Army logistics marches ahead

The Army is on the cusp of a new way of handling logistics that will provide a single view of customers, weapons systems and commodities, something that has been almost impossible before because of its separate systems.

Later this month, Army personnel for the first time will get their hands on the new, evolving enterprisewide logistics system, which seeks to integrate hundreds of legacy systems by adopting commercial business practices.

The Army's Logistics Modernization Program (LMP) is on schedule to complete systems integration testing Nov. 29 and begin end-user training and testing next month, said Larry Asch, chief of the business and operations office in the LMP office.

The modernization program is designed to provide the Army with numerous integrated logistics management capabilities, including:

* Total asset visibility.

* A collaborative planning environment.

* A single source of data.

* Improved forecasting accuracy.

* Real-time access to enterprisewide information.

Gen. Paul Kern, commander of the Army Materiel Command (AMC), called logistics automation "a critical enabler to the operational transformation of our Army."

The system will replace legacy software with modern enterprise resource planning business automation tools, he said.

This will give "AMC logisticians and senior managers a real-time common operating picture of the billions of dollars of inventory and associated financial actions they are responsible for," Kern said.

Systems integration testing, which included all LMP hardware, middleware and software, began in August with the goal of verifying that the system meets the business requirements of the AMC and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Asch said.

In December and January, the Army will conduct "process trials" on the modernized solution, Asch said. The trials must demonstrate measurable improvements in readiness, material management, personnel efficiency and customer-service levels, and the elimination of data redundancy and data inaccuracy.

About 60 new users will participate in the testing as the Army "proves...the methodology and approach to training and witnesses that [users] can do their job" on the LMP system, Asch said.

To help users truly test the system's mettle, the Army has set up playbooks that lay out different tasks for the users to complete. For example, one scenario would require a logistics official to buy six radios, and based on his or her training, LMP managers want to see if the tester can do that job quickly and easily, without ever having used the system before, he said.

"The future users were picked randomly," Asch said, adding that the playbooks were set up at a high level and include jobs for contract specialists as well as item managers. "We didn't want the smartest or the dumbest users. We told them [not to] stack the deck."

Jeff Plotnick, vice president and general manager of supply chain solutions at Computer Sciences Corp., the prime LMP contractor, said he was confident most end users will like the new system, but acknowledged "some will be dedicated to the past" systems.

CSC, which the Army selected as its application service provider for the 10-year, $680 million modernization effort in 1999, chose enterprise resource planning software from SAP America Inc. as the system's foundation. "SAP is the bedrock of this," Plotnick said.

Steven Mather, chief integration architect for LMP at CSC, said the company is now busy setting up about 470 interfaces and getting the operations and sustainment personnel involved in the knowledge transfer. He added that testing will be done not only within the legacy systems but also with more than 70 partners, such as the Defense Logistics Agency, and other companies.

"Interfaces are always the bane of existence for these large systems," especially with legacy systems that have not been documented well, Plotnick said, which is why CSC brought in enterprise application integrator SeeBeyond Technology Corp. to help minimize schedule and cost risks.

Sam Maccherola, vice president of the public sector at SeeBeyond, said the company's technology is helping the Army integrate myriad legacy systems and interfaces, some of which are written in Cobol or use punch cards, into one business architecture.

The initial LMP deployment is scheduled for February 2003 and will include about 6,000 total users.

Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., said "cultural resistance" is one of the most difficult challenges in business process re-engineering, and he credited the Army for empowering the end users to thoroughly test the system before it's deployed.

"Testing out these new processes is one of the best ways to evaluate the system and make sure the smart analysts have properly re-engineered it," Bjorklund said.

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A new take on logistics

Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) serves as an application service provider (ASP) for the Army's Logistics Modernization Program and is charged with re-engineering and modernizing the service's logistics processes using commercial best practices.

"We're not delivering a system, we're delivering a service," said Jeff Plotnick, vice president and general manager of supply chain solutions at CSC. The contract includes service-level agreements for everything from decreasing logistics response time to increasing perfect order fulfillment numbers, he said.

The Army selected the ASP model because "we didn't want to worry about obsolescence every couple of years," said Larry Asch, chief of the business and operations office in the LMP office.

Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., said an ASP model based on the quality of transactions is risky unless both parties have done adequate "demand research" for those transactions.

For example, if the United States goes to war with Iraq, the number of transactions will most likely increase, but if that conflict is avoided, there will be fewer, Bjorklund said.

"It's an awkward model for the government and the contractor if they haven't thought it through, but I [presume] the Army and CSC have done that," he said.

The Army's original award to CSC in 1999 was focused on "wholesale" logistics modernization, but work is already under way to completely integrate LMP and also include the retail environment, Plotnick said.

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