The devil is in the details
- By Bill Murray
- Mar 18, 2001
In an effort to award the Navy Marine Corps Intranet within a year, Navy Department officials consciously left out numerous technical details in their request for proposals on the voice, video and data outsourcing contract.
Now it's time to work out the specifics. Much of this includes accommodating the needs and demands of NMCI users, including those who don't want or need the full-fledged service.
If the Navy had defined all of its technical requirements when it solicited contractor bids last year, the request for proposals may have been more than "10 feet and 3 inches" high, said Rick Rosenburg, Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s program executive for NMCI.
Instead, the Navy allowed vendors to conduct their own site surveys at some Marine Corps and Navy facilities and to develop their own proposals without addressing thousands of technical specifications. This enabled the department to award NMCI faster. However, it did miss its ambitious award deadline by four months largely because of congressional objections, which delayed the selection until October 2000.
Now that EDS has assumed responsibility for the first 17,000 or so users under its $6.9 billion NMCI contract, the thorny questions that the solicitation didn't address are arising.
At the Naval Air Systems Command, for example, EDS staff members talked with users to understand what they do in their jobs and if they use any software not included in NMCI, said Ron Turner, the Navy's deputy chief information officer for infrastructure, systems and technology.
Some Navair Unix users will need NMCI for Microsoft Corp. Windows-based network connectivity, but they want to continue to use Unix workstations for testing and evaluation tasks, said Bonnie Bowes, NMCI transition manager for Navair.
EDS officials may add a technical workstation to the contract so that users could use non-NMCI software, Rosenburg said, but this must be done carefully. "We want to make sure that, as they add software to their systems, that they don't add viruses to the network. We want to make sure they're [in] an enclave to themselves, with an added level of protection," he said.
By December, EDS had found 4,000 business management software applications at Navair, including some that may be on NMCI and some that are not, Turner said. "They could be a set of macros in [Microsoft] Excel," or financial applications that feed data into a larger system, he said. Because EDS has assumed responsibility for supporting Navair's users, the company is testing those applications with the network firewalls they plan to use under NMCI and verify that they can work with Windows 2000, Turner said.
EDS will not manage Navair's legacy applications, but the software will reside on the NMCI system, Bowes said.
EDS is also grappling with security, particularly when it adds a $500 per year "NMCI lite" option for naval reservists and others who want to access NMCI from their PCs, Turner said. He called the forthcoming offering "an AOL approach" that would enable users to "get the most functionality no matter where they are."
But because the PCs in question are not secure, EDS may have to restrict users to viewing only e-mail messages and not their attachments, Turner said. They could use a Common Access Card with a password and user name to authenticate their identities for network access, he said.
The key management question EDS and the Navy face is how to get the best NMCI performance at the lowest price and satisfy as many users as they can. Convincing individual users to see beyond their own needs to the department's greater good is another elusive goal.
Although NMCI has been billed by numerous Navy, Pentagon and industry officials as an example for others within the Defense Department and federal government to follow, it is not yet clear how many other users it might attract.
One former Pentagon official said much of it relies on how closely NMCI is tied to the Defense Information Systems Network, which is managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency and includes both classified and unclassified telecommunications networks.
DISN users hope the Navy ties NMCI closely to the existing network, which would drive down DISN costs, the former official said.
George I. Seffers contributed to this article.