A case for Navy's intranet

Richard McGinn, chief executive officer for Lucent Technologies, has said,

"You either move with speed, or you die." To do that, most companies use

enterprisewide intranets, which enable workers to act quickly as individuals

but with the added insight and knowledge of a team.

Generally, the federal government has done little to take advantage

of intranets. Too many agencies are conglomerations of incompatible networks.

But the Navy will soon be an exception. The contract will ask commercial

industry to build and maintain an enterprisewide intranet. It's what good

government should do. But it's also an example of why innovation in government

is so difficult.

The Navy learned the value of enterprisewide intranets from business

years ago. IBM Corp. consolidated 31 networks into one, saving $2 billion

annually, and J. P. Morgan and Co. successfully outsourced its information

services. We realized the wisdom of what a Ford Motor Co. executive said:

"If you don't have a collaborative network set up, you're going to be at

a competitive disadvantage."

The Navy is now pursuing a Navy/ Marine Corps Intranet (N/MCI). It will

link all shore commands and ships, providing voice, video and data services.

That's a vast improvement over present networks that do not even permit

e-mail between some commands.

In the Information Age, you wouldn't think this would get a hassle.

Not so. Some claim the Navy doesn't have the money for this initiative.

But the Navy is paying for it with funds spent on all the service's different

information networks. It's the same money buying a better service.

Some say the Navy should have started smaller. But it did. In 1997,

the Navy kicked off the Information Technology for the 21st Century program,

which connects with networks all forward- deployed ships. It will be on

eight carrier battle groups and amphibious-ready groups by the end of 2000.

The idea is to expand the networks so that ships can reach back to shore

commands and get immediate access to more medical, maintenance, training

and administrative support.

Some argue this is risky business. But the intranet will be built and

maintained by the real experts in information technology: commercial industry.

They'll upgrade it as new technologies hit the street. They buy information

services like a utility. Government is doing it, too. San Diego County,

the state of Connecticut, NASA and the Commerce Department all outsource

enterprisewide intranets.

Still, some say the Navy didn't mitigate the risk enough. But it solicited

commercial industry for its best ideas, and users from across the department

voiced their needs. Technical experts collaborated on interoperability.

Senior leaders considered how to buy it. Arguably, the Navy has prepared

better than any other agency.

Critics of N/MCI should be mindful of a Chinese proverb: "Those who

say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." They only

make a necessary job harder.

—Langston was formerly deputy CIO for the Defense Department. He is now chief

operating officer at Salus Media.

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