Navy fuses contract systems

Officials at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (Navfac) are forging tighter integration between disparate financial and procurement systems to streamline the processing of contracts.

The various contract-processing tasks previously were performed over a mixture of Web, Microsoft Corp. Windows and mainframe-based systems that didn't communicate with one another, forcing employees to manually key in orders and

other pertinent information.

"We have maintenance, construction and project systems that are Web-based, a procurement system that's Windows-based and a project and program accounting system that's on a mainframe — and that's just within our command," said Cmdr. Scott Smith, Navfac's assistant chief information officer for enterprise integration.

For instance, the command's project and program accounting system, which runs on a mainframe, could not exchange information easily with the Defense Department's Standard Procurement System (SPS), used by Navfac, which runs on the Windows operating system.

Rather than deploy an expensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution to link legacy and newer Web-based systems, command officials decided they needed something that could be implemented quickly and inexpensively.

To that end, they turned to an Atlanta, Ga.-based company called Jacada Ltd., which provides software that links information from various systems into a graphical user interface (GUI). From a single screen, a user can view both Web and mainframe-based applications.

For instance, if users need to enter a name, date, address and particular financial information into three different applications to fulfill an order request, a GUI can allow the user to enter the data once in the interface application, which will then take that data and fill in the correct fields in the application that runs on the host

machine.

Navfac officials have decided to forgo the multimillion-dollar ERP solution for a much less expensive composite application. Such applications tie together existing systems, allowing users to work on a single screen that links many applications without deeply integrating the programs.

"We found for our needs it makes sense" to use this type of solution, Smith said.

"In 1999, we looked at developing or purchasing an ERP solution to face the [Year 2000] problem and determined it would cost us $200 million and take four years," Smith said. In 2002, they looked at using a broker solution — patchwork integration of each of the systems without the overall architecture ERP could provide. "But even that would have cost $3 million, taken two years to implement and we would lose some of the functionality we already had," he said.

Jacada officials briefed Smith in December 2003 about what their product could do. A short time later, Smith said, he determined that for about $600,000 spent this year on Jacada's products

and complementary ones, Navfac could solve a large percentage of its integration

problems.

Working with Jacada, Navfac officials developed a pilot interface in two months that links SPS with the command's financial information system. Command officials plan to phase in transactions and contract types during the next three months and ensure that technical and business practices are solid before deploying the systems to three other regional sites from August through September, according to Navfac officials.

"This is an example of reuse vs. rip-and-replace," said David Holmes, executive vice president of Jacada. "The Navy [specifically Navfac] was our first beta customer for our product WinFuse, which provides a common interface for Web-based, Windows-based and mainframe-based applications," he said.

Agencies within the Defense Department have a tougher nut to crack than many, especially in the area of procurement.

At some future date, DOD agencies

will be required to use SPS, which is intended to replace 76 legacy procurement systems with one system that would give agency managers greater access to data on

contracts.

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