Navy launches e-records effort

The Navy kicked off an enterprisewide records management system, starting to install software on NMCI computers

The Navy last week kicked off what is expected to become the government's largest enterprisewide records management system when it began installing software on Navy Marine Corps Intranet computers.

The Navy is loading software on about 100 PCs in the Navy Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer. That tool eventually will help the service manage records and documents across nearly 400,000 desktop PCs at nearly 300 shore-based sites, officials said. Last year, the Navy and EDS selected Australia-based Tower Software's TRIM as NMCI's records management standard.

"This will be the largest electronic records management customer ever," said Charley Barth, team leader for records and document management in the Navy Department's CIO office.

The initiative will help the Navy standardize its records management practices, he said, adding that some Navy sites retain almost no records. "The Department of the Navy does not want to be the next '60 Minutes' story."

A records management system that encompasses the entire organization could be the cornerstone for network-centric operations, Navy officials said. By providing a standard application and creating a single repository in which data can be stored, the information will be accessible to everybody. The records management system could also share information with other systems.

"We've never had a good tool for sharing information," Barth said. "We've never shown people the true value of this data."

Others agree. "Now there are vast amounts of information out there," said Capt. Chris Christopher, NMCI's deputy director of plans, policy and oversight. "How do you get to that?"

The system will eventually maintain all of the Navy's records, both electronic and paper, officials said, and will theoretically give Navy staffers access to data no matter where they are.

As part of the effort, officials plan to integrate the records management, data management and workflow processes, said Steve Vetter, director of strategic planning for EDS, the lead vendor for NMCI, the Navy's $6.9 billion effort to create a single network across its shore-based sites.

Navy officials are considering using the TRIM software as the standard for managing those three processes, Vetter said. They are so dependent on one another that the overall effort will fail if they are not considered together.

Navy officials will conduct a pilot project to assess how TRIM might work as a document management and workflow system. And another project will determine if TRIM can be used for managing correspondence.

"If TRIM is going to be installed under NMCI and used for records management purposes, it is not a pilot," Barth said. "If it is going to be installed for document management, correspondence management or nonrecords management purposes, it may very well be a pilot."

Although other agencies have deployed enterprisewide records management systems — the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., for example — nothing this large has been attempted, said J. Timothy Sprehe, a records management expert and president of Sprehe Information Management Associates. FDIC's system, which also uses Tower's TRIM software, is "much, much tinier" in scale, he said.

The Navy and EDS face a difficult task, Sprehe said, largely because of the scale of the effort they are attempting. "I cannot imagine how many different document management systems Navy installations must have," and officials will have to integrate TRIM with all of those systems.

The NMCI contract includes a provision requiring EDS to provide desktop records management software to all users. The NMCI contract allows commands to buy implementation services, but it does not provide funds or standards for that implementation.

"At the installation, base level...those folks have to find their own money to do their own integration," Sprehe said. "In order to put this into implementation, they will have to do that themselves."

Another challenge will be educating users. Navy officials hope to make the system transparent to users, but it has always been difficult to convince them of the importance of records management, Sprehe said. "That's a tough sell."

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For the record

The Navy's goals for its records management system include:

* Creating one system for maintaining all Navy records, including paper ones.

* Meeting the records management requirements set by the Defense Department and the National Archives and Records Administration.

* Standardizing on a single application and eliminating legacy applications for records and document management.

* Creating a system for managing correspondence and documents.

* Making data widely available that was previously stored in stand-alone systems.

* Improving internal and external access to Navy records under the Freedom of Information Act.

* Reducing storage and service fees.

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