Army IT exec weighs in on the service's technology programs, challenges

In a recent interview PEO Gary Winkler, answered questions on new Army IT initiatives

Gary Winkler, a member of the Senior Executive Service since 2003, has been program executive officer for enterprise information systems at Fort Belvoir, Va., since October 2007. He is responsible for program management of Defense Department and Army business and combat service support systems, in addition to Army communications and computer infrastructure.

He spoke recently with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about a number of continuing initiatives, including the Logistics Modernization Program, Army Enterprise System Integration Program and recently concluded Network Service Center (NSC) Operational Validation (OpVal) exercise. The exercise is part of an effort to enable Army units to update and retain warfighting data and applications as units travel from one location to another.


DS: You must be excited about the recently completed NSC OpVal in Germany. How did it go?

Winkler: We are definitely pleased with the build out of the [Secret IP Router Network] capability at the Area Processing Center in Grafenwoehr, Germany. In roughly seven months, a team of acquisition, operational and industry professionals engineered, procured, built, tested and validated the first implementation of the Global Network Enterprise Construct (GNEC). The team delivered technical capabilities and identified improvements for future GNEC execution. We came away with lessons learned in fielding, technical and operational processes, configuration management, and global collaborative planning.

The 5th Signal Command was also pleased with the resulting APC SIPR capability tested with them during the OpVal portion of the Austere Challenge Exercise. Through a simulated deployment of the 18th Fires Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C., the NSC seamlessly transferred all of the 18th's data, information and services from their home station into a virtual deployed environment. Once they hit the ground and plugged into the network, they were able to immediately enter the fight with the same systems and information that they had trained on at their home base. In the past, units would enter a deployed environment and have to operate on a different network with different applications, which caused a learning curve and delay in that unit's effectiveness.

Naturally, there were some lessons learned. On the user’s side, the 5th Signal Command came away with several lessons learned dealing with manpower, training and organizational issues to optimally leverage this new capability. On the technical side, there were some lessons learned dealing with data and application replication and virtualization, bandwidth utilization and some other technical refinements to make this capability more seamless for the end users.

DS: What are your thoughts on the key engineering challenges and technology enablers that need to be addressed to bring about success of the GNEC concept?

Winkler: The GNEC OpVal gave us a first look at both the technical and user challenges of this paradigm shift. Our technical challenges remain trying to standardize our GNEC environment, configuration and toolset. Our existing APCs within GNEC are not all configured identically, nor optimized to operate in an integrated fashion. We will be working on that for the near-term and will take feedback from the OpVal and similar activities into account when making design and product decisions for the final, objective GNEC design.

We need to dialogue and experiment with more user groups that have varying requirements to make sure we get it right. So expect a series of annual OpVal-like events to continue the technical/operational exchange necessary to drive GNEC engineering and programmatic decisions. Technical collaboration between [the Network Enterprise Technology Command], my Project Manager for Network Service Centers and Program Executive Office-Command, Control, Communications Tactical will have to be continuous and frequent to ensure all network services, such as battle command service, will be available to users in the objective design and implementation.

The Austere Challenge exercise and OpVal were successful because planning and coordination between all stakeholders started early. Addressing the technical challenges that remain ahead will require that same kind of collaboration.

DS: You have several new programs that have gone live for the first time this year: the General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS); the Logistics Modernization Program (LMP); the Global Combat Support System—Army (GCSS-A); and the Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System (DIMHRS). Can you briefly bring me up-to-date on those launches?

Winkler: You missed one. We also have the Army Enterprise Systems Integration Program (AESIP) that also went live to provide hub services, master data management, and business intelligence capabilities for the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems you mentioned.

These programs are our major ERP efforts representing a projected $8 billion Army investment over their life cycles. The go-live milestones are very important for each of the programs so that our old, inefficient business systems can be retired. Equally important, though, is that the Army is adopting new, more efficient business processes to leverage the integrated end-to-end capabilities inherent in the [commercial] ERP package we are using for these systems. Also, in parallel to these go-live activities, we are also working to better integrate these programs for the future since they use the same underlying technology and products.

GFEBS received Milestone C approval in June to enter its first official operational test and evaluation. In April, the test baseline went live at the test sites for the 1,500 users that will be involved in the test. Following a successful test in the summer months, the Army will seek [Office of the Secretary of Defense] approval to field the system for expanded operational use beyond the test sites.

