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CHIPS Articles: PEO EIS Innovation Cell Looks to Deliver IT Solutions Quicker

PEO EIS Innovation Cell Looks to Deliver IT Solutions Quicker
By PEO EIS Public Affairs Office - July-September 2015
The Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) has launched an innovative process for business IT acquisition.

The Program Executive Officer for EIS, Victor Gavin challenged his team to come up with a process that would allow the Department of the Navy (DON) to identify, acquire and deliver commercially available, mature technology in response to known or emerging enterprise IT requirements. The kicker in the challenge was creating a process that would strive to achieve this in only 12 months, from the time of the recognized need to transitioning the technology into the enterprise IT environment.

Gavin’s team responded with a concept called the Innovation Cell to bridge the gap between commercially available IT products and Navy Enterprise IT. The PEO EIS Innovation Cell (IC) was launched on March 28 during an industry day event attended by more than 600 participants.

The IC, which is a process rather than a place, is designed to reduce the typical amount of time to acquire IT solutions and ensure smarter investments across the Navy Enterprise. The process involves early engagement between program management offices (PMOs), industry, and the IC team to create and refine “Enterprise Challenge” statements that begin to define the requirements to be spelled out in eventual Requests for Information and/or Proposals (RFIs and/or RFPs). Three Enterprise Challenges (ECs) were presented at the industry day and subsequently released for industry feedback, with nearly 100 responses.

The goal is to create well-defined, specific requirements earlier that will help streamline the acquisition process, and through the early engagement with industry, educate the Department of the Navy (DON) about available IT solutions to ensure smarter investments.

"The way we execute the acquisition process is too slow,” Gavin told the participants at the industry day event. "In order to change our acquisition process, the way we acquire business IT, the Innovation Cell is absolutely critical to doing that.”

In the October 2014 U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations staff report titled DEFENSE ACQUISITION REFORM: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?; A Compendium of Views by Leading Experts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, Sean Stackley wrote, "The great challenge before us all is to produce the needed capability at a more affordable cost, and too, at a pace that preserves the technological edge that our military has possessed for near three quarters of a century." With the speed of innovation in the IT industry, something a program office started to acquire as little as 24 months ago is likely outdated by the time it can be inserted into the network environment. That speed of innovation is driving the Department of Defense (DoD) to accelerate acquisition cycles. The IC seeks to leverage an aggressive assessment framework to reduce the time it takes to acquire commercially available IT products.

According to Gavin, the IC will put pressure on the acquisition process to adopt new technologies faster and make smarter investment decisions through a much better engagement with industry.

The IC process involves a series of phases that starts with the development of the Enterprise Challenge, and moves through progressive assessments that support the acquisition of IT solutions. An EC describes a basic need and has an identified sponsor, funding, and execution timeline.

The initial Enterprise Challenge is shared with industry in a “discovery” phase of the IC assessment framework. Through feedback from industry, the pre-assessment leads to a refined EC and an early understanding of new technologies that offer potential solutions. Armed with the final EC, the Navy can move through the remaining phases of the framework to complete the acquisition with a contract award, expanded pilots or technology insertion via other contractual options available to the DON.

PEO EIS Technical Director Dan DelGrosso was tapped by Gavin to develop and lead the IC team and process.

DelGrosso was pleased with the turnout at the launch of the IC. “It’s a great start, great turnout with industry, which is exactly what we were hoping for.”

DelGrosso has been working with a small team mostly from the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Atlantic (SSC LANT). But he is quick to point out, “This isn’t a PEO EIS project, this isn’t an SSC LANT project; this is a Navy project that will be successful with help from industry.”

DelGrosso, mostly having an operational background, is concerned with the amount of time it takes to get the latest technology into the hands of Sailors and Marines. “That’s what the Innovation Cell is designed to do; keep pace with technology,” he said.

However, DelGrosso also indicated there are two facets to delivering on what is referred to as “speed to market.” He explained there is certainly the desire of reducing the time for getting new applications onto the network, but he also highlighted the need to ensure the Navy is acquiring the most currently available IT products that will improve the user experience of the Sailors, Marines and civilian employees across the department.

DelGrosso stressed that the IC will work within the acquisition rules and guidelines, but will “leverage the existing process to figure out how to do things better.” According to DelGrosso, one of the issues that have slowed the process was poorly identified or defined requirements. The EC will be used to describe the DON’s need to industry, but “[W]e will need your help to ensure we are writing the best Enterprise Challenge statement,” he said to participants during the industry day.

The initial ECs will be posted publicly and industry will be encouraged to provide feedback. During his remarks at the industry day launch, DelGrosso appealed to industry to participate in the IC by providing insight and input into the development of the ECs.

PEO EIS IC Operations Lead Jeff Frailey worked with the team that developed the IC assessment framework and described it during the industry day. Frailey emphasized that, "It should not take longer to acquire the new technology than the life-span of the technology itself," as he spoke on how the IC will bridge the gap between industry innovation and Navy enterprise IT.

Frailey indicated the IC is the “mechanism we will use to collaborate with industry to solve the Navy’s enterprise IT challenges. What we are talking about is industry innovation, we want to be able to bring to bear in the Navy faster,” Frailey said. Right now there are gaps between what is commercially available and what exists within the Navy IT enterprise, he noted.

Innovation Cell Assessment Framework

The IC assessment framework starts with an initial EC. This is written by the Navy to document a particular need. Frailey emphasized, “Any initial EC we publish will be a qualified opportunity that will result in an acquisition action.” That action could range from pilots to an actual competition.

