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Shore Commands Commence Systems Hail and Farewell

December 2000
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Military moves to state-of-the-shelf technology using state- of-the-art business practices.

After years of following their own paths, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps will finally share one uniform—for their information technology systems, that is. Work currently underway will transform a multitude of individual systems into a single intranet that will allow the fluid and secure sharing of data, voice and video among more than 350,000 land-based users and, through satellite communications, to deployed troops as well.

But the Navy/Marine Corps intranet (NMCI) represents more than just the harmonizing of hundreds of separate systems. For the first time, the U.S. military is adopting an approach that has been extremely successful for industry. Rather than treating information systems as products that must be developed, maintained and upgraded in house, the Navy is asking commercial experts to do what they do best—provide the equipment, training, expertise and support as a service package for a set cost per user. Military leaders believe that this utility-like costing and billing style will result in numerous benefits, not the least of which are lower costs, faster acquisition cycles and easier integration of new personnel into a command.

From a technology standpoint, the NMCI will address the problems that commands continue to experience when attempting to share information through collaborative tools and e-mail. In addition, during a time when security has become a critical concern for military and industry organizations alike, a cohesive system will reduce the number of potential entryways that increase organizations’ vulnerabilities to information operations. Currently, the Navy maintains some 100 individual networks.

Although the NMCI will be installed at shore-based commands, it will feed into the ongoing work of the Navy’s Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) and the Marine Corps’ Tactical Data Network. The ultimate benefit of this comprehensive approach is the ability to increase command decision speed while providing troops with an unprecedented reach-back capability.

According to David C. Litchfield, deputy program executive officer for information technology and director of NMCI services, when Navy military and civilian employees can share information and knowledge on a global scale, the result is a more efficient and productive work force that can better support the critical warfighting missions of the Navy and the Marine Corps. “An intranet physically connects people and enables them to have access to computer files that are located on shared drives. NMCI provides this type of connectivity but on a global scale,” he says.

The system will meet many of the requirements set out in Joint Vision 2010 and at the same time address head-on the Revolution in Military Affairs and the Revolution in Business Affairs efforts.

While many commercial organizations have employed service level agreements (SLAs) for information technology acquisition and maintenance, the NMCI represents one of only a handful of instances that a government agency has adopted this approach. The U.S. Commerce Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are among the agencies that outsource their network support.

According to Litchfield, although other government organizations have awarded similar contracts on a smaller scale, none has attempted an SLA of this magnitude. “The NMCI is by far the largest seat-management contract, and it includes not only the seats but the infrastructure on the bases and all the connectivity between and among our bases, posts and stations. In other words, this is an end-to-end, total service being ordered by the Department of the Navy,” he explains.

In essence, the military is purchasing information technology services that include hardware, software, upgrades and training. The intranet will be acquired as a performance-based, enterprisewide services contract that incorporates future strategic computing and communications capability that is managed like a utility. Service will be paid for as it is delivered, in the same way consumers pay for power, telephone, water and cable television services.

“NMCI will work just like ordering cable TV service,” Litchfield explains. “The customer chooses from a list of basic and premium services and pays for that level of service required or desired. Just like cable TV, where you get the cable, connectivity to antennas, programming, etc. as part of your service, NMCI will allow customers to select—from basic services at the desktop to VTC [video teleconferencing] conference rooms, classified workstations, voice service, etc.—based on the need.

“An NMCI customer receives all the connectivity, customer help services, repair services and so on as part of the basic seat price. The NMCI vendor also maintains configuration management and asset management and is expected to keep the customer well informed of changing service and technology refreshment.”

Traditional government acquisition methods include some of the same components of SLAs. Organizations list their requirements in a statement of work that is included in the request for proposals. However, SLAs take this process one step further by detailing the level of service and performance quality the organization expects. For this process to work correctly, both the customer and vendor must agree up front about their expectations as well as the metrics by which quality will be measured. The vendor is financially rewarded or penalized based on both performance and customer satisfaction. Legislation such as the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which links funding with agency performance, has been one impetus behind adopting this different approach.

