Cooperation paved the road to Army logistics modernization

When Army officials started modernizing their logistics operations, the first step to success was admitting they didn't know how to manage the project. A partnership between the Army and Computer Sciences Corp. has moved the process along. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, based on SAP AG software, recently went live, and work continues.

"We didn't have any experience in these [ERP] packages," said Larry Asch, chief of business and operations at the Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J. "For many years, we didn't adopt commercial practices. We did software coding, and we didn't have as much success as we'd like."

CSC brought that expertise, along with a team of subcontractors and a methodology that applied to everyone. That one face, in which any employee of any company involved would be using the same processes and steps, has been a key element of success, he said. Subcontractors include heavy-hitters BearingPoint Inc., IBM Corp. and AT&T.

The project also required a controversial move. About 215 Army information technology employees left the service and went to work for the company, said Chris Colen, vice president and program manager for logistics modernization at CSC. The employees were working on the Army's legacy systems, a situation that Colen said led some employees to see themselves as nearing obsolescence. The company began training them on the new applications they would be implementing.

The project, awarded in 1999, began with establishing a clear understanding of the business goals and the strategy that the team would follow on what was to be a massive transformation program, replacing 22 million lines of codes on systems with 15,000 users.

The Army and CSC hammered out performance metrics to measure the company's performance as the project progressed. "The biggest mistake you can make is to look at these [types of projects] as just a technical implementation," Colen said. "A lot of people don't sit down and say, 'What are the business metrics that I'm driving here?'"

CSC insists on agency involvement, he said. "We needed to make sure that the executives first of all understood that this was going to require a lot of their time and a lot of their people's time," he said. "They need to be champions. They can't just say, 'Call me when you're done.' They have to be active; they have to be visible." Communication about the project has to start the moment the contractor's team arrives, he added. "Sixty percent of these programs [are] getting the organization ready for the transformation," he said.

Once the project got under way, the strength of the Team CSC approach became clear, Asch said. "The key thing was they spoke with one voice," he said. "We've had a lot of cases in the government where we would have a problem and the subcontractor would say, 'It's not my problem. It's the contractor's problem.'"

The program has a number of checks built in to ensure it stays on track. The Army and CSC hold daily status reviews and weekly meetings to resolve any issues. They use objective score cards to measure CSC's performance. And the Army has kept users informed about planned changes.

CSC's deliberate methods can prevent costly mistakes, Asch said. When Army officials felt ready to launch the ERP system, they and CSC developed a score card using 57 elements that were important to readiness. "Back in March, that score card told us we were not ready to go live. In June, it told us we were ready," he said.

Such detailed planning is a change for the Army, Asch said, but it is proving to be a good one. "We're really state-of-the-art," he said. "Some of the tools with CSC and SAP will put us ahead of industry."

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