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Intranet Overcomes Challenges

December 2004
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
Darrell Summers (seated), senior deployment lead at the Pentagon, Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), shows Hansford T. Johnson, former acting secretary of the Navy, some of the distinct differences between the NMCI system and the previous system. The entire staff of the Secretary
of the Navy underwent the cutover to the NMCI in 2003.
U.S. Navy learns valuable lessons from enterprisewide effort.

As the initial rollout of the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet enters the final stages, U.S. Navy officials are confident that adopting an enterprisewide network was the right decision. Despite being an arduous process, the installation effort is still on schedule to be complete in fiscal year 2005, and the service has reaped many unforeseen benefits during the past four years. Some of the advantages are becoming evident today, but those most intimately involved with the project predict that the best is yet to come.

Although not yet complete, the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) rollout already has created the biggest network in the world after the Internet. To date, 340,000 seats have been ordered from the Information Strike Force, the industry team led by Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation, Herndon, Virginia, that is responsible for the project. The Navy originally planned for 346,000 seats to be ordered by 2004. More than 210,000 seats that support 400,000 plus users have reached the cutover stage.

Implementing the NMCI has not been without challenges. Early in the process, Navy officials were astonished by the number of legacy applications residing on naval networks, relates Capt. I. Chris Christopher, USNR, deputy director for future operations, communications and business initiatives, NMCI, Arlington, Virginia. “The NMCI contract required that EDS provide access to all of our legacy applications. That seemed like a good idea at the time. In our pessimistic moments, we thought it would be 10,000 applications. But in 2001, when the N-6 ordered an inventory of all the applications, the list totaled more than 100,000 applications,” Capt. Christopher notes. After purging the list, the number was still in the 80,000 range, he adds.

To tackle this problem, the Navy’s NMCI team created functional area managers who examined the list and pared it down to approximately 7,000 applications that could be allowed on the NMCI. Some of these remained on the list with restrictions, such as a time limit of two years or until the next version is released, the captain explains. “So that number will go lower, but we’re not driving down to a certain number; we’re driving down to the right number. We still have a lot of work to do, but we can see our way clear to having this under control in the not-too-distant future,” he says.

The legacy applications issue has driven the complexity and cost of the project. Many of the applications could not be allowed on the NMCI because they violated security regulations. Although some people faulted implementation of the NMCI for this situation, Capt. Christopher emphasizes that the requirement is a U.S. Defense Department mandate.

Addressing the security issue for applications revealed another obstacle for the NMCI team to confront: legacy networks. “We’re faced with having very secure clients on the desktops, but most of the servers are still sitting outside of NMCI on legacy networks that are not secure. We didn’t have a clear picture of that issue before the NMCI process began, so the NMCI implementation process is helping us get our arms around the application server environment. Now the Navy is moving toward server consolidation and enterprise application hosting,” the captain explains.

This problem was created by the piecemeal approach the Navy used to purchase its information technology systems. Traditionally, each program of record bought its own servers and its own connectivity because, without a reliable intranet, sites could not be assured of access to data at other sites. As a result, when the NMCI team began its evaluations, it found servers at each site that were operating at as little as 10 percent to 15 percent of capacity.

“With NMCI, we can have authoritative data sources that people have confidence they can access. That way, you have fewer servers and fewer applications. By putting multiple applications on robust servers, we can get rid of some servers and save money. We understood that those were opportunities that NMCI would deliver to us; we just didn’t understand how big the opportunity was going to be,” Capt. Christopher states.

During his speech at the 2004 NMCI Industry Symposium in June, Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and deputy commandant for combat development, expressed high praise for the NMCI, enumerating the multitude of benefits the intranet offers. Joint command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance initiatives combined with the benefits of the NMCI will give the naval services and the joint force an overwhelming advantage, he stated.

However, Gen. Hanlon also was candid about the challenges he has observed as the NMCI has been rolling out in the U.S. Marine Corps, among them the availability of network circuits, the collection process for user order information and the slow pace of new services acquisition.

Capt. Christopher admits that putting wide area network service into place takes time, especially outside of the continental United States where many of the Marines are now operating. “While there were delays implementing NMCI for the Marines in the Far East, we have since refined our requirements, and the circuits have been placed on order and are on track for delivery,” he relates.

User order information collection has been an ongoing problem, the captain concedes, and is one of the biggest issues slowing down seat delivery. Before delivering seats to a site, EDS must have specific information such as the location of the user and which applications need to be installed on the computer. This would appear to be straightforward, Capt. Christopher notes, but it involves many details, and in many cases, EDS has not had the object-correct management data available with advance notice to deliver a seat on time.

“We’re working very hard to get better at that. Part of the challenge is that we get better the longer we do it. The Navy has been doing this a long time, so we’re pretty good at it. But a significant number of the seats that now need to be rolled out are Marine Corps seats, and the Marine Corps is still pretty new at this. The process is smoothing out, so EDS will be able to do the job effectively,” the captain maintains.