Among the items that would be included in the service metrics are network performance and reliability; service availability intervals; mean time to report a failure; message delivery time; the number of closed trouble tickets; completion times for moves, additions or changes; voice services; multimedia capabilities; and user training. Each criterion would include low, medium and high service grades and would be priced accordingly. For example, a high network availability guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime would cost more per user than a low network availability of 99.5 percent uptime.

To ensure that the Navy and Marine Corps had adequate opportunity to outline their requirements and expectations, representatives from the various user groups contributed input from the inception of the project. They met on a regular basis to determine necessary features, the value of each feature to a specific group and the Navy in general, affordable and acceptable costs, and appropriate incentives for vendors. World Wide Web-based collaborative tools were used during much of the deliberations to ensure ease of communications. Once the NMCI is in place, users will continue to be called upon to provide input about customer satisfaction. These reviews are scheduled to occur on a quarterly basis.

Because a commercial contractor is responsible for the intranet, it will provide technology refreshes as new capabilities come on the market. This approach offers several benefits. A third party will handle systems administration, purchasing, training and maintenance, allowing more sailors and marines to concentrate on their core mission. At the same time, users will have quicker access to the most up-to-date equipment without costly procurements or large up-front capital expenditures.

Although the NMCI does not come without a hefty price tag—estimated at $15 billion or more over the life of the eight-year contract—Navy officials contend that the service would have had to invest up to $3 billion to upgrade current base networks, desktop computers and software packages to make them interoperable. This total does not include ongoing operation and maintenance costs.

The intranet will be implemented in a phased approach that is scheduled to begin this fiscal year with the Naval Air Systems Command and other elements of the naval aviation community. The goal is to have the entire Department of the Navy using NMCI services in 2003.

Once fully in place, the NMCI contract is flexible enough to allow individual commands to continue meeting their specific needs, Litchfield points out. It includes more than 30 categories of services that feature optional user capabilities so customers can request new services that would be priced by the vendor for delivery. Although the Navy guarantees that minimum levels of service will be ordered, the contract permits changes to be made in other categories as the customers’ needs change over time, he adds.

In addition to the administrative and financial benefits of the NMCI, military officials believe that a single, shared system will offer numerous tactical advantages for commands. From an information security standpoint, the NMCI will eliminate more than 200 gateways that are now vulnerable to cyberattacks. However, protecting crucial information can be a challenge because, as the NMCI is envisioned, one network will carry many types of messages, from service members’ personal e-mail messages to highly classified intelligence data, combat orders and wartime decision-making videoconferences among officials.

“The beauty of the NMCI is that we are finally building one worldwide, configuration-managed enterprise network that meets or exceeds all DOD [Department of Defense] standards for security and information assurance. Government networks are attacked constantly, and when this happens to the NMCI, the Navy, Marine Corps and vendor team will be fully prepared to respond. The Department of the Navy will have total visibility of this network for both setting strong procedures to detect, respond and guard against outside attack and ensuring information assurance for every user. We are also harnessing the potential of the commercial marketplace to bring on the most current, effective products to meet this challenge,” Litchfield offers.

And it is precisely this free flow of information in a secure environment that interests many military leaders. IT-21 was the initial step toward shipboard open communications. Once fully in place, it is expected to enable warfighters to share classified and unclassified tactical and nontactical information through a single network interface. This would shorten time lines and increase combat power. However, this capability will increase the demands on the shore information technology infrastructure. One goal of the NMCI is to meet this demand.

One of the most powerful effects the intranet could have on operations is giving commanders the ability to share knowledge, not just data. This collaborative environment would facilitate a worldwide interactive dialogue. For example, decision makers in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and the Pentagon will be able to exchange information and strategies rapidly.

