NetCents evolves as requirements evolve

The Air Force’s Network Centric Solutions program has come a long way since its inception.

While sizable and ultimately successful, NetCents-1 was a relatively simple umbrella contract that was designed for the acquisition of integrated, network-centric IT solutions, and it carried a total of just eight vendors. NetCents-2, while described as a follow-on contract, is a far more complicated beast.

NetCents-1 was initially planned as a replacement for the Unified Local Area Network Architecture (ULANA II) contract, which was a multi-agency, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for commercial off-the-shelf networking products, system solutions and systems hardware and software, and which ended in February 2003.

However, early in the development process of the follow-on, the Air Force decided to expand the contract to an enterprise-wide network-centric solutions vehicle aimed at the standardization and interoperability of Air Force networks. ULANA become NetCents, and went from being a vehicle with a total ordering ceiling of $1.2 billion into one that, over its 10-plus years of operation, eventually boasted an ordering ceiling of $10.45 billion.

As the notion of what constituted a modern, network-centric IT enterprise evolved so did the Air Force’s thinking, culminating in the six-year, $24.6 billion NetCents-2 follow-on. Unlike NetCents-1, which focused on the purchase of COTS products, engineering services and life cycle management support, NetCents-2 includes a raft of new requirements and capabilities, such as:

  • IT professional support and engineering services
  • Biometrics and identity management products and services, to support the creation and implementation of a standard identity management solution for the Air Force
  • Service oriented architecture-based products, services and solutions
  • Enterprise integration and service management
  • Migration to Everything over IP (EoIP) products and services, covering voice-over-IP, as well as video and signal data over IP
  • Migration to enterprise solutions
  • Deployable IP networks
  • Requirements change along with the changes in technologies, said Robert Smothers, chief of the Logistics and Installation Systems Branch at Maxwell AFB-Gunter Annex, and the NetCents-2 program manager.

    “We continue to ever move forward and position ourselves to work in the cloud, for example, and biometrics is an area we certainly see as an expanding one for the Air Force” he said. “So in both of these and other areas we continue to gather lessons learned during NetCents-1, and we continue to track what the best of industry is doing so we can move forward and gain efficiencies.”

    In fact, there was a “tremendous amount” of lessons learned from NetCents-1 that has gone into its follow-on, he said. The NetCents-2 team tried to take advantage of all of the opportunities those presented in order to lessen costs, increase efficiencies, and to use as many Web-based SharePoint collaboration opportunities as possible to speed the contracting process.

    “Basically, that’s been the process over the whole 10 years of NetCents-1,” he said. “The entire service has learned how to move much more quickly to get task orders on contract.”

    Another major change has been the attitude to using small businesses.

    When it began, NetCents had what was considered an aggressive small business strategy: The Air Force aimed to have a minimum of 20 percent of the total contract dollars to go to small business set-aside contractors, with another 20 percent of the money going to small-business partners of large contractors.

    However, with a total of just eight contractors, NetCents-1 did not provide the kind of opportunities the Air Force wanted to see. But with NetCents-2, Smothers believes there’s a “tremendous opportunity” for small businesses.

    “These companies have proven they can go out and do the work for the Air Force, and get it done at a very efficient price,” he said.