Navy plots large enterprise IT procurement to support ship maintenence

The Navy is in the very early stages of a program that aims to overhaul and replace a sprawling hodgepodge of information technology that supports its public shipyards and virtually everything else having to do with ship maintenance.

The project, which at least for the time being is called Navy Maritime Maintenance Enterprise Solution-Technical Refresh is likely to result in a large IT acquisition, but it’s too early to say what sort of solution the Navy will land on, said Bruce Urbon, the program manager for NMMES-TR.

What’s certain is that the project is long overdue: it will replace more than 100 systems and applications which currently handle ship maintenance, many of which date to the 1960s. At least one was designed by the late Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, the computer scientist who pioneered much of the Defense Department’s earliest thinking about computers.

“We have systems that are that old that we’re still using to maintain our fleet,” Urbon said at a recent Naval IT conference hosted by AFCEA’s Northern Virginia chapter. “I use the term ‘systems’ loosely, because many of them are really just spreadsheets. They were developed over time in a very stovepiped fashion by various organizations, they were never designed to interoperate and it’s very hard to keep them cybersecure. It’s a growing concern within the Navy that these systems are going to fail, and that’s going to have an impact on fleet readiness and getting ships ready to deploy.”

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A replacement enterprise IT platform could potentially be asked to handle everything the Navy’s shore-based maintenance systems manage now, from scheduling repair availabilities at individual yards to securing spare parts, financial management, workforce planning and dozens of other activities. It could encompass every phase of ship maintenance, from initial planning to the final close-out of an individual maintenance contract.

The Navy is still in the process of standing up a program management office to manage the procurement, which will be a joint effort between the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the Naval Sea Systems Command. Until that’s completed, Urbon’s two-person office (PMS-444) is in market research mode. It has held one small industry day thus far, last summer at the Washington Navy Yard, but plans to do more.

“We’re looking to the commercial marketplace,” Urbon said. “It’s premature to say what the solution set is going to be, but like many of our emerging business systems, we want to find out what existing products are out there that can meet the requirement set we have and piece together a good solution for the Navy.”

In the meantime, the Navy has already done some work to consolidate its legacy shipyard systems as preparatory steps to NMMES-TR. That activity has mostly focused on standardizing the data those systems use, ensuring they can sustain a financial audit and consolidating some of the 28 enterprise systems the Navy currently uses for maintenance.

“It’s re-hosting in many cases, and it syncs up nicely with data center consolidation to bring systems that are hosted in a distributed fashion together, and where we can enhance interoperability, we’re doing that. It’s being delivered in three phases as we speak. In the meantime, we’re giving birth to this program office to come up with a new toolset that’s going to carry the maintenance community into the future.”

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