a good working relationship with a company that has continued to try harder to meet all of the performance requirements and the users’ needs,” the colonel says.
Because it was a firm-fixed price contract, the Navy has continued to pay the same price per seat since 2001. However, as a result of the most recent agreement, per seat prices will decrease by 15 percent in fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2010.