Insiders slam U.S. Navy intranet

It's something that has never been attempted: the reduction of hundreds of disparate networks across the globe and tens of thousands of legacy applications into a single, integrated and secure intranet architecture. It's change on a massive scale that has fueled infighting and charges of mismanagement.

But that hasn't stopped the U.S. Navy and its prime contractor, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), from moving forward with the US$6.9 billion Navy/Marine Corps Intranet project. Last week, the admiral in charge of the program ordered the installation of more than 20,500 outsourced seats by June 30. That order launched the first phase of a 100,000-seat deployment that the Pentagon approved on May 3 based on EDS's success in meeting the requirements of the initial test and evaluation stage.

Still, the massive project has been fraught with delays and implementation problems, demonstrating the difficulties enterprises stand to encounter when undertaking large-scale outsourcing plans.

For example, in a global organization like the Navy, which insiders describe as a conglomeration of hundreds of IT fiefdoms, attaining enterprisewide buy-in to the type of cultural change that N/MCI would bring has proved to be difficult at best.

"The goals and success of the enterprise as a whole ... necessarily take precedence over individual desires," states the order issued last week by the N/MCI director, Rear Adm. Charles Munns, a copy of which was obtained by Computerworld.

Project Backlash

But what some insiders characterize as a mismanaged, overzealous deployment plan has produced a backlash from Navy IT managers, as well as claims that users are unable to do their jobs effectively.

The N/MCI deployment schedule has relegated support for existing systems that users need to do their jobs to last on the priority list, said an IT support manager at the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) in Patuxent River, Md. "It used to be that the customer always comes first. Now, it's, 'We don't care what the customer says; just go out and get [N/MCI] done,' " the IT support manager said.

"N/MCI is all take and no give," said a systems administrator for the Navy's Southwest region, which includes naval air stations in Lemoore, Calif., and Fallon, Nev. "They are not set up to be service-oriented," he noted, adding that he has been waiting for more than eight weeks for the N/MCI program office to approve a simple client/server software maintenance release.

"I cannot get any information from [EDS] that indicates what anyone is doing with my software submittal," the administrator said. "As a result, I cannot tell my customers when it will be released."

Six N/MCI insiders contacted by Computerworld last week requested anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs. The Navy and EDS declined to respond directly to comments from anonymous sources. But John Clendening, an EDS spokesman, said that despite the few detractors who are resistant to change, "the [N/MCI] program is on solid footing."

Double-Edged Sword

The N/MCI blade indeed cuts both ways, said an EDS engineer who works at the Patuxent River air station. "The people at Navair are very smart and resourceful, and if they wanted N/MCI, it would already be in [place] and working smoothly," the EDS source said. According to the source, because of repeated work stoppages ordered by local Navair brass who have cited remote-access, security and help desk concerns, it has taken two years to deploy 1,000 seats -- a project that should have taken 90 days. "They have just been fighting N/MCI so long, it has become a passion," the EDS source said.

The Navy deployment order now requires any such work stoppages to be approved by Munns. In addition, local site leadership teams have been established to ensure that deadlines are met.

But the real concern lies in dealing with technical problems associated with existing systems, said the IT support manager at the Patuxent River air station. In addition to a purchasing ban on new equipment and software outside of N/MCI, which prevents users from upgrading, repair requests for existing systems are piling up because support personnel are being asked to work on N/MCI deployment issues.

Navy and EDS insiders also point to technical delays stemming from the Navy's 80,000-plus legacy applications, many of which must be installed on kiosks outside of the intranet because they haven't passed security testing or don't run on Windows 2000.

"The legacy applications [challenge] is something the Navy did not understand when it started the N/MCI effort," said Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, in a recent interview. "We've since started a Navy application database task force. Kiosks are part of the transition."

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