We anticipate GFEBS to be fully deployed Army-wide by 2012. At that time, GFEBS will have more than 79,000 users at 200 sites around the world and will manage $140 billion in spending by the active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

The system will standardize transactional input and business processes across the Army to enable cost management activities; provide accurate, reliable and real-time financial and real property data; and tie budgets to execution. When fully deployed, GFEBS will subsume more than 80 legacy systems, and for the first time, the Army will have a single authoritative source for data for its entire general fund.

LMP went live on May 14 to 5,000 new users at the Corpus Christi Army Depot, Letterkenny Army Depot, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command, and more than 1,000 users worldwide through the Army Materiel Command National Maintenance Program. This latest deployment actually marks LMP’s second release to the Army, as it had previously been deployed in 2003 to the Tobyhanna Army Depot.

Currently, the program manages a multibillion-dollar inventory with tens of thousands of vendors and also interfaces with more than 70 DOD systems. By the end of 2011, LMP will operate in more than 1,000 locations with more than 17,000 users worldwide. Preparations are ongoing as the LMP enterprise shifts its focus to site assessment, training and education for its third deployment scheduled in October 2010 to the Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, Joint Munitions and Lethality, and the Army Sustainment Command.

GCSS-Army recently completed an operational assessment of an early prototype for supply support activity functions at the National Training Center (NTC) in California. Results have exceeded expectations from both the project manager’s and soldiers' perspectives. Logistics operational performance improved across the board in some of the most important supply management categories. For example, repairables decreased from nearly $40 million to under $1 million, and user satisfaction increased 5 percentage points to 91 percent.

GCSS-Army gives users better visibility of resources and automated processes that add up to greatly improved warehouse management, responsiveness and efficiencies. Currently, the PM is developing Release 1.1, which will add property accountability, maintenance, unit supply and tactical logistics financial functionality and will deploy to the NTC in 2010.

AESIP is deploying hub services, business intelligence and master data management capabilities in concert with the GFEBS and GCSS-Army deployment schedules. These services reduce the number of point-to-point interfaces for the ERP systems, provide master data services to streamline the data needs of the ERP systems, and facilitate management reporting and analysis of the ERP data through business intelligence capabilities. PM AESIP not only has the product management and delivery role as described above but also has the management role to work the integration of the Army’s ERP systems.

DIMHRS is a program in transition, with OSD delivering a core capability of common services to the military departments in September, and then the military departments will take that core and determine how to best use it to meet specific Title X requirements. Upon delivery of the core this September, the Army will develop an acquisition strategy that will include cost, schedules and performance guidelines. There is no approved implementation date at this time. However, the Army needs the capabilities that the DIMHRS program is to deliver.

DS: You’ve gone live with the Next Generation Automated Biometrics Identification System (NG-ABIS), which is hoped to be the authoritative biometric repository for the Army. What is the status of that program?

Winkler: The Next Generation Automated Biometric Identification System went live on Jan. 29, one day ahead of a very aggressive schedule. Kudos go to the PM and his team for that success. Immediately after going live, the system provided matches that the old system missed, so it is making a huge difference to our national security and tactical efforts already.

NG-ABIS significantly expands our ability to use biometric data to verify the identity of individuals. It stores and matches multimodal biometric information including fingerprints, palm prints, iris and facial recognition. The new system transmits data 14 to 28 times faster than its predecessor, and the matching algorithms are faster and more accurate, providing a multimodal biometric fusion capability which gives us more, and higher fidelity, matches.

NG-ABIS was designed to be scalable so that we can incorporate additional modality matching capabilities in the future, such as DNA. The Army is working with OSD and the other services to implement improvements necessary to meet user requirements as they continue to realize more ways to take advantage of this new capability for their missions.

DS: Army Knowledge Online had essentially maxed out at about 2 million users. What’s being done to increase capacity?

Winkler: In 2008, we implemented several upgrades to servers and storage to increase the capacity of Army Knowledge Online/Defense Knowledge Online (AKO/DKO) to 2.5 million users. We currently have 2.2 million users, including over 150,000 DKO users. Twice this year, we hit a million log-ins in a single day. Last August, we achieved the billionth log-in, and we continue to see more and more people using AKO/DKO.

Based on projected growth rates, we anticipate growth to as many as 3.5 million users by the end of 2011, and expansion plans are in place to handle that increased load.

In the next few months, we will be implementing several system enhancements, including a business process management capability so user organizations can do more business functions and operations via AKO. We will also implement a new search engine that will enable users to refine searches. And finally, we are enabling an AKO mobile capability which will allow users to securely access AKO services and data on their mobile devices.

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