Navy’s massive intranet rollout OK’d

The U.S. Navy confirmed this week that the Pentagon has given it the go-ahead to move as many as 310,000 Navy and Marine Corps IT users to the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (N/MCI).

The decision comes after months of operational testing that was required by Congress before it would allow the Navy to proceed beyond a 60,000-user cap that it imposed after concerns surfaced about the program’s technical feasibility and cost. However, after the successful completion of the testing phase, the Navy received permission to proceed with all 160,000 of the N/MCI seats that had been previously approved and was authorized to order an additional 150,000 N/MCI seats from its prime contractor, Plano, Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corp.

N/MCI is an IT outsourcing project, often referred to as seat management, intended to give the Navy and Marine Corps secure, universal access to integrated voice, video and data communications. It’s also designed to provide pier-side connectivity to Navy vessels in port and, when completed, will link more than 310,000 desktops across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Japan and Cuba.

Although most of the focus of the N/MCI deployment remains on support units, Vincent Madsen, a 24-year EDS veteran who recently took over as client delivery executive for the N/MCI program, said the potential for military conflict in Iraq does play a role in planning for the future. “We have to work closely with all the units to make sure we’re not going to get in the way,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any delays, but we may move some schedules around.”

For now, N/MCI is moving full steam ahead. “The results from four months of testing clearly demonstrated that the N/MCI is ready to move to the next level,” Rear Adm. Charles L. Munns, director of the N/MCI project, said in a statement released by the Navy.

“We’re now moving at light speed to get all of this deployed as contracted by the end of the year,” said Madsen, referring to all 310,000 seats.

EDS has dedicated more than 300 employees to deployment and installation and is relying on Dell Computer Corp. for hardware delivery as well as initial build, configuration and customer support for the N/MCI desktop Windows environment, said Madsen. “We’re going to rev up to the point where we’ll be able to deploy 1,000 desktops per day across the entire infrastructure at multiple locations,” he said.

Hurdles Remain

But some N/MCI users said they continue to struggle to maintain productivity and keep N/MCI costs down.

A San Diego-based Naval IT manager involved in the project said N/MCI seats are costing his customers US$3,000 to $6,000 per seat per year. The cost is so high that some Navy organizations can’t afford N/MCI workstations for their contractor support personnel, he said. He claimed that using another contractor, he could supply for $570,000 what EDS is charging a Navy unit $2.5 million for.

Another manager from the Naval Region Southwest, which includes 10 bases in California and one in Nevada, said his users continue to deal with “nothing but chaos, poor communication and lack of any deliverables.”

One organization has been waiting more than a year to get a critical application shifted to N/MCI, the manager said. There has also been no accountability for missed schedules or critical application or system outages, the manager added.

The Navy and EDS have repeatedly downplayed such problems, characterizing them as natural growing pains and going so far as to accuse some civilian Navy employees of having an agenda to kill the program.