When the initial EC is published, the IC enters into a phase of discovery. The pre-assessment kicks off engagement with industry to get feedback and insight into new technologies in order to better define the Navy’s requirements.

Feedback from industry during the pre-assessment will be incorporated into a final Enterprise Challenge, which is published as an RFI. The engagement between the Navy and industry during the pre-assessment is the innovative ingredient that will lead to a more productive and efficient acquisition process.

Once the final Enterprise Challenge is issued, the framework enters a market assessment of the products or technologies that are possible solutions to the EC. Even if potentially interested companies did not participate in the pre-assessment, ideally they will provide additional inputs based on the refined EC.

Coming out of the market assessment there are multiple paths forward available to the PMO. The next step could involve pilots, a more detailed RFI, or an RFP. This marks the beginning of the technical assessment where the Navy will begin to focus on the technical merits of the viable solutions to the EC.

The results of the technical assessment will help determine what acquisition mechanisms will be used. An RFP signals the start of the competitive assessment, where the solutions are ranked. Selected solutions will be awarded contracts, pilots will be expanded, or technology will be inserted onto the networks via other contractual options available to the Navy.

According to Frailey, “It is the early collaboration with industry during the discovery and realm of the possible phases prior to entering the formal acquisition process that is the innovative step the Navy is taking to meet goals for getting commercially available products introduced into our enterprise IT.”

To support that, the IC has established some new ways of communicating with industry. Through the IC website, industry can register with the IC and sign up to be notified via email. The IC is also working to develop a portal that will be used by industry to submit responses and by the Navy to track and analyze them during the assessments. The IC also invites industry to educate the Navy by submitting a paper about products and technologies that might meet current or future requirements.

Enterprise Challenges

During the industry day, the Innovation Cell presented the first ECs to be released for industry input. The three ECs represent a potential investment value of $20 to $25 million. They include:

Information as an Asset – Data Analytics Inside the DON

To address the Navy’s need to handle large, complex data sets of structured and unstructured data form more than 40 databases in multiple systems.

Enhanced Virtualized Desktop

To build on the results of the previous limited Hosted Virtual Desktop pilot to deliver a virtual application and desktop environment with an equal or better end-user experience both inside and outside the NMCI network.

Campus Network Architecture Supporting Unified Communications

To provide modernized Wide Area Network (WAN) and Base Area Network (BAN) solutions which improve capability while reducing total ownership costs for the Navy.

The formal ECs were released on April 3. The initial interest from industry reflected in the number of responses was an encouraging sign that industry is supportive of the IC process. When the window for submissions closed, there were a total of 96 responses with 51 responses on Information as an Asset – Data Analytics Inside the Navy; 22 responses on Enhanced Virtual Desktop; and 23 responses on Campus Network Architecture.

As the IC team works with the PMOs to evaluate the responses to the initial ECs, they realize there is a lot of work ahead to meet the challenge of a reduced acquisition timeline as they navigate the IC process for the first time. RFIs for these ECs will be published as appropriate based on the results of the assessments.

However, DelGrosso is encouraged by the successful launch and initial response. "We are getting a lot of questions in, there's a lot of dialogue that is going to have to continue — and were just getting started."

Innovation Cell Industry Day logo
Innovation Cell Industry Day logo

The Innovation Cell process illustration shows a series of phases that starts with the development of the Enterprise Challenge, and moves through progressive assessments that support the acquisition of IT solutions.  An EC describes a basic need, has an identified sponsor, funding and execution timeline.
The Innovation Cell process illustration shows a series of phases that starts with the development of the Enterprise Challenge, and moves through progressive assessments that support the acquisition of IT solutions. An EC describes a basic need, has an identified sponsor, funding and execution timeline.

INNOVATION CELL ASSESSMENT FRAMEWORK
Through four assessment phases, the IC helps PMOs narrow the field of options by creating well-defined, specific requirements. Early Industry engagement educates Navy and ensures smarter investments.
INNOVATION CELL ASSESSMENT FRAMEWORK Through four assessment phases, the IC helps PMOs narrow the field of options by creating well-defined, specific requirements. Early Industry engagement educates Navy and ensures smarter investments.

PRE-ASSESSMENT
PEO EIS, PMOs, Industry and the Innovation Cell engage to create and refine Enterprise Challenges that meet the needs of PEO EIS.
PRE-ASSESSMENT PEO EIS, PMOs, Industry and the Innovation Cell engage to create and refine Enterprise Challenges that meet the needs of PEO EIS.

MARKET ASSESSMENT
An initial assessment of products or technologies that fall within the realm of possible solutions to the Enterprise Challenge.
MARKET ASSESSMENT An initial assessment of products or technologies that fall within the realm of possible solutions to the Enterprise Challenge.

TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT
Engineers analyze multiple technologies and/or products that vary in approach to solving a single Enterprise Challenge based on technical merit.
TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT Engineers analyze multiple technologies and/or products that vary in approach to solving a single Enterprise Challenge based on technical merit.

COMPETITIVE ASSESSMENT
PMOs conduct a selection board with Innovation Cell support to fulfill the Enterprise Challenge requirement.
COMPETITIVE ASSESSMENT PMOs conduct a selection board with Innovation Cell support to fulfill the Enterprise Challenge requirement.

IMPLEMENTATION
Once the contract is awarded, it is transitioned or integrated onto the network.
IMPLEMENTATION Once the contract is awarded, it is transitioned or integrated onto the network.
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