 
In September, the NMCI change of office ceremony took place at NMCI headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Attending the ceremony are (l-r) Col. Robert Logan, USMC, deputy director, NMCI; Rear Adm. Charles Munns, USN, NMCI director 2002 to 2004; Rear Adm. James Godwin III, USN, director, NMCI; Capt. I. Chris Christopher, USNR, deputy director for future operations, communications and business initiatives, NMCI; and Capt. Mark Compton, Navy program manager, NMCI.
To facilitate this process, the NMCI team has established an execution discipline process that details the steps personnel at each site need to take prior to the NMCI rollout. “This is being sent out with metrics. We’re saying to the sites, ‘We’re measuring EDS on what and how they’re doing; we’re also going to measure you.’ While putting into place an enterprise that’s this large, you learn a lot of new things, so you get better. The irony of this is that we’ll be at the peak of effectiveness at rolling out seats right at the point when we don’t need to roll out seats,” Capt. Christopher notes.

Michael Koehler, NMCI enterprise client executive, EDS, agrees that new processes are helping. “We and the Navy have worked tirelessly to develop and execute policies and procedures that articulate and define who is accountable for what and when. These new processes have resulted in a far more stable and predictable rollout process,” he says.

Capt. Christopher agrees with Gen. Hanlon that the process of acquiring new services is what he calls a gating factor—or choke point—to the NMCI’s rollout effectiveness right now. Rear Adm. Charles Munns, USN, former NMCI director, identified getting services to satisfy customers on the NMCI contract as a critical factor in the success of the intranet. As a result, this is a high priority for the NMCI team right now; however, Capt. Christopher allows that the complexity of the process makes it time-consuming.

“The NMCI team identifies a service we need to provide. EDS proposes a product to meet that need. The Navy has to accept that product, then EDS has to price it out as a service, and the price has to be negotiated. Service contracts like this are still more art than science, so we’ve had some real challenges in being able to come to closure on this,” the captain admits.

EDS has proposed a way to address this issue that parallels the NMCI approach. The Information Strike Force would obtain services from other companies that it could then sell to the Navy more easily than creating them on its own. This reduces the upfront investment and shortens the time to market. The Navy also has agreed to an approach called variable pricing for items. As a result, EDS can recover the cost of an investment quickly, then provide maintenance through the NMCI contract. “So that’s a couple of new approaches that are arrows in our quiver that we didn’t have six months or a year ago and will make the process smoother,” Capt. Christopher states.

The captain points out that Gen. Hanlon’s concerns about the delays in delivering applications is not strictly an NMCI issue. According to the general, the holdup is often because of testing; however, Capt. Christopher explains that the testing is actually required by the Defense Department under the Defense Information Technology Security Certification and Accreditation Process established in 1992. “For all practical purposes, none of the applications had gone through that process. We just haven’t done it because it’s time-consuming and onerous. So, like other items in NMCI, we’re requiring EDS to do things for us that we never could get to do ourselves,” the captain relates. Because thousands of applications must be processed, each one costing a substantial amount, this is an enormous challenge in both time and resources, he adds, but the NMCI team is examining ways to ameliorate this problem.

“All of this goes back to the fact that we did not know what we had when we went into this process. On the other hand, if we hadn’t gotten into this, we still wouldn’t have known what we had. It doesn’t all get done at once, and there are a number of different initiatives to improve this,” the captain says.

Although the rollout is on target to meet its fiscal year 2005 completion deadline, Capt. Christopher and Koehler concur that, because this is a service-level contract, the project is never really complete. “Seat counts and projections are not the standard by which we measure this program’s success. The NMCI is an operational network that will continue to expand throughout the life of the contract. It’s time to stop focusing on seat numbers and concentrate on continued, predictable and consistent performance; enhanced network efficiency; and implementing the new services that this enterprise system makes possible,” Koehler states.

Capt. Christopher agrees that one of the most exciting parts of the NMCI is not only what already has been accomplished and what will be done in the near future but also the unforeseen benefits it will bring in the years to come. “Having an enterprise network will allow us to re-engineer business processes to make them more efficient, and that’s the real value of NMCI. All the things we’ve talked about so far about the efficiencies relate to IT [information technology], but the benefits of NMCI are not just IT. They’re going to be felt across the entire enterprise because having an enterprise network will allow us to change how we do business and use the tools of the 21st century to make ourselves more effective. There’s the real pay-off,” he says.

For example, the Naval reserve is now on a path to streamline its processes and tie together disparate databases to improve efficiency between the reserve and active-duty forces. “Next year, the conversation may be less on ‘is NMCI done yet?’ and more about what we’ve done with it,” Capt. Christopher notes.

Web Resources
U.S. Navy’s Navy/Marine Corps Intranet: www.nmci.navy.mil
U.S. Marine Corps’ Navy/Marine Corps Intranet: www.nmciinfo.usmc.mil
Navy/Marine Corps Intranet Information Strike Force: www.nmci-isf.com/index.asp
NMCI 2004 Industry Symposium: www.nmci.navy.mil/Press_Room/Symposium/Symposium_News_Room