Navy submariner-turned-tech-guru steers course of IT-21

SAN DIEGO - Capt. Mark Lenci who manages the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) proj-ect here at the headquarters of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar) confesses that he had never even sent an e-mail until two years ago.

In 1995 Adm. Archie Clemins the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet who at the time commanded the U.S. 7th Fleet tapped Lenci to spearhead a project that grew into IT-21. The result was a crash course in computers and communications - not Navy-style but using commercial PCs and programs such as Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange. Those off-the-shelf products became the heart of the IT-21 philosophy to find an easier and better way for the Navy to exchange information.

A career submariner Lenci has turned himself into an IT guru first at the 7th Fleet and now at Spawar. In his latest job he guides the installation of IT-21 systems throughout the Atlantic and Pacific fleets both ashore and afloat. Lenci views demystification of IT as part of this mission saying he does not want to get caught up in the "alphabet soup" vernacular that only confuses users.

Like Clemins Lenci focuses on the results promised by IT-21 - the easy exchange of information and the use of commercial products - not the plumbing or the hardware. "We deliver capabilities not boxes " Lenci said.But because Lenci has to keep an eye on bottom-line costs he also has developed an understanding of the underlying principles of the IT-21 architecture.

For example he quickly decided to back off from the initial IT-21 standards when installations showed that it cost up to 30 percent more to run fiber to the desktop than to install a fiber backbone with copper to the desktop. Because IT-21 calls for developing an architecture based on capabilities as well as dollars Lenci decided to back off from the all-fiber solution in future shipboard installations.

Addressing himself to one of the more controversial aspects of IT-21 - standards based on a narrow list of commercial products - Lenci said no one involved in the project intends to become "the IT Gestapo." He said project managers "intend to leave room for local solutions."

But he quickly added that the Navy does need to develop and adhere to standards in order for IT-21 to support the fleet recognizing that some of those standards will not please everyone.

Lenci has an intensity and passion for his new job that he has carried to his home which boasts a local-area network including a server ancillary PCs for each of his children firewalls and a high-speed Integrated Services Digital Network connection.

The LAN equipment is "all based on IT-21 standards " he said. "And you know what? I have a better network at home than any submarine in the fleet."

Like many submariners Lenci is an academy graduate. But as he is quick to point out he is a graduate of the Air Force Academy not the Naval Academy. Lenci related how this fact caused him a bit of grief when he decided to enter the Navy's rigorous nuclear submarine program which required an interview with the legendary Adm. H.G. Rickover. Years after that run-in Lenci still remembers it as an experience akin to "a car wreck."

The Spawar tour marks Lenci's first shore duty in 22 years and he is using this opportunity to immerse himself in his family including walking his daughter to high school every day. Lenci said he relishes the cultural opportunities available in San Diego. In his spare time he is rereading classics such as Don Quixote a character that he said fits in well with his current job of helping to manage the Navy's most revolutionary IT project in history.

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