Navy Kicks Off $7B Intranet Project

By Joshua A. Kutner

The U.S. Navy moved a step closer toward its goal of having a service-wide intranet, operated entirely by the private sector. The project is known as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, or simply NMCI. The intranet will act as an information portal or exchange, providing data and video and voice communications for some 360,000 users. If successful, it will consolidate many disparate computer networks into a single information grid.

NMCI will be run by Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation, of Plano, Texas, in what has been labeled the largest government information technology contract to date. EDS received a five-year, $6.9 billion contract—$4.1 billion initially, with an additional three-year option—to meet security and quality-of-service requirements, train Navy-Marine personnel and maintain and operate the system infrastructure. Thus the Navy is buying a service, which officials compared to buying a utility, such as electricity or water. NMCI will replace the Navy’s existing shore-based command data networks, officials said.

The Navy investigated more than 100 potential contractors in determining who would best fit its needs, said officials.

The EDS-led contracting team—The Information Strike Force—includes Raytheon Company, WorldCom and WAM!NET. In addition, 40 percent of the work will be subcontracted to small businesses, said officials.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig called the NMCI “an immense achievement,” for it will simplify some rather complex operations by breaking down the old, stove-piped way of doing business and combining data systems.

“NMCI will make information instantly accessible to all certified users throughout the department,” said Danzig. “The consolidation of scores of separately purchased and maintained systems will yield valuable short-term gains in economy, efficiency and security. Our decision to contract for guaranteed levels for service from a private manager [EDS], transcends our often-cumbersome procurement techniques and links us to the rapidly evolving private sector. We have therefore found a mechanism for greatly increasing the speed and flexibility with which this technology will be refreshed.

“But substantial as these benefits are, they are dwarfed by implications of empowering instantaneous information access throughout the whole Department of the Navy. A highly structured, stove-piped, hierarchical organization has put itself on the path to being highly flexible, intimately integrated and organized in flat networks.”

While Danzig believes the tides are turning [excuse the pun] as information-sharing becomes a less-burdensome chore, he promotes this network as an instrument of change.

“This ‘net’ is essential, but it only facilitates change, in much the same way that telegraphs and telephones opened opportunity, but were, themselves, means, not ends,” said Danzig.

Some Defense Department officials expressed their anticipation for, or went so far as to predict, the developments or changes that may be triggered by this intranet.

“The Navy-Marine Corps Intranet will revolutionize the way that we look at the process of sharing information,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon. “It gets the government out of the business of owning and operating information technology systems, and instead transfers that function to a fee-for-service contract with private industry. The potential for increased efficiency, standardization, interoperability and better business processes is tremendous. ... From assistance to a surgeon desperately trying to save a sailor’s life at sea, to the networking of intelligence data, to better sharing of business-contract information, all will be profoundly affected by this innovative approach.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark also praised the intranet program as a vehicle for progress:

“In the end, I truly believe that the product that we see in the future, and the transformation in processes, and the way we manage information, and the effect that it has on our resource streams, will truly be dramatic.”

Dick Brown, EDS chairman and chief executive officer, said such intranet capabilities have been demonstrated successfully in the private sector for some time. “Desktop seat management has been used by private industry for a number of years,” he said. Brown praised the Navy “for recognizing the improved productivity, security and savings potential” that are intended to result from such a project.

But Navy leaders are aware that not everybody is convinced that enlisting the services of private industry is the safest bet. Danzig acknowledged that there are critics of such an intranet. Some are skeptical that by hiring the private sector to run the system, information will be put at risk.

Danzig, however, insisted that the program will be handled with care, and he added that the speed and efficiency that private companies have to offer will prevent the Navy and Marine Corps from being trapped at a stand-still. Conversely, industry solutions will help break down communications barriers, he said.

“To seize the benefit of what we are today creating, we will need to decentralize where historically we have centralized, flatten decision-making that has historically been hierarchical, integrate where we are often now separated, customize what we once struggled to standardize and use private industry to perform functions we have previously jealously guarded,” Danzig commented.

“There are legitimate objections and inherent difficulties in what we are trying to do. These must be respected. Our decisions about our use and governance of this system must take into account that we are a military organization in the 21st century. We must embrace the opportunities inherent in this technology change or put ourselves and the nation at risk. We are going forward because we cannot stand still. We initiate this system with a commitment to change the way we think and operate. That is asking a lot of our sailors, Marines and civilians.”

Said Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones, “If we tried to do this ourselves, we would wind up losing pace with technology.”

The Naval Air Systems Command was to be the first installation to implement NMCI, in October. The intranet is to be fully implemented by June 2003. A NMCI contract performance review is scheduled to take place after the first quarter of installations takes place, said officials.

Topics: Navy News, Electronics, Cyber, Infotech

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