There's a lot at stake with military modernization programs

The eyes of all the military services are on DISA and its efforts to develop a private cloud of enterprise services for enhanced communication and collaboration across the Defense Department.

In the June Editor’s Note, I called for the military to implement stricter contract control and penalties on IT services firms such as SAP, Oracle and Science Applications International Corp. that consistently oversell their ability to implement complicated enterprise resources planning (ERP) projects and undersell the time and cost necessary to successfully complete such projects.

The necessity for greater oversight is real and urgent in light of the significant cuts planned for the defense budget. According to the Government Accountability Office, six of the Defense Department's nine major ERP programs have had schedule delays ranging from two to 12 years and five have incurred cost increases ranging from $530 million to $2.4 billion. Instead of retiring aging, stovepiped systems that hinder the sharing of data and intelligence or prevent the streamlining of logistics and payroll, for example, warfighters are forced to continue sustaining systems that are wholly inadequate and unsuited to a modern-day military in which the network is supposed to be the No. 1 modernization priority.

Shortly after I wrote about the problems with military ERP projects, I read that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fed up with the implementation of his city’s ERP programs and is demanding that SAIC return more than $600 million in project costs. Clearly people are starting to wake up to the fact that a significant portion of budget shortfalls being experienced by state and local governments, in addition to the military, are because of ERP failures.

Anyone who thinks that troubles with payroll systems, for example, don’t affect military readiness or tactical operations are wrong, as there’s only so much money to go around, and payroll ERP implementations that cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than planned shrink the amount of money available to support soldiers and Marines on the ground in Afghanistan.

The military’s ERP implementations are an effort to streamline operations. DOD is engaged in another major effort at modernization, and though it’s going more smoothly than its ERP initiatives, the eyes of all the military services are on the Defense Information Systems Agency and its efforts to develop a private cloud of enterprise services for enhanced communication and collaboration across DOD. The Army is the first out of the gate as it transitions its e-mail to DISA servers and begins to phase out Army Knowledge Online.

As of now, only half of the 100,000 users that the Army planned to migrate to the DISA system in June actually were migrated, but Army leaders say they are still on track to complete the job by the end of 2011. A lot is riding on the effort, as legislators on Capitol Hill are wondering whether the costs/benefits will work out positively and whether DISA was the right place for these efforts to reside.

DISA has a lot to prove in the coming months, and it needs to complete the Army e-mail migration smoothly and on time to ensure other enterprise service efforts can go forward.

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