New Challenges Emerge to NGEN Transition
The GAO protest is over, but the harder part lies ahead.
The U.S. Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network, freed from the challenge to its contract award, now enters a phase of uncertainty as the government and the winning bidder confront the aftermath of a 108-day delay. This delay has affected both the Navy’s and the contractor’s plans for the transition from the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet.
On October 31, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissed the challenge to the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) contract that had been awarded on July 15. The original deadline for resolving the challenge was October 23, but the federal government shutdown pushed that date back. This required the Navy’s original milestone dates to be rescheduled, and the winning HP consortium faces the challenge of beginning the network transition from a cold start instead of from the ongoing continuity of services contract (COSC).
Bill Toti, vice president and account executive, HP Navy and Marine Corps Accounts, explains that key Navy personnel have transitioned, and the company had to divert resources to keep people fully employed. Bringing them back into the program and recalibrating the effort back to the July cutoff point is a challenge. “It’s not efficient to shut down and start up like this,” Toti states. “Any time you play with efficiencies of processes, you lose something. This [hiatus] has been a bad thing for us and the Navy.”
Toti notes that the Navy lost the ability to use funds in fiscal year 2013 because the protest was not resolved until a month into fiscal year 2014. So, all the transition costs will have to be borne on funds in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Fiscal year 2013 funds earmarked for NGEN could not be applied to the transition because of the stop-work order imposed with the challenge. And, because the Navy lost the ability to end the 400-day NGEN transition in fiscal year 2014, it also lost the opportunity to enable large-scale NGEN-related savings in 2014. Any savings will be realized in fiscal year 2015.
The cold start from the COSC will place increased emphasis on the contractor. “Making sure that we don’t miss a step over the next 400 days—which is the transition time—is really important,” Toti emphasizes. “Getting the proper governance and processes established up front to make sure we’re making the right decisions in the right order is going to be crucial to our success—and it will be more a shared success than in the past.”
He notes that, under the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), the only time the government could complain would be if the contractor failed to meet service-level agreement obligations. But under NGEN, every decision will come from the Navy, and the contractor’s ability to perform effectively will depend on those decisions and its ability to fulfill them.
One advantage in the transition is that NGEN is not a radical departure from NMCI. “It is really not a new network,” Toti emphasizes. “It’s the same network that exists today. It will be operated under a different operating model with a different contract structure and for a different price.”
He relates that, early in NGEN concept development, a prevailing notion was it would be a substantially enhanced, improved, state-of-the-art network. But, when planners tried to refine that notion, they realized the NMCI had been updated continually over the years. No revolutionary steps loomed, and evolutionary changes continued to take place. “It was a continuously evolving network that was being brought up to modern standards on a day-by-day basis,” he says.
So, the network that will be known as NGEN will not bring radical changes to operational capabilities. “We’re never going to be bleeding edge,” Toti allows, “Bleeding edge brings with it too many vulnerabilities and network insecurities, and we have to make sure things are very secure before we implement them on the Navy’s network.
“Over time, new capabilities will be delivered on the network,” he continues. “The Navy will decide what new capabilities are delivered, in what order and on what timeline based on the investment portfolio they have already prescribed.”
Except for the new milestone dates, the flow chart for NGEN implementation has not changed, Toti notes. All aspects remain “as proposed,” and nothing has been altered. The winning consortium did not review its bid during the challenge hiatus, so it intends to deliver on its contract as originally proposed.
“The Navy ran a superb acquisition,” Toti says. “They gave us plenty of time before the final RFP [request for proposal] was released; and even in discussions after we submitted our proposal, they gave us plenty of time to think about what we were proposing.” He continues that the Navy provided the bidders with several draft RFPs on which it invited them to comment and propose alternatives, although the Navy ruled out alternatives suggested by the HP consortium. The result was a clear picture with well-defined parameters.
With the protest resolved, next up are the NGEN transition projects. These are part of the 400-day process, and the Navy will order these projects for execution by the contractor. Toti notes that among these projects are to transition information technology service management from the COSC; data centers and network operation centers to NGEN; field services to NGEN; and service desk support to NGEN. When this process is complete, the Navy will be fully on NGEN, and the COSC can be retired.
The U.S. Marine Corps already had completed many vital transition elements even before the original contract award was announced (SIGNAL Magazine, August 2013, “Marines Set the Stage …”). Toti relates that much of this work took place under the COSC. “The Marines led transition, and that was done deliberately,” he allows.
Originally, the Marine Corps did not have a strong hand in the NMCI. The Corps did gain substantial experience building networks in the two wars of the past 10 years, but it had to relearn network operations virtually from scratch over the past two years, Toti says. HP had to re-establish the necessary level of knowledge for network operation in the Corps—and the Corps succeeded.
“The transition to Marine Corps-owned-and-operated NGEN on cost has gone exceptionally well,” Toti declares. “It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider the size and scale of this network. I can’t say enough about how well the Marine Corps has performed during this transition period.”
But the transition also illustrates the differences between the Marine Corps NGEN effort and that of the Navy. Toti continues that, while the Navy is buying the network under the COSC and will own it after that contract is over, the Marines bought the network up front. They were the owners in the early COSC days, so their next step was to transition network operations from HP to the Corps. Marines made network operations decisions instead of HP, he relates.
“So, for the Marine Corps, NGEN means transitioning from already government-owned to government-operated,” he offers. “We [HP] will be in a supporting position for them on NGEN—really just a body shop. We’ll provide them labor that they need to operate the network, but they’re the NGEN network operators.”
For the Navy, HP remains the network operator under the Navy’s supervision. It is a different operating model, Toti states; and because the Navy does not finish purchasing the network until the end of the COSC, many items could not be done by HP for the Navy until NGEN is implemented.
The first step in the transition will involve service management. This entails all the processes and the governance structure that allows the Navy and HP to make decisions involving network operation. Toti describes this as the most vital piece of the NGEN transition. “This gives us the command and control we need to execute the rest of the NGEN transition,” he emphasizes.
The next step will be to transition network operation centers. When completed, this will place the Navy’s “hands on the helm” for NGEN. Toti analogizes that HP will be in the engine room, but the Navy will be guiding the ship.
Concurrent with this step will be the transition of field services work along with the service desk. This will take place under the NGEN contract instead of the COSC, Toti notes.
The final step will be the transition of end-user services. Toti explains that this is taking place on a region-by-region basis, and it will be the final phase of the transition. “Once that is done, we’ll be fully on NGEN,” he says. “Hopefully, if this goes right, the end-user won’t notice anything. The lights won’t flicker, the network won’t go down.
“This will be the biggest network transition in history,” he declares. “It’s a big deal, and we do not underrepresent that. Success means that, when we’re done, nobody can tell that it’s done.”
With control of the network moving from the private sector to government, training will play a major role in the transition. The Marine Corps, in its transition, underwent “a very intense process,” Toti says. The Navy is heading down the same path, although it does not have to travel as far because it will not be as government-operated on the Navy side.
Toti offers that having the private sector build the NMCI was the key to being able to implement the NGEN approach. “The Navy could not have built NMCI,” he declares. “There were too many decisions that needed to be made by fiat without someone having the ability to veto those decisions. That’s why only the Navy and Marine Corps, out of all the military services, have a fully integrated network. They’re the only ones who handed the network over to a contractor to have them integrate it.
“Now that it’s integrated, we’ll hand the network back over to them,” he says.