In defense of NMCI

When I heard it was coming, I got a "pucker factor." When it hit, it was unlike anything I'd seen in my 29 years in the Navy. My office got the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), and it was an outstanding evolution. Somebody is doing something right regarding how government buys information technology services.

NMCI is a big step for government. Within the Navy, it's replacing a bunch of incompatible networks with one that provides voice, video and data communications. It's also being set up, maintained and refreshed by commercial industry. They do this better than government — and I saw it, too.

For me, computer transitions were heartbreaks. Previously, contractors came in focused more on complying with narrow contract terms than on what we needed. Inevitably, we suffered lost files, inoperable systems and unexpected delays.

When I heard my office was getting a refresh to make us compatible with NMCI, I began to sweat — and limited-duty officers like me never sweat. Within the Atlantic Fleet headquarters, we maintain contact with cryptology cells aboard 95 ships; with information warfare cells aboard six carriers and six amphibious ships; and with all shore-based Naval Security Group activities in the Atlantic Ocean.

My anxiety was a total waste of energy. At 8 a.m., the contractors hit like a strike force. They provided a protocol for saving data that was easy to follow, even for a techno-rock like me. They removed old hardware and installed new hardware, in an almost choreographed manner. Software configuration was flawless and customized to our needs. This was a massive task, too. We've got 25 computer stations and 50 systems. By 11:30 a.m., they were gone, and we were online with more power, more options and no files lost.

What was different was that these folks were interested in customer satisfaction. They were friendly, helpful, courteous and professional. Critics of NMCI don't have the whole story. Some think it's a rental service and that the Navy could buy the same computer after a few months' rent. They don't understand that IT outsourcing includes more than just desktop hardware — it's also behind the wall-plug costs and technology refreshes like mine.

Some complain their NMCI computer isn't the latest model. They don't realize that others out here are using 486 computers and that NMCI is helping the entire Navy sail on an even keel regarding information services. IT outsourcing also means hardware refreshes a minimum of every three years and software that's never more than one revision from state of the shelf. This will make the Navy a government IT leader.

The Navy couldn't afford to do this itself, said Rear Adm. John Gauss, head of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. Moreover, NMCI is showing we can get the best value by leasing the service from industry. If you don't believe it, just ask me. I've seen it.

Hooley is the deputy director for Fleet Cryptology and assistant deputy director for Information Warfare and Operations on the staff of the Commander in Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

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