NMCI's silent majority

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A silent majority appears to be satisfied with the Navy Marine Corps Intranet. Officials at the NMCI director's office and EDS, the lead integrator for the Navy's massive effort to build a single network across about 400 shore-based sites, claim that 75 percent of users who responded to a June survey report that they are satisfied with the network.

The survey for this quarter demonstrates a 6 percent spike in user satisfaction from the previous quarter's survey.

This announcement comes despite users' frequent informal criticisms of NMCI.

NMCI officials say the steady increase in customer satisfaction relates to the boost in familiarity with the system and that often those who complain are users who have not yet become accustomed to the changes.

"If you make people change, they don't like it at first," said Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, NMCI's staff director. "But people who've cut over six months or more tend to like it."

The greatest challenge to satisfaction with the system is people's perception of their computers, he said. Typically, users view their computers as their own machines to personalize with software and screen savers. With NMCI, however, computers should be seen as access points to a network, similar to how cable boxes are owned by a cable company but provide users with access to services.

Not everyone embraces the shift in thinking. Frustrated users offer myriad reasons why they believe NMCI hinders their work rather than making their lives easier.

One frequent complaint is that the network's security measures slow its performance. NMCI officials agree but say a secure system is well worth any inconvenience.

The Navy "made the decision that security is more important than how fast a computer boots up," Christopher said. "But as we find different ways to do it that mitigate those performance challenges, we will certainly implement those."

Another complaint involves users' inability to change and load icons and personalize the programs on their computers. Christopher acknowledges that although this control may be frustrating personally, it is vital to the system's overall maintenance.

"We want to manage things across the enterprise," he said. "If everyone is fiddling with their computers, we can't manage it. If a user has loaded whatever he feels like, then if we have to restore his computer, we can't do it because we haven't been controlling it. To make an enterprise approach work, we have to sacrifice some control."

Further complaints cite the system's failure to remain up and running and to deliver e-mail messages on time, or sometimes at all. NMCI officials point out that these problems are not unique to the intranet; they are common to all large networks.

"We have the second-largest single network in the world, after the Internet, and the single largest managed network," Christopher said. "The statistical probability would suggest that there is probably going to be

a problem somewhere sometimes." He added that anyone having problems should file trouble tickets with the system's enterprise help desk.

The 35,000 completed surveys demonstrate only the opinions of users with 45 or more days' experience with NMCI, according to Ed Schmitz, who is in charge of customer satisfaction in the director's office.

Users respond to questions regarding satisfaction by selecting a number on a scale of one to 10. One signifies completely dissatisfied, 10 completely satisfied. Any user with an average response of 5.5 or higher is deemed satisfied with the system. As specified in the initial contract, EDS takes responsibility for administering the surveys.

NMCI is a performance-based contract. Therefore, the company can earn bonuses if customer satisfaction numbers exceed specified levels.

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