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CHIPS Articles: Department of the Navy Business IT Transformation

Department of the Navy Business IT Transformation
By Sharon Anderson - July-September 2012
Why does the Department of the Navy need to align its business information technology and processes, and what is the DON doing to speed these changes? These are the two critical questions that the DON Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen addressed in a town hall meeting at the DON IT Conference in Virginia Beach.

Speaking to more than 400 people in Virginia Beach on May 16, 2012, Halvorsen’s remarks were directed to industry, department personnel and stakeholders of the DON.

To preserve critical warfighting capabilities, the DON took a $2 billion cut in business IT over the five-year defense plan.

"We are in the business of war, so we have to protect that capability to do that business. That’s why we are looking at taking efficiencies in business IT systems," Halvorsen said.

The DON CIO pointed to the lack of visibility in IT spending and issues with the way the DON tracks and spends IT money. "I also look at some of the things we buy, and frankly, we don’t buy all the things that we should. We buy too many things that we shouldn’t in some cases, and we buy lots of versions of the same software," he said.

Multiple versions of the same software and software no longer supported by a vendor add unsustainable costs because the DON must fund pricy maintenance to fix vulnerabilities in legacy systems. They also add complexity and additional expense to running the network.

"We have applications that we are running out there that cannot be sustained from a security standpoint. They have to go. We have put that decision off, but no more. They are gone — they are going to go," Halvorsen said.

Discipline, IT asset visibility and transparency in IT purchases will provide the department better control of dollars spent and better value for them.

"We have buying power that we’re not using. That is not the fault of acquisition. That’s our fault. Blame it on me, we don’t bundle our money. Marine Corps has got that right and [they] bundle their money to one BSO (Budget Submitting Office). There is great value in being anyone’s biggest customer. You all know that, [if ] you have bigger money, you come to the table and get a better deal. We’ve got to take advantage of that," Halvorsen said.

Other areas for analysis include business process improvements and defining a data strategy for the department.

"I get this question all the time, what’s more important, the IT or the process? And I say you’ve got to understand the business processes. We are not one business; we are a multinational corporation in the DON. If we were a Fortune 500 company, depending on how you count the money on a given day, we’d be Fortune 3 or 4. That’s pretty good; it means we are worth a lot of money. That means we want to balance process and investment in IT. So in some cases we should change process, in some cases we should change IT, but in some cases we should change both," Halvorsen said.

Standardization and a data strategy, reducing applications, version control, aggregating IT requirements for enterprise contracts and taking the complexity out of the department’s IT infrastructure will reduce costs and improve network performance. The department is aiming to simplify and streamline IT as much as possible.

According to Halvorsen, the data strategy should involve the FAM process. The Functional Area Management Initiative identifies, analyzes and ultimately reduces the number of IT software applications and databases in use across all Navy networks.

"We need to look at how we develop an overall data strategy. That’s how we’re going to manage our data and how we define additions to our data. That’s going to become critical. Right now we are somewhat hindered in making decisions, in all of it, but particularly at the very senior levels so as we try to aggregate data, the definition of that data changes by command, by element, by sponsor, by all of it," Halvorsen said.

In regard to commercial off-the-shelf software, as it applies to business systems, Halvorsen said, "Customization is bad, standardization is good."

Commands that want to customize COTS software will be required to pursue a high-level approval process, he said.

The need to change is urgent because the department is sure to have less and less money to spend on IT, and the DON can no longer afford to buy its way out of costly mistakes.

"We are not going to have that luxury. Our decisions are going to have to be more accurate and timely the first time around. Now every decision we make over the next two or three years is going to be part of history where we are going to be impacting what happens for the next 25 years, good or bad," Halvorsen said.

As the department senior official for the Freedom of Information Act, civil liberties, privacy and communications security, Halvorsen said the DON CIO will soon release several policies that detail the appropriate use and storage of data. For instance, in the case of personally identifiable information and protected health information, the only people and organizations that should have access to this data are those with the requirement and authority to make an actionable decision.

"If you can’t take action on the data, you should not be collecting it," Halvorsen said.

In response to audience members’ questions about delays in the Navy Information Dominance Approval System process, he acknowledged that use of NAV-IDAS does slow things down, but that is because it enforces a policy that was already in place for an IT buyer to investigate if there is an existing system or application within the department that meets the same requirements before another purchase is made. He also said that while the process may be slow, there are no backlogs in NAV-IDAS.

"As you said, in the old days you use to just be able to go out and buy things. But by most standards we were spending a fairly significant amount of money on IT that was above what we had budgeted for," Halvorsen said.

Another audience member questioned whether the DON should just cancel a couple of big ticket items rather than looking for loose change between the sofa cushions.

Halvorsen responded that one of his favorite savings targets is printing costs which cost the department $100 million per year. "That’s the total for the ink, the toner, the paper, everything. I don’t know that I would consider that couch change."

On data center consolidation, Halvorsen said the emphasis in strategy right now is strictly from a financial perspective but other considerations may play a role further down the line.

In response to slow response times on the network, Halvorsen said, "If you have bandwidth, they will use it. I am very concerned about bandwidth, and it is a big problem. We bought the absolute biggest bandwidth pipe in the world; there is nothing bigger. We increased the flow. I think it lasted a whole 63 days before we were back up running at the same level we were at before we got the big pipe. We are going to have to do something about what we let on the network."

Interestingly, Halvorsen said the No. 1 bandwidth uses on the network are not mission related. "I can’t buy anymore. So we are going to have to figure out some new rules until we find some new technology."

Responding to a question about whether the department is considering a move to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s enterprise email, Halvorsen said, "Right now, Army is doing some really good things; DISA is doing some really good things. I think one of the things you have to understand is that the Army saves money on collapsing multiple network infrastructures and old network directories. We have already done that [with the Navy Marine Corps Intranet in 2000]. We will go to DISA when it makes operational and financial sense to the DON."

Halvorsen acknowledged that IT business reform is hard but absolutely essential to ensure warfighting effectiveness.

"The money is there for us to take; we have to have the will power and the business savvy to go do that. It doesn’t mean it won’t be painful and it doesn’t mean it’s not hard, but we get paid to do some things that are difficult and we get paid to do some things that are hard. It’s something we’ve got to do, and that’s why we are looking at IT efficiencies."

There is no turning back and no doing business the “old way” under the fiscal constraints the Defense Department faces. In this regard, the DON CIO has sought input from industry innovators and basically anyone with a good idea.

"Maybe for the last 10 years we were asking the question: ‘What do we need to spend money on to execute the mission?’ Today the question is ‘What can we not spend money on to keep up mission capabilities?’ What investments do we have to make to ensure that combat capability is there, but it’s still got to come out of available money, and that available money will become less. I think that’s going to happen. So that’s a different set of questions to ask and answer."

For more information about IT efficiencies and policy, visit the DON CIO website:

Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen adddresses the audience at the DON IT Conference at the Business IT Transformation Town Hall May 16, 2012. The DON CIO hosts two conferences each year, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast in the fleet concentration areas of San Diego and Norfolk/Virginia Beach. The conference is free and open to all DON, government, military and support contractor personnel.
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