Army rolls forward with Web financial system

GFEBS set for wide deployment in 2009

The U.S. Army’s five-year-long effort to transition its financial management to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) configuration moved forward in late 2008 when the first fielded solution, known as Release 1.2, was rolled out to Fort Jackson, S.C., the Army’s primary center for basic combat training.

The General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS) is a Web-enabled ERP system from SAP (with Accenture as the prime) that will allow the Army to share financial, asset and accounting data across the service. The GFEBS implementation involves standardizing financial management and accounting functions such as reimbursables between commands, and real property inventory and management across the Army. It will ultimately serve 79,000 users at about 200 installations around the world, and will manage about $200 billion in spending by the active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves.

“One of the initial reasons (for the GFEBS implementation) was to support the DOD’s goal for a clean audit; we needed auditable processes and financial statements,” Kristyn Jones, director of Financial Information Management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management & Comptroller (ASA FM&C), told Defense Systems magazine. “Other goals were to provide better information to decision makers, and to turn off legacy systems because there are too many stove-piped systems that don’t allow us to share information across the enterprise. It causes a lot of rework and manual effort.”

The Fort Jackson deployment went out to about 250 users. Release 1.2 will begin the process of subsuming the Army’s Standard Financial System (STANFINS) and Standard Operation and Maintenance Army Research & Development System (SOMARDS), as well as the majority of their feeder systems, and over time will create a single access point for all Army financial, asset management and real property information.

Eventually, 84 systems will subsume all or part of their functionality to GFEBS, according to Jones. Not every Army financial system will fall under the GFEBS umbrella, at least not right away.

“In some cases we’re having to work with legacy systems that will stay in existence in order to make sure that the information contained in those systems can be brought into GFEBS,” Jones said. “There is a growing recognition that operating the ERP system within an environment that includes legacy systems, and having transactions go back and forth, is where we will encounter our greatest challenges. As a result, there will be some amount of time where GFEBS and the legacy systems will coexist.”

As a result, one of the key technical challenges for ASA FM&C is to “develop interfaces with the legacy systems that are not easily compatible with the data structure of an ERP,” said Jones.

There are a number of lessons learned and issues that have been raised so far with Release 1.2 at Fort Jackson. Micromanagement can be an issue, which is not a concern with only Fort Jackson being involved but could become a problem when additional commands are brought into GFEBS. At Fort Jackson, some people were assigned too many roles and were somewhat overwhelmed.

And more work needs to be done on finding the best way to deliver training that is cognizant of the Army’s training tempo. Said Jones: “Instructor led training is good, but challenging when you have commands that might be deployed or are on the BRAC list. We need more online training and distance learning.”

For 2009, the plan is to introduce GFEBS Release 1.3 in April to the rest of Fort Jackson, and also to Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Stewart, Ga. Release 1.3 is aimed mainly at replacing STANFINS, with new functionality that automates processes and interfaces with the funds control module to bring in supply data.

October 2009 will see the rollout of Release 1.4 to nine major installations in the Southeast U.S. It is at that point that GFEBS will take over more of the SOMARDS function.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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