"Network-centric warfare," "NetOps" and "managing the Global Information Grid as a weapon system" — for many these are still little more than buzzwords or catchphrases. For Navy communicators, they are beginning to become actual concepts. Yet, like the six blind men in the famous Indian legend each describing an elephant very differently, defining such concepts depends largely on one's perspective, and few, if any, are positioned to see and understand the entire picture clearly.
The challenges and solutions of network-centric warfare, as viewed by various commands, engineers, numbered fleet staffs, operational commanders, deckplate operators and technicians; or watchstanders on ship or shore, are as varied as the people and their roles.
However, most can agree on at least three points. First, delivery and support of secure and reliable end-to-end information services across the Navy Enterprise Network is extraordinarily complex and fraught with a myriad of interdependencies and daunting challenges.
Second, we in the Information Professional and Information Systems Technician communities are among the core communities entrusted to transform these concepts into reality.
Finally, and most importantly, we can — and must — do better.
Technology or Process
Situational awareness, or a network common operational picture (NetCOP), to share the health and status of the Navy network is part of the solution set receiving a lot of focus today. Unfortunately, too many within our community are searching for some whiz-bang tool or magical technology to achieve this "solution."
But delivering a new tool or technology and more information to the warfighter does not necessarily provide additional capability, and could actually compound an already complex problem.
As history has shown, delivering actionable information to the warfighter at the right time and place in a meaningful way is a problem littered with lessons from modern warfare.
For example, on Dec. 7, 1941, the latest technology of the day worked perfectly, yet failed to produce a meaningful capability. The SCR-270B Ground Mobile Radar Station on Opana Peak on the North Shore of Oahu detected the in-bound Japanese attack force a full 36 minutes before the first bombs hit.
Radar operators detected and dutifully reported the information to the Communications Center at Fort Shafter Honolulu, Hawaii. That the technology performed flawlessly is an almost forgotten detail, except to the engineering community. From its perspective, the SCR-270B radar was a marvel achievement, and the Opana site was later recognized by the IEEE-USA, an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and memorialized with a National Historic Site plaque just off Kamehameha Highway near Turtle Bay.
Yet, not a single commander, watch officer, Sailor, Soldier, Airman, or anyone who could have come to the island's defense, was armed with the information that could have prevented the death of at least some of the thousands of lives that were lost that day.
The lesson for us modern-day net-centric warriors is that simply delivering technology that performs to "specs" does not empower the warfighter without executing a capable and disciplined "process" that reliably delivers meaningful information to the right place — at the right time — to the right people. In short, it's the process, stupid — not the technology.
As the communications officer for Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific (NCTAMS PAC), my particular piece of the elephant was IT service support to the fleet: managing shore-to-ship connectivity to include satellite activations, the transport layer, networking and IP services.
Over my 22 years in the Navy, technology has changed drastically and constantly, and the pace is quickening exponentially, yet our operational processes and management methods in the communications world are largely stuck in the 1950s in which our primary mode of operation is to wait until an operations watchstander attempts to use a circuit or information service that is unavailable, or worse yet, a distant end unit detects an outage and reports the problem using the slowest and most inefficient method available.
Not only is this a purely reactive process, it is a very slow one that relies on an antiquated one-way communication flow model using naval message traffic as the "enabling technology."
It is only through the extreme dedication and sheer determination of our Sailors that the Navy successfully communicates using technology that spans 50 years and business processes that are even older. Fortunately, for all of us, and for the sake of our hardworking Sailors, there is a better way.
ITIL is Tried and True
The Information Technology Infra¬structure Library (ITIL) is a set of guides and techniques for managing an organization’s IT infrastructure, development, operations and maintenance in concert with the business objectives of the organization.
Developed in 1992, and maintained by the United Kingdom’s Office of Government Commerce, ITIL was intended to serve as a set of standards that service providers had to follow to deliver IT services to the British government. After its inception, public companies worldwide quickly realized its benefits and implemented parts of ITIL in their internal IT departments.
Since then, ITIL has become an increas¬ingly accepted method of managing IT services because it provides a detailed description of a number of important IT practices with comprehensive checklists, tasks and procedures that can be tailored to fit any IT organization.
Each interrelated process follows a disciplined Plan-Do-Check-Act model that facilitates monitoring, reporting, metrics and continuous process improvement. ITIL easily takes advantage of enabling automation and technology when implemented as an integral component of specific process steps, procedures or functions.
ITIL is tried and true; it is the process model for thousands of organizations including: Microsoft, IBM, EDS, Hewlett-Packard, Capital One and the U.S Army, to name a few.
The primary advantage of ITIL is that it consists of open source information, simply a collection, or library, of industry best practices, easily adaptable to any environment, and developed to meet specific IT service needs and goals.
At its core, the ITIL process-oriented approach requires an understanding of the business requirements, then designing a solution to meet those requirements.
The solution designed uses ITIL descriptions adapted to specific environments. The approach is not to select a technology or tool and build a process, but rather to:
• Understand business needs and requirements;
• Design the organization and process workflow;
• Define and specify required tools and procedures; and
• Select and implement tools.
The potential for a disciplined approach to IT service management is capturing attention in Navy IP officer circles as a possible solution to long-standing IT service challenges in delivering products to the fleet. Significant grassroots efforts are being pursued at NCTAMS Atlantic and Pacific in the West and East Regional Network Operations and Security Centers (RNOSC) and other pockets within the Navy.
Defining the Problem
There are several compelling reasons to use the ITIL approach. The Navy’s IT and IP workforce are stressed by four divergent drivers:
• Reduced supply – Five years of cost-cutting measures have downsized the shore command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) infrastructure; consolidated and closed facilities; and cut shore IT manning in half.
• Increased demand – Steady growth in demand and reliance on C4I capacity and greater complexity in providing C4I products.
• Greater risk and cost of failure – Growing capabilities by our adversaries to exploit C4I infrastructure vulnerabilities and attack our networks create potential risks of compromising our most valuable weapon and principal competitive advantage: information superiority.
• No appreciable maturation of processes – Focus on technology and systems has failed to improve IT service delivery and support.
Technology has changed dramatically in naval communications, yet improvements to operational processes and business transformation lag behind technology improvements. As a result of these factors, the IT and IP workforce are now working harder instead of smarter, and leveraging technology as a force-multiplying solution is falling short of expectations. Further, C4I services to the fleet often fail to meet loosely defined requirements or fleet expectations.
New technology and systems are being installed at a breakneck pace. However, not all reach initial operational capability on schedule, and because shore installations are not aligned with ship installation schedules, few legacy systems are being removed or replaced from shore. This creates an ever-broadening range of complexity in technologies and the sheer number of systems for NCTAMS to support. For example, there are four Automated Digital Network System (ADNS) variants and nine different messaging systems supported by NCTAMS today.
Business practices and operational processes are primarily reactive following the traditional communicator model of waiting for the user to report a problem.
The fleet continues to rely on trouble reports, Communications Spot (COM¬SPOT) naval messages, as the only “official” method of reporting, tracking and collaborating on communications and network outages. This slow reactive method largely precludes the use of automation, data mining and metrics analysis for problem management and process improvement.
In 2005, Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM) sponsored a study of afloat and shore IT service management processes, conducted by a well-known consulting group. Results showed:
• Few documented or repeatable processes exist on shore or ships.
• Multiple groups work independently on the same issues; problem correlation is manual.
• No common operational trouble reports or logs exist.
• Joint Fleet Telecommunications Operations Centers (JFTOC) rely on printed COMSPOT reports using a paper-stacking, color-highlighting priority scheme.
• Problem management, including: detection; investigation; escalation; coordination; root cause analysis; and prevention of recurrences, minimally exists.
