Barry Rosenberg

There's a lot at stake with military modernization programs

In the June Editor’s Note, I called for the military to implement stricter contract control and penalties on IT services firms such as SAP, Oracle and Science Applications International Corp. that consistently oversell their ability to implement complicated enterprise resources planning (ERP) projects and undersell the time and cost necessary to successfully complete such projects.

The necessity for greater oversight is real and urgent in light of the significant cuts planned for the defense budget. According to the Government Accountability Office, six of the Defense Department's nine major ERP programs have had schedule delays ranging from two to 12 years and five have incurred cost increases ranging from $530 million to $2.4 billion. Instead of retiring aging, stovepiped systems that hinder the sharing of data and intelligence or prevent the streamlining of logistics and payroll, for example, warfighters are forced to continue sustaining systems that are wholly inadequate and unsuited to a modern-day military in which the network is supposed to be the No. 1 modernization priority.

Shortly after I wrote about the problems with military ERP projects, I read that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fed up with the implementation of his city’s ERP programs and is demanding that SAIC return more than $600 million in project costs. Clearly people are starting to wake up to the fact that a significant portion of budget shortfalls being experienced by state and local governments, in addition to the military, are because of ERP failures.

Anyone who thinks that troubles with payroll systems, for example, don’t affect military readiness or tactical operations are wrong, as there’s only so much money to go around, and payroll ERP implementations that cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than planned shrink the amount of money available to support soldiers and Marines on the ground in Afghanistan.

The military’s ERP implementations are an effort to streamline operations. DOD is engaged in another major effort at modernization, and though it’s going more smoothly than its ERP initiatives, the eyes of all the military services are on the Defense Information Systems Agency and its efforts to develop a private cloud of enterprise services for enhanced communication and collaboration across DOD. The Army is the first out of the gate as it transitions its e-mail to DISA servers and begins to phase out Army Knowledge Online.

As of now, only half of the 100,000 users that the Army planned to migrate to the DISA system in June actually were migrated, but Army leaders say they are still on track to complete the job by the end of 2011. A lot is riding on the effort, as legislators on Capitol Hill are wondering whether the costs/benefits will work out positively and whether DISA was the right place for these efforts to reside.

DISA has a lot to prove in the coming months, and it needs to complete the Army e-mail migration smoothly and on time to ensure other enterprise service efforts can go forward.

Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 15, 2011

The problem lies with the lack of competency within the government acquisition process. It is not lack of oversight that allows these programs to get out of control, it is a complete lack of understanding by the government (managers, leaders, engineers, comptrollers, etc) of what it takes to field systems like this. It starts with a lack of understanding, coupled with what can best be summed up as laziness and lack of clearly defined goals set up by leadership. If the leadership can't do the homework to figure out what they want, and have it stand up to the litmus test of independent review, then they shouldn't be making decisions about what to buy. Luckily, it is not beyond the government to figure out how to acquire systems, and there are several examples throughout history of government programs being executed well. A cursory review of what caused these acquisition programs to execute well will show it is not due to additional oversight. It is due to clear leadership and direction, very clearly articulated requirements and persistent information exchange between the vender and the government to ensure both sides are meeting the others expectations. Having participated in numerous source selections and requirements definitions, I can tell you the buck starts and stops with the government. If a program fails it is almost always traceable back to where the government screwed up. If we can't get our own affairs in order, we can only expect to see more of the same in our acquisitions.

Sun, Aug 14, 2011

All the software needed to be modernized. The lack of quality information however has nothing to do with the software, it is personnel who have a poor idea of the the Army functions and cannot relate that to the systems contractors who should be assisting not directing. Blaming SAP, Oracle, SAIC etc is easy and deflecting the responsibility away from the Government management who lack the competency to understand how they manage today with the current systems. ERP's cannot fix management problems

Fri, Aug 5, 2011 Simon Langford Toronto

I think this article totally misses the point. Governments tend to ask for a proposal from a systems integrater (SI) not a software company to implement ERP solutions. In most cases it is the SI that states how much this will cost to implement not the software vendor - and yes I do work for one of the vendors mentioned in this article both in Canada and the US and I specialize in public sector so I know this to be true.

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