It's the wave of change and it's coming - the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), the digital network that will link all shore installations and forward forces. It's got two big implications for the Department of the Navy (DON). The first is currently being experienced. NMCI is already providing best value for information services. The second is bigger. Eventually, it will enable us to transform the Department into the leading information age organization in government.
Where We've Been
Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Subcommittee, said, "... the biggest problem in e-government is government talking to government." That was the DON's problem. It had a bunch of incompatible networks, and you couldn't always e-mail between commands. The Navy also had over 200 gateways that were vulnerable to threats. Corporations previously had this problem, but many have since consolidated their networks into one intranet.
That's what the DON did - followed business' example. We studied IBM, which consolidated 31 information networks into one enterprise-wide intranet. We held an industry day to get private industry's best ideas. Users from across the Department then provided their needs, while technical experts collaborated on interoperability.
Based on what was learned from industry, and input from the fleet and the shore establishments, senior leaders decided to pursue the NMCI. It replaces the separate networks with one that will link all shore commands and forward deployed naval forces. For the first time, when fully implemented, it will provide seamless voice, video and data services across the DON on a single integrated network.
DON leaders also did something else differently. They decided to buy this network as a utility service. Essentially, it will be built, run and refreshed by private industry. That's what corporations like J. P. Morgan and Company do. They outsource their intranet services.
But the Department broke the mold in other ways. Fourteen months after we started, a contract was awarded - an unexampled achievement for a contract this size. Moreover, the selection criteria departed from past practice. We didn't seek a company that would mindlessly comply with contract terms, but rather a partner that would have incentives to satisfy our needs. We call that best value, and it's paying off.
Where We Are
NMCI's implementation is underway, and already making a difference. Consider customer comments. The Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Robert J. Natter stated, "NMCI is the right thing to do and its implementation is going very well."
How well it's going is best described by command members. In an article he wrote, "In Defense of NMCI" for Federal Computer Week magazine, April 16, 2001, Commander Kevin R. Hooley, Atlantic Fleet's Deputy Director for Cryptology and Assistant Deputy Information Warfare and Operations said, "At 8 a.m., the contractors hit like a strike force. They provided a protocol for saving data that was easy to follow, even for a techno-rock like me. They removed old hardware and installed new, in an almost choreographed manner. Software configuration was flawless and customized to our needs. This was a massive task, too. We've got 25 computer stations and 50 systems. By 11:30 a.m., they were gone, and we were online with more power, more options and no files lost. What was different from the past is that these guys were interested in customer satisfaction. They were friendly, helpful, courteous, and exceptionally professional."
Others have made similar endorsements. "EDS (the contractor) is winning converts for the NMCI through performance," stated Atlantic Fleet's N-6, Ms. Monica Shepard.
But NMCI is doing more than just satisfying customers. In some locations, the Navy and Marine Corps have very robust systems and services, but that's not the case everywhere. Some personnel are still using computers and software that may be three or four upgrades from state-of-the-shelf. NMCI's implementation will bring the entire Department up to a common standard.
NMCI will also ensure that the Department leaps ahead together. It will refresh hardware every three years at the minimum, and will provide software that's never more than one upgrade from state-of-the shelf. This will make the DON an information technology leader in government.
Where We Are Going
Implementation is only the beginning. NMCI will help aggregate information and resources across the Department and focus them on missions. Ultimately, it will enable the type of enterprise-wide solutions that have transformed business and industry. Here are a few possibilities.
NMCI could accelerate distributed planning. Ford Motor Company engineers around the world readily collaborate on vehicle design, shaving weeks off the design process. Eventually with NMCI, any Sailor or Marine could collaborate by video teleconferencing (VTC) and "whiteboard sessions." They might digitally mark up photos, charts, or maps and send them to any ship or shore installation.
NMCI could immediately deliver maintenance information to anywhere within the DON. Mazda North America's intranet delivers updated technical information on its cars to service shops across the country. The Navy and Marine Corps has made progress in this area. For example, the Navy uses GOSNET, a secure "extranet" designed to provide real-time information sharing among the T-45 Goshawk Jet Training community, to share repair documents and drawings online. NMCI could enable even wider distribution of maintenance documents.
NMCI could also enable more robust online training and education services, leveraging what the DON is already doing in that regard. At Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, for example, sexual harassment training is conducted over the intranet. NMCI increases the opportunities for distance learning. These could include occupational specialty training, professional military education and college degree programs.
Additionally, it could enable enterprise resource planning (ERP). Essentially, this integrates such functions as finance and purchasing to provide savings. The Boise Cascade Corporation previously processed accounts payable transactions at 120 business locations. Now transactions are centralized in Boise Cascade's main office, which employs only 25 personnel. Similar efforts elsewhere in the Federal Government have also paid big dividends. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Finance Center provides consolidated administrative payment, billing, collection, payroll and personnel services for the entire department from a single location. Similar enterprise resource planning within the DON could create departmental efficiencies, freeing up resources for other mission critical initiatives.
It's Up to Us
Successful organizations in the future will be the ones that use digital tools to reinvent themselves. For the Navy and Marine Corps, the NMCI is a digital power tool. It is a dramatic improvement over our past information networks. Moreover, it can help us transform ourselves in much the same way enterprise-wide networks have enabled businesses to transform themselves. Now it-s up to us to seize the opportunity and make it happen.
Captain Christopher is the Acting Deputy Program Executive Officer for Information Technology, and Director of NMCI Services.