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NCES Reaches Milestone C Ahead of Schedule

July 15, 2008
by Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

Superman isn’t the only one faster than a speeding bullet. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) recently achieved Milestone C on its Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) project six months ahead of schedule. Program personnel used a combination of a new test and evaluation master plan template and the organization’s breakthrough acquisition model to reach the milestone early. They hope to encourage other programs to speed up their processes as well.

Military developers working on information technology-related projects have been struggling for years to meet U.S. Defense Department acquisition and evaluation requirements while fielding their products on a relevant timescale. If developers respond too slowly to warfighter requirements, the troops work around acquisitions to create what they need. Another problem, especially for information technology projects, is that technologies that take too long to field may be out of date by the time they arrive.

In an effort to reduce the lag time between requirement identification and solution provision and to reduce costs, DISA began its ABC acquisition policy: adopt before buy, buy before create and create if necessary. Using that model, the NCES program was able to accelerate the rollout of several of its capabilities, including the portal function. NCES adopted the Army’s Knowledge Online (AKO) to create Defense Knowledge Online, eliminating the need for NCES personnel to start from scratch or even buy technology to develop a new portal. “The AKO portal stood out as already serving a great number of people and providing most of the capabilities [NCES] was looking for,” Dr. Steve Hutchison, DISA’s director of test and evaluation, explains.

The other major factor in the early achievement of Milestone C—which for information programs means developers can field enough capabilities to evaluate a technology and ensure it is ready to be scaled up to the entire enterprise—was the use of a new template for the test and evaluation master plan. The Industry Council for Test and Evaluation recommended late last year that the Defense Department revise the master plan format to exploit technology and eliminate text duplication. Rather than cut and paste the same information into report after report, writers using the new template can simply refer to authoritative sources.

Hutchison explains that being able to link to authoritative sources—instead of duplicating the information during each stage of documentation—saved time and effort. The new template also combines parts three and four (developmental testing and operational testing) of the traditional template. DISA offered the NCES program heading toward Milestone C as the first trial of the new idea.

Using the new test and evaluation master plan, program officials reduced the size of the plan by more than 80 percent and cut the time from submission to approval by almost half from Milestone B. For Milestone B, the test and evaluation master plan was 360-plus pages, required 18 signatures and took more than 170 days from submittal until the approval process was complete. For Milestone C, the plan was 70 pages, had 14 signatures and required only 95 days from submission to approval. “Now, of course, we want to build on that success and have our other programs use it as well,” Hutchison says.

The next major program to use the new test and evaluation master plan is DISA’s Net-Enabled Command Capability. A number of capabilities modules from that program will come out next year, and the document overhead for such an effort requires a fast, innovative method to keep things on track.

Though DISA programs are the first to implement the new plan, the template is designed for use by the entire military. Hutchison recommends potential users take Nike’s advice and “Just do it.” He also suggests that anyone interested in using the new plan template talk to his office because his personnel can pass on lessons learned and ways to streamline efforts.

At the start, personnel had some problems implementing the new template because they were changing a long-established department process. However, as they continued to push the effort to the test organizations such as the Joint Interoperability Test Command and the military services’ test agencies, those organizations saw the merits of the new method. “They actually came around quickly and were able to work with us,” Hutchison explains.

According to him, DISA is trying to be innovative in bringing information technology to the warfighter, and the NCES early Milestone C achievement is an example of agency success. Even the Man of Steel would be impressed.