Navy looks to vendors for rapid upgrades to NMCI network

Friday - 6/13/2014, 4:21am EDT

Jared Serbu reports.

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As the Navy retakes control over its own IT network, it's eager to begin introducing new technologies to improve the experience of the 800,000 people who use it every day.

At the same time, it's warning vendors that they'll have to cross several thresholds if they want to gain a foothold into the world's largest private IT network.

Service leaders have been careful to manage users' expectations while the Navy transitions the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) from a contractor owned-and-operated network to the new NGEN contract, in which the Navy will once again own its network assets and intellectual property.

Officials reassure that even though the business arrangement with the prime contractor, HP, is changing, the NGEN version of NMCI is going to perform an awful lot like it did before the contract change, at least in the immediate term.

As the Navy buys back the IT infrastructure it's been using for more than a decade, the service says it's also introducing an IT service management (ITSM) process that aims to incrementally add new technological innovations that will improve NMCI's performance and capabilities, and do so at a much speedier pace than the past performance of the government's IT procurement process would suggest.

Any new innovations will meet several key criteria before the Navy brings them aboard NMCI. Most importantly, they will have to be a validated business need for Navy users.

Rapid innovation cell process

Capt. Michael Abreau, who manages the Naval Enterprise Networks program office, said the Navy will handle the gatekeeping function through an ITSM agreement the Navy recently struck with HP, which follows a set of management processes in the latest version of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library.

"We're going to work with our mission partners, our resource sponsors and our service provider to evaluate solutions together that make sense going forward, and we're going to do it in this ITSM process," Abreau said at the AFCEA Navy IT day on Wednesday. "We're definitely taking a more active role, but we're not going to insert anything on our own. We need to be able to evaluate industry solutions effectively so that we understand the benefits, and HP can clearly articulate the benefits. HP is still our service provider, they're in the driver's seat, and that has not changed under NGEN. Industry needs to continue to respect their role as service provider to the Navy."

To identify technologies as potential candidates for NMCI, the Navy will use a "rapid innovation cell" it created last year within the office of the program executive officer for enterprise information systems, led by Victor Gavin.

The "cell" doesn't have an address or a single point of contact. Rather, Gavin characterized it as a broader policy effort that will look for creative ways for the Navy to adopt the best of what industry has to offer without running afoul current acquisition rules.

"We need to come up with a better approach to keep ourselves more current, to keep the network safe and to better leverage the things that industry provides," he said. "We believe this process is the first step in doing this. We want to prototype industry products in our environment, and that puts us in a competitive environment. We usually talk about competition in a way that involves an RFP and an industry day. Then a year later, you have a contract award. That's not fast. I have to create an environment that has competition built into it and puts you next door to your competitors in a way that puts you on the network the next day after the evaluation is done. We have to make some of those decisions quicker."

Abreau listed a handful of the categories of service and product offerings his office is most interested in as it modernizes NMCI. Among them: improved cybersecurity services, assistance with consolidating data centers and an accelerated transition to mobile computing.

"Would I love to give an iPad to every sailor in the fleet? Absolutely. Would my financial and requirement sponsors fund that? I think that would probably be cost prohibitive," he said. "We have to make these decisions smartly, but mobility is definitely a growth area for us so that we can get more productivity out to the fleet."

Two conditions for upgrades

To make it through the IT service management gauntlet the Navy is setting up, Abreau said vendors will need to check several boxes.

Unsurprisingly, