Raise your hand if you’ve heard this story before: An agency neglects legacy technology systems for decades, receives multiple congressional mandates to change, picks a vendor who struggles and millions of dollars later, the agency received little to no value.
This tale of IT modernization is playing out once again with Army and the Navy’s attempt to consolidate and modernize their individual contract writing systems.
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The question is whether the two services, who are working together but not going down the exact same path, can write different endings to those of the FBI’s Virtual Case File or the Defense Department’s Defense Integrated Military Health Resource System or the Army’s Future Combat System.
This month is the first test for the Army to flip the script on a story so the hero saves the town and they all live happily ever after.
“Our first deployment for a test is coming up here in February 2020, which will be at one of our Army Corps of Engineers sites, which is our Humphreys engineering support center located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and we’re very excited about putting that out there,” said Stuart Hazlett, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement, in an interview with Federal News Network. “They work with a financial system so there’s going to be interoperability there, and we’ll be able to see this used in a construction and facilities type manner. It will be followed in June of 2020 at the Mission and Installation Contracting Command — our command that provides installation support for the Army around the globe. So we’re very excited about these two events coming up in 2020.”
This build up toward this initial deployment has faced several delays ranging from funding to integration to the contractor, CGI Federal, struggling to meet the Army’s requirements. The Army awarded CGI a 10-year, $133.9 million contract in June 2017 with a goal of implementing the company’s Momentum software in a pilot within one-year of the award.
That pilot is now two-years late and the Army has had to rebaseline the program.
In fact, the project got off to such a rocky start that the Army sent CGI a “cure’ notice last year.
CGI spokeswoman Jennifer Horowitz confirmed the company received mandate from the Army to address schedule concerns and complex interface requirements with other systems.
“CGI invested additional resources in the project and partnered with Army to improve overall project performance,” she said in an email to Federal News Network. “The project is within budget and schedule parameters while meeting functionality performance parameters for deployment.”
While the Army wouldn’t comment on the cure letter sent to CGI, Cherie Smith, the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems (PEO EIS), said the “stutter steps” the program has faced so far are a stark reminder of the challenge ahead of them as well.
“Right now formal testing with [the system] is scheduled for April 2020 and we have had some challenges as we prepare for the integration testing, how all the different pieces come together. But that hasn’t been the total reason for the delays in the program. We’ve not had consistent funding from the beginning. There had been some funding cuts to the program, which affected the, program,” Smith said. “We had a change in direction on where we were going to host the application, so the Department of Defense is moving to cloud hosting now. We didn’t think it would make sense to build it in one environment and then turn around and move it and to the cloud afterwards. We did a tactical pause and moved it to the cloud so that we would be in the cloud when we go live, and not have to worry about a subsequent move later.”
She added some of that caused the schedule to move to the right as well as the challenges of data cleansing and understanding by the Army and by CGI of where all of the data comes from that is needed to populate the new system.
The Navy, meanwhile, followed the Army’s path in many regards, but is a year or more behind. The Navy awarded CGI a 10-year, $222.9 million contract in March.
While it’s too early to say if the Navy is facing similar struggles as the Army, it too is facing important milestones in 2020 that could make or break the effort.
“We have validated the electronic procurement systems’ program requirements, completed all of the ‘to be’ processes. We’ve also conducted working sessions and really laid out the requirements for some of our financial interface partners, such as Navy enterprise resource planning (ERP),” said Ruth Youngs Lew, the Navy’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems (PEO-EIS), in an interview with Federal News Network. “We established a pre-production hosting environment and that hosting environment will be used for development configuration and testing activities. And we’re currently working through the configuration process.”
Youngs Lew said the Navy already is taking advantage of the lessons learned from the Army’s challenges.
“We’ll definitely be benefiting from some of the common work already completed on the Army contract writing system. From a gap perspective, as part of our source selection, the vendors had to pass the gate review that required that 80% of the product capability requirements had to be met and then the remaining requirements are part of a gap closure plan,” she said. “Over the next 6-to-12 months, we’re addressing that. We’re also cleansing the data in our legacy systems, working on configuration adaptations, with a particular focus on workflows, interfaces and data migration. We anticipate that in the next six months, we will have our interim authority to test and will conduct our integration testing. In the next 12 months, we anticipate issuance of our authority to operate our way to completing our user training and conducting mock data migrations, and then a limited deployment go live to approximately 300 users.”
CGI’s Horowitz said the company, the Army and the Navy are collaborating to share and reuse software configurations, interface designs, cybersecurity artifacts, software testing and consolidation of software license purchases to enable shared configurations and reduced sustainment costs.
The Army and Navy also are meeting at the program manager level on a regular basis.
“We also have a designated liaison co-located with the Army team. We coordinate reviews of deliverables, discuss and work through areas of potential efficiencies, and this includes reusing documentation such as interface designs, cybersecurity artifacts and other things,” Youngs Lew said. “We’re also looking at working on aligning software configuration decisions, coordinating software testing, enhancement requests and potentially license purchases.”
The Navy has a 15-month goal, from contract awards to go-live, with its contract writing system.
Youngs Lew said from July to November deployment will roll across the service.
“The limited deployment right now, when we talk about the capabilities and what it’s going to bring, is going to include FAR and DFARS regulations, and general procurement functionality. It will also include the financial interface to the Navy ERP system and connections to many federal and DoD procurement related systems.”
Like the Army, the Navy’s success depends on its ability to change processes and migrate data.
Cindy Shaver, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition and procurement, said the Navy has been working on its data for the better part of a decade. She said through tools, adopting the common DoD data taxonomy and ensuring contracting officers and other acquisition workers understand why clean data is so important, the Navy should be in good shape to migrate data to the new contracting systems.
It’s that data piece that caused the Army to initially falter. Hazlett said the Army’s data grew in volume and complexity over the last three decades and the use of disparate systems didn’t make things any easier.
Smith added that the Army is trying to normalize and standardize its data to get to one version.
The assortment of data, the different business processes and the entire complexity of the systems is part of why DoD has been trying to move to a standard enterprisewide contract writing system since 2011. It’s also why Congress eventually got involved in the fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill.
Lawmakers wrote in the fiscal 2020 NDAA that the Senate Armed Services Committee “remains concerned about the inability of disparate acquisition strategies to leverage common requirements, commercial processes and solutions for writing contracts.”
Senators recommended significant funding cuts of $19 million for procurement and $15 million for the research and development account for the Army’s efforts. But in the end, lawmakers agreed to $19 million for procurement and $6 million for R&D.
The funding reprieve means lawmakers trust, at least for 2020, the Army and Navy to make real progress in consolidating dozens of systems.
The Army and CGI say they have fixed the initial troubles with the program.
The Army’s Smith said the project team meets monthly for two or more hours with CGI’s vice president for investment, which is the most senior executive working on the Momentum software install, to go over opportunities and challenges.
She said the Navy also joins the conversation, as do Army functional experts from PEO-EIS and contracting officers.
“That has paid great benefits, because sometimes at a lower level, people just work something and work something without raising their hand and saying, ‘Hey, we need some help.’ And because all of the senior leaders are there, we can streamline things and answer challenges or address issues quicker,” Smith said. “It’s been refreshing to have the customer and the person responsible for integrating that software and fielding it to the Army all together to cut through any bureaucracy or any challenges, to help prioritize the work, to make quick decisions if they need to be made. Nothing’s going longer than a month that we’re not all talking about it.”
The Navy’s Shaver said the service is testing its version of Momentum against a performance baseline to know where the risks are and the work that has to be done.
“In working with the company, I think that they have a plan to mitigate those risks to get us the performance that we need out of the product,” she said. “We actually put out a fairly detailed requirements document, which was a somewhat different approach. We did a test drive in our source selection where we actually put the product through its paces. So I feel like we knew exactly the product baseline was and where the issues were, and had talked with the Army to know where their gaps were, so that we could make sure that we’re leveraging each other’s lessons-learned as best as possible.”
For both services, success is more than just the launching of a new, modern system. It means for the Navy reducing the 65 databases, 75 interfaces across five legacy systems — some showing their fragility after more than 20 years — and making it easier for contracting officers to do their job and drive the service toward auditability.
For the Army, success is defined as helping 8,000 contracting experts move away from disparate systems that are 20-to-40 years old, use data to make better decisions and reduce the burden of the acquisition process.
To achieve that success, the Army, the Navy and CGI must write the projects’ next chapters to reach the happy ending they so desire.