• Traditional hierarchical organizational structure and ineffective prioritization create inefficient reliance on senior-level personnel for routine tasks.
An internal site survey at NCTAMS concurs with this assessment, acknowledging inconsistent processes that rely on manual procedures and disparate tools, including 27 different autonomous “databases” and 46 paper-based logs, each independently and redundantly tracking/reporting operational processes.
Ideally, a performance baseline would have been established to assess the impact of such drastic changes in manning, tools and processes. However, few metrics exist to measure performance against service level expectations or to identify trends. The few metrics that are available indicate that performance falls consistently far below expectations or requirements.
IT Service Management
Working together from a disciplined, governed ITSM process framework that aligns and integrates plans and policies, acquisition, technology, operations and fleet service requirements will empower us to succeed as a team and overcome these obstacles to provide first-class IT products to the fleet.
Training our workforce to this standard set of practices and repeatable processes is vital and achievable, and initial training and plans for process changes have already been implemented.
The key to progress is coevolution of the technology, tools and systems, people and processes. The RNOSC IT Service Management working group is currently attacking five simultaneous priorities to achieve this coevolution.
Training. We are aggressively pursuing the RNOSC/ITSM training plan for watchstanders and leaders. More than 200 Sailors, civilians and contractors have completed the initial half-day RNOSC/ITIL awareness training so far at NCTAMS PAC and LANT.
Our goals for this initial awareness training are to: (1) provide a common ITIL-based NetOps vision and the road ahead for RNOSC; (2) introduce ITSM processes based on the ITIL framework; and (3) integrate an RNOSC/NetOps vision with ITIL processes and the Enterprise Network Management System/Trouble Management System (ENMS/TMS), an automated system that allows network administrators to identify and resolve problems.
Comments from our student course critiques are overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. We continue to use ITSM/ITIL courses available on Navy Knowledge Online (https://www.nko.navy.mil) and other low-cost options for ITIL training and certification.
The ITIL awareness curriculum was included as part of the operations department indoctrination training for newly reporting personnel at both NCTAMS PAC and LANT, and ITIL certification will become part of our qualifications standards.
A dozen personnel in the department have completed ITIL foundations certification, some preferring to pay out of their own pocket for certification rather than waiting for approved funding.
We have mapped ITIL certifications to specific watch stations and supervisory positions and are working to fund the next phase of our training plan that will include foundations, practitioner and manager certifications for critical service center personnel and managers.
"Adopting ITIL is allowing the Navy to change how we do IT business. We are building a knowledge base within ENMS which allows operators to instantly see possible solutions to trouble tickets greatly reducing the time spent troubleshooting," said IT1 Gene Morsen, who works in the operations department of NCTAMS PAC.
Service Desk Function. We are reorganizing the NCTAMS watch team into tiers of technical support, implementing a formalized service desk function that ties the shipboard communications watch team with NCTAMS into tier one of the watch organization.
This discourages the traditional linear and ad-hoc approach to handling incidents and problems on the watch floors, providing a dedicated service desk for customer interface, effectively capturing data, and accessing a knowledge base for easy configuration verification, service requests and requests for information, and escalation to the next tier of technical support for further diagnosis and restoration.
Additionally, a formalized service desk function will facilitate effective reporting and integration with regional maintenance and in-service engineering resources via the Global Distance Support Center.
A comprehensive Service Desk Function Guide was completed in May to implement a standardized service desk function for each watch team at NCTAMS PAC and LANT, and will be delivered to the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Centers in conjunction with the ENMS/TMS roll out later this year.
This vital first layer of the watch team will provide a dedicated and consistent customer-service interface and record all incidents into the TMS, and enable proactive monitoring of system alerts and alarms using ENMS.
