In our last post on Thinking Next, we took a detailed look at the history of the backbone IT network of the Department of the Navy (DON) - the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) – which is responsible for delivering the IT services and capabilities for warfighters and Naval personnel. We also looked at how the contract for the operation and management of the NMCI has evolved, and is now being recompeted. This new contract is referred to as NGEN-R, which will be awarded in 2018.
We asked Nick Trzcinski, CSRA’s Vice President of the Navy and Marine Corps Business Area, to share his thoughts about the Navy’s opportunities offered by a new contract and the challenges faced in selecting a partner.
NMCI & ONE-Net: The Warfighters’ Networks
The Department of the Navy has numerous networks to provide command and control for classified weapons systems, high-end satellite communications platforms, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets; accordingly, it’s tempting to characterize the Navy’s two major IT networks (NMCI and ONE-Net) as “administrative.” Email and other productivity services offered on these platforms are a ubiquitous part of bureaucratic life, but the ability to put ordnance on target isn’t affected when these systems go down - right?
The reality, of course, is quite different - reflecting the immense importance of these networks and their productivity capabilities, as well as the imperative to ensure these networks’ evolution to support the technologies of tomorrow.
To better understand how deeply embedded these networks are in our Navy’s tactical edge capability, let’s take a look at ONE-Net. The OCONUS Navy Enterprise Network (ONE-Net) is one of the Department of Defense’s highest-volume IT networks. ONE-Net supports over 30,000 users, but where our Sailors and Marines use the network is even more significant. ONE-Net operates exclusively across the proverbial “water’s edge.” ONE-Net is the network which supports our deployed staffs in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East – anywhere our Navy and Marine Corps are positioned, whether to simply project American power, to provide humanitarian assistance, or to go into harm’s way.
The mission is the key distinction which makes ONE-Net such a vital part of the DoN’s tactical picture. In those forward-deployed areas around the globe, minutes count. No mission is too trivial, and security is constantly threatened. The logistics and planning for every operation and exercise, no matter how small or large, are dependent on the secure communications ONE-Net provides. It is the platform upon which our Naval leaders in theater rely to pass information, understand the status of their forces, and make strategic decision-making. Technologies are required to support networking with high bandwidth backbones to integrate larger C2 elements with the tactical edge and provide a multi-tiered networking architecture. We must have flexibility in contract to develop and assess technologies that enable the network services to be optimized for maximum performance while modernizing all along the way to NMCI can support ever greater distributed services.
In this way, the NGEN recompete is every bit as vital for our Fleets as the next Tomahawk missile version might be for an individual combatant: it is a combat weapon, and it must be the best. We owe our Sailors and Marines nothing less.
A New Contract For Today. And Tomorrow.
Knowing how important the NGEN capability is to our Naval forces, both deployed and at home, what elements should the Navy prioritize to ensure they get the best solution, and at the best price? The Navy’s challenge: How to ensure stability in the warfighting networks of today, while incentivizing genuine innovation tomorrow?
It’s a tough challenge, indeed. The Navy must choose a partner who can credibly support the current capability, while also demonstrating a business approach that gives the Navy access to technologies not yet conceived. Even tougher than finding an experienced partner with those credentials, the acquisition itself must score the right elements to ensure those same skills are weighed in the Navy’s best long-term interests. Fortunately, the Navy can rely on some elements to make that decision easier:
- Double down on price transparency. It is the nature of information technology that today’s “special sauce” will become tomorrow’s commodity, while other new and exciting non-commodity, force-multiplying tools enter the market. By separating End User Hardware from the main body of procurement, the Navy took a major step in realizing price transparency and realism in a major cost center. The Navy can do even more. Wherever elements of the procurement are underpinned by commodity elements (cloud IaaS for example), the Navy should be wary of “freebies” that hide the real cost and lead to long vendor lock-in periods.
- Score heavily the business plan and operating structure that get the Navy to the future state. Risk mitigation for today is important, but if the future state and the business model, which encourages continuous innovation, are not scored and weighed heavily, the Navy will miss a key opportunity. This is a pivotal moment where industry can lead the Navy to mutual benefit, and it must not be missed.
- Ensure the contract structure is sufficiently flexible to provide for new things. The procurement process is already difficult, and NGEN-R doubly so due to its sheer magnitude. The Navy must not only ensure a well-drafted procurement for some $3 billion-plus of work over a long period, but also draft a contract which will allow the industry partner to implement technologies or business practices in year five which look nothing like year one. That’s tough – but it’s worth the work. As more and more services move to consumption-based pricing models, the Navy must reap those rewards. Those shifts will become the basis for reinvestment opportunities which will keep the Navy and Marine Corps on the cutting edge for decades to come.
Go Slow to Go Fast
The Navy, and the PMW-205 Navy Enterprise Networks Program Office in particular, has a tough job. But it’s an important job, and they’re off to a great start. I applaud the high level of industry interaction that has characterized the build-up to RFP, and that should continue. I would offer this one note of caution: Go slow to go fast. We’re at a critical time. Do this right the first time, and the Navy will be set up with an IT backbone contract that will be the model for the entire Department of Defense. Our Sailors and Marines are worthy of support like that, and together with industry partners like CSRA, we can do it.