Mike Burton had a problem. A 25-foot, underwater, fiber-optic cable attached to a critical piece of radar infrastructure had been damaged in the course of everyday maritime traffic and, as a result, normal military operations in the area were being impacted.
The Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) Enterprise IT Project Manager had faced and overcome his share of challenges, but this time a seemingly unnecessary delay in repairs was raising concerns for the entire base.
Fortunately, Mike was able to voice his concerns during in the NGEN (Next Generation) Security/Technical Enterprise Action Group (STEAG) and, within a few moments, the source of the delay was located and a solution dispatched.
“Our goal is to make NGEN the model network management development process in the Navy, for the entire DoD for that matter,” said PEO-EIS’s Naval Enterprise Networks (NEN) Program Manager Capt. Michael Abreu, whose organization sponsors the NGEN working group.
“In order to do that, you have to roll up your sleeves and be willing to confront some difficult issues and work at it until you are able to come up with some innovative solutions. We engage with our customers, influencers throughout the DON enterprise network and our base industry partners,” Abreu said.
Relative newcomers may be unfamiliar with the STEAG, but the ad hoc organization is far from being a newcomer. The first STEAG was held not long after the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) came into existence in 2001, and met semiannually. However, it endured a four-year hiatus during the length of the Continuity of Services Contract — since the CoSC was a measure put into place to ensure the stability of NEN networks until the government-owned structure was put in place.
The CoSC has been replaced by the NGEN contract and the STEAG has evolved as well.
“Our target market is chief information officers (CIOs) and deputy CIOs from Echelon II commands,” said NEN Chief Engineer (CHENG) Andrew Tash, organizer and chief proponent of the STEAG working group. “We are reinvigorating strategic engagement with fleet customers. The NEN Program Office (PMW-205) is engaging with the customer base to make sure the technological solutions are meeting their requirements. These engagements are producing a lot of good things for us as a community.”
Not all issues are resolved as immediately as the PACFLT cable, but are still addressed in a pro-active fashion. For instance, take the case of Fleet Forces IT Management & Information Assurance Manager Keith Gruce. One of the bases he oversees is scheduled to undergo extensive modernization that will affect several hangars, with groundbreaking expected in approximately 90 days. In addition, he has a couple of high-tech, Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) squadrons being assigned to his base.
The base modernization plan already called for a redesign and upgrade of the information technology infrastructure surrounding the tarmac. However, two vital pieces of information came into light during the open forum. Gruce had learned from his predecessor (who was also a member of the STEAG) that the old IT system had not been properly designed, and that F-35s require a high data transfer rate in the vicinity of 100 mega-bytes per second. Not to worry. Just like Burton and the PACFLT cable, the bright minds of the STEAG prevailed and a systematic and disciplined way forward was planned and set in motion.
“There are some difficult concerns being resolved at STEAG,” said Tash. ”Some problems are unique, ‘one-off’ situations; others turn out to be larger, enterprise concerns that require a more in-depth examination. Some solutions evolve quickly; others take much longer to solve. There are times when customers come to us after they have tried everything and are at their wit’s end. We first try to reassure them and make sure the requirement is vetted. We then apply the engineering rigor, taking proposed solutions through various stages of testing to make sure we come up with a lasting, permanent solution.”
The discrepancy between what is and what should be; identifying process weak spots and correcting or redesigning them; changes in the needs of the Navy, in general, and end-users; and the speed of the technological revolution have long been regarded as sources of innovation, according to management consultant and author Peter Drucker. These factors can be found in several aspects of naval operations. To that end, getting end-users, subject matter experts, the program office, and enterprise partners together from across the fleet serves another purpose. Something Tash likes to call “forced innovation.”
“Boundaries and constraints,” said Tash, “can actually spur and guide innovation, placing it on a desired trajectory that takes into consideration vital concerns and established practices. In this past STEAG, we tackled a lot of tough issues and gave stakeholders a glimpse of what is coming, namely [the] Joint Information Environment (JIE) and Joint Regional Security Stack (JRSS). We [the Navy] are about to embark on a transformation, in partnership with the DoD, that we haven’t seen since the inception of [the] NMCI.”
“We are building an enterprise network that is safe, secure and fast,” said Abreu. “We listen to our fleet customers and involve them in advance planning, service strategy, modernization and speed-to-market issues. We validate all concerns and requirements. We think holistically.”
It has been said that NGEN facilitates the only IT network management process in all the services that engages its stakeholders as a whole. Could this be why it may become the model process throughout the Defense Department?