NAVSEA shifting modernization focus from technology to mission outcomes

When it comes to application rationalization, the Naval Sea Systems Command is flipping the script.

NAVSEA isn’t focused on the technology or the specific application, but rather the business need that the software provides.

Mike Sydla, the division director for Information Management Resources at Naval Sea Systems Command’s Industrial Operations, said he’s also getting the NAVSEA IT staff ready for that new perspective.

Mike Sydla is the division director for Information Management Resources at Naval Sea Systems Command’s Industrial Operations.

“Where we have focused my team and end users is on what is the output we need. If we need a tool that does planning, we looked at the tools that we have and asked, ‘does it do what we need it to do today? And what would be better,’ So we started focusing on that and bringing in the end users in to say, ‘what is the next step?’” Sydla said on Ask the CIO. “The vision really is, if we do this right, to move away from that traditional IT project manager into what you see in the private sector, a digital product manager.”

A digital product manager does the market surveys with the end users, understanding what their needs are and anticipating what the next technology change is for NAVSEA’s core functions like planning, ordering of materials and training.

Sydla said the digital product manager will have ownership over the entire lifecycle of the capability.

This is a major culture shift for the NAVSEA industrial operations office’s IT staff of about 65 government employees and more than 400 contractors. With a budget of about $130 million a year, the IT office is leading this digital transformation effort.

Sydla said NAVSEA has embraced a digital-first perspective in many ways since the COVID-19 pandemic forced every agency to rethink how they meet their mission.

“I’ve been very impressed with my team. We sent people home from our operations center and our software development team and had our virtual desktops and other capabilities up and running in 24 hours. We used our managed service to get that going,” he said. “We had a couple of people to come into reboot services and the like, but most things we could do remotely. We were more and more moving similar to what the private sector has done the past, get our system administrator through secure means access our servers and make sure they were up and running. Those tools we purchased and had been playing with for a time, we were able to engage with and get stuff moving. We moved rapidly, within 48 hours, from we were no longer in office to everyone was working remotely. It was impressive and it was a lot of tools we had purchased and decided it was time to move forward with them.”

The entire NAVSEA industrial operations division went from about 15% of the workforce teleworking at any one time to almost 50% working remotely during the pandemic.

Sydla said the reason his office moved so quickly comes back to the IT modernization strategy his office has implemented over the last few years.

“There has been a lot of focus on IT critical to the mission because without those tools, we can’t do maintenance of the carriers, ships and submarines,” he said. “We’ve moved applications to the cloud and used Other Transaction Authority agreements to bring in new capabilities quickly to upgrade existing toolsets.”

Sydla said his office is modernizing 28 core applications and applying artificial intelligence and other technologies to help improve the data driven decisions.

“At each of the four shipyards we have designated innovation teams. Their charter is not to do business as normal, and how can they increase productivity. Those teams are looking at a wide range of technology in both the physical and digital space,” he said. “We are using the Navy approved platform-as-a-service so they can bring in technology, play with it and see if it makes sense like the 3D animation world. We are looking at other technologies using robotics or automated kitting and those kinds of technologies that we haven’t used before.”

140 trained in data science

To get the IT staff prepared for these new technologies, Sydla said his office is focusing on training employees to use agile development and adding data science expertise.

“This is really key for us and the next step for us to be a world class organization. We have to harness the information we gather and we gather a lot of data,” he said. “What we have done over the last year-and-a-half, which has been a key teaming effort with my team and with the operators themselves, was recognize our data literacy was very bad and we didn’t have data analysts.”

Instead of trying to hire data experts, which are in high demand and short supply, NAVSEA has been working with a local university in the Tidewater, Virginia area over the last 14 months to create a Master’s level certificate program on data analytics.

“I really want to make sure people are recognizing how to use data. People ask me how I know we will be successful in this area is when I don’t see any PowerPoint briefing used a decision tool,” Sydla said. “To get there, it’s critical for us to have a workforce who understands the power of data and how they can access it.”

He said about 140 employees have been through the certificate program and another 100 waiting to take the course.

Additionally, NAVSEA is buying new data analytic tools to give the employees the ability to drive better decisions.

“We are looking at how we can mirror that to make product managers and digital folks. What I’m focusing on now with my team is can we identify those skills for someone to be successful. How do I make sure the product lead understands what agile means, work their way up the team to be a scrum master and then work on the second step to understand what human centered design is?” Sydla said. “We are creating a series of classes and experiences so we can move anyone through the pipeline. If we recruit someone, we can walk through this process and give them the experience and training to be successful.”

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