Incident Management. A disciplined incident management process will ensure consistently executed detection, recording, classifying, prioritizing, diagnosing and resolution of all incidents and outages enabled by ENMS/TMS. The RNOSC Incident Management Process Guide was written to integrate the ENMS/TMS tool for information sharing and the defined processes and procedures to generate an understanding of the situation, thus achieving far beyond the limited goal of sharing status, or situational awareness, attaining situational UNDERSTANDING.
The Navy’s FORCEnet experiment series, Trident Warrior 2008, which executed in June, was our first opportunity to integrate fleet IT into the shore incident management process using the ENMS/TMS tool.
Using coevolved technology, processes and people, with a coordinated incident management process, the ENMS/TMS tool set and ITIL-trained personnel, critical segments of the incident cycle were drastically reduced from hours to seconds.
Problem Management. . A formalized process for performance trend analysis of fleet tactical services will prevent future incidents. The first significant body of performance metrics has been collected over the last four months, culminating in our Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Activation Metrics message, distributed monthly since October.
Problem management will formalize a capable process in a structured and governed way. The first draft of our Problem Management Process Guide has not been started because it depends entirely on a solid service desk foundation and a disciplined incident management process as a precursor for its success.
The ADNS program office and Program Management Warfare (PMW) 160, Networks, Information Assurance and Enterprise Services, under Program Executive Office for C4I, and in collaboration with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, has offered to help using the Fleet Systems Engineering Team (FSET) as the primary and enabling technical resource — which dovetails perfectly with our future plans. Eventually, ENMS/TMS will be an integral and enabling tool for this process.
ENMS/TMS. This is the centerpiece tool. Existing tools such as Route Explorer, WhatsUp Gold and even some homegrown Web-based tools still remain part of the RNOSC toolbox. However, the RNOSC watch team is using ENMS/TMS as our primary means for recording and tracking all incidents and outages. Further development will allow ENMS/TMS to become a primary detection tool as well.
The RNOSC East/West team participates in weekly Change Engineering Board telephone conferences with the tactical switching ENMS/TMS development team from PEO C4I's PMW 790, Ship Integration, to continually improve ENMS/TMS effectiveness. The programmers continue to work with us on improving the system and integrating its function as an integral component of our developing processes, thus continuing the coevolution of process, people and tools.
We are just getting started, but already see improved results in service delivery and support to our fleet customers. We recognize that a better way of doing business exists for delivering and supporting IT services, and we have adopted ITIL as the model framework for Navy ITSM.
An early champion for ITIL, RNOSC West leading chief petty officer for ITIL development, IT1 Jason Krahmer said, "The good thing about the ENMS system is that it incorporates industry best practices for IT service management. We can capture information in real time, search that information on demand, and build a dynamic knowledge base that inherently focuses on those areas where we can improve most.
"We're also able to visualize data from a myriad of perspectives, providing performance trends of not only the technology that we manage, but the processes that guide our operations as well. The traditional COMSPOT method of reporting service interruptions simply cannot do this.
"Moreover, the system promises to move NCTAMS out of its backroom IT role to play a larger role in supporting command and control by providing a real-time NetCOP to operational commanders based on primary source data vice secondhand message traffic. This shift is perhaps the most exciting thing I've been involved with to date."
Based on our positive experience, we recommend the initiation of an ITSM community of practice on NKO to encourage participation and information sharing about ITIL techniques and successes. We think that the potential for improvements in IT support and delivery to the fleet is enormous.
ITIL has transformed IT service management throughout industry and was adopted by the Defense Information Systems Agency as the NetOps process framework. It is becoming the standard to which we will hold the acquisition and engineering communities, as well as network service providers, for effective network management including the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), ONE-NET and the Next Generation Network (NGEN).
ITIL is a comprehensive framework of disciplined and continuously improved processes. Should we empower our own Navy IT and IP workforce with anything less?
Lt. Cmdr. Dave Purkiss was the NCTAMS PAC communications officer until July 2008. He just reported to NETWARCOM's readiness directorate.