In conjunction with IT-21, forward-deployed forces will have ready access to maintenance, logistics, medical and personnel data that is within the supporting establishment. The NMCI will facilitate telemaintenance by allowing deployed personnel addressing a problem on a ship to communicate with technical experts ashore. In the medical arena, personnel who detect indications of a biological agent will be able to communicate with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta where the threat level can be assessed. At the same time, this information will be shared with a joint command center where it can be dispersed to nearby platoons.

In terms of personnel administrative tasks, once the Defense Finance and Accounting Service is linked into the system, sailors and marines will be able to access or update data about their pay account while deployed.

The intranet will also act as an enabler of e-business for the Navy and Marine Corps. It will provide a single corporate network that facilitates wide-area access, interoperability and security for critical business information and act as a pipeline to many business opportunities by allowing sailors and marines to conduct business throughout the extended enterprise.

The NMCI certainly is designed to change the way the Navy and Marine Corps conduct business in the future, but the process for choosing a vendor for this service agreement was also a bit different than the traditional method. Litchfield explains that the services produced a request for proposal that was supported by 18 attachments that described their information technology environment. “We provided the location of every unit, the organization and mission of the two services, the security and information assurance requirements, and a tremendous amount of information and requirements for quality of service demanded by the contract. We conducted our competition somewhat differently in that we did not ask the vendors to provide a large written proposal. They were told to make oral presentations, provide a demonstration of part of their actual online network, and were limited to a small amount of briefing material,” he offers.

After the first round of competition, all contenders were allowed to perform extensive due-diligence work where they visited hundreds of Navy sites and assessed the status of the current infrastructure at Navy and Marine Corps bases. They then submitted their final proposals, he adds.

Although the NMCI has been designed with jointness in mind, neither the U.S. Air Force nor U.S. Army will be brought on board, Litchfield says. Instead, by ensuring that this intranet is interoperable with the global information grid, it will interface with joint forces’ systems.

U.S. Navy Awards Immense Information Technology Contract

The Information Strike Team, led by Electronic Data Systems Corporation (EDS), Plano, Texas, has begun work as the prime contractor for the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps intranet (NMCI). Members of the team include Raytheon, MCI WorldCom, WAM!NET, Cisco, Dell and Microsoft.

The multiyear, firm, fixed-price contract is valued at more than $4.1 billion for the first five years, with an additional three-year option valued at $2.8 billion. However, as the NMCI grows and capabilities are added, this amount could increase to an estimated $15 billion. According to Navy officials, this is the largest federal information technology contract in history.

The intranet will be implemented incrementally. Immediately following the award announcement in October, EDS began work on the first segment of approximately 40,000 seats in the naval aviation community. The transition is expected to take three months. For at least two months after this initial phase and after each subsequent phase, the services will test the networks and validate the concept. After the Navy is certain that the objectives have been met in terms of cost, performance, security and interoperability, the company team will begin working with the next community of interest, the naval sea group. This is scheduled for the spring of 2001. The Marine Corps is scheduled to be phased into the program in 2003.

Although voice communications is part of the capabilities EDS will provide, at this point videoconferencing is the only component that includes this capability. In the future, other voice services, including telephones, may also be added to the services available through the contract, if the switch makes sense and the price is attractive.

Computer Sciences Corporation, General Dynamics and IBM also bid on the contract. The current contract includes an option that allows the Navy to have a second contracting team monitor the progress of EDS if concerns about performance make this action necessary.

According to Joseph Cipriano, the Navy’s program executive officer for information technology, all of the candidates presented strong bids. “EDS’s bid represented the best value for the Department of the Navy. One outstanding aspect of the EDS bid is its commitment to subcontract 40 percent of the total contract value to small businesses, exceeding the NMCI contract requirement of 35 percent,” Cipriano says.

The final announcement was delayed six days as the Navy Department met with members of Congress to ensure their full support. Prior to the contract award, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig commented that he was proud that the entire project moved from the idea stage to a contract award in 18 months.