Army combat support system takes next big step

The Global Combat Support System-Army tests an integrated enterprise resource planning logistics system aimed at pulling 10 independent financial and logistics systems together.

The Global Combat Support System–Army (GCSS-A) is a step closer to full deployment. On July 5, the program began a limited user test of Version 1.1 of the enterprise resource management (ERP) system that will eventually replace the Army's collection of separate, independent tactical logistics systems.

Version 1.0 of GCSS-A has been in use at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., since December 2007. That first version of the system, based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) ERP software from SAP, was limited to retail supply operations of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), which serves as the opposition force at the National Training Center.

“This time, instead of just hitting retail supply, it will include all of the tactical logisticians at the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment,” said Col. Jeffrey Wilson, GCSS-A program manager for the Army's Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS).

“It will bring together supply, maintenance, property book and all of the associated financial transactions to support them in total. So while we're referring to this as a developmental test — it's a limited user test to support an operational assessment — it's a developmental test event in a very operational environment,” said Wilson. “We will actually convert the 11th ACR from their Tactical Logistics Standard Army Management Information Systems.”

GCSS-A's goal is to pull 10 different logistics and financial systems associated with tactical logistics — the support of Army combat unit supply, maintenance, materiel and equipment tracking and related financial management systems — and to re-engineer the service's business processes to give Army leaders a single complete view of the state of units' tactical logistics issues and readiness. The data from GCSS-A will also feed into command and control systems to provide Army and joint leadership with information on unit readiness.

“It's a very complex task to bring together all of the resources and activities of an enterprise and manage them in a single database,” Wilson said. “The process of taking that COTS software package, and then implementing or configuring it to meet your business processes, and at the same time taking the opportunity to re-engineer the business processes so [that] you're taking full advantage of the SAP toolkit …in an integrated environment with a single ERP solution — that takes time and effort.”

Business process re-engineering is required, Wilson said, because much of the current business process was designed around getting information into the multiple logistics and financial systems that GCSS-A will replace.

Wilson foresees that after GCCS-A deploys the system, it will be able to provide “one view of reality from the lowest level user all the way up to the highest level of the Army.”

The limited user test and rollout of Version 1.1 marks the recent significant progress of the GCSS-A program, Wilson said, after a long period of relatively limited progress. The program, launched more than 10 years ago, “started off with a custom code solution approach,” Wilson said. “That proved to be very complex, very difficult. And the Army did an analysis and decided to go with a COTS solution instead.”

For the past year, Wilson said, the GCSS-A program office and its contractor team, led by Northrop Grumman Information Systems, has been working through the deployment plan with the 11th ACR.

Since January, the GCSS-A team has conducted a series of site survey visits, conducted lead user training and performed data cleansing activities leading up to data conversion, moving all of the data from the 11th ACR's current logistics and financial systems onto the new software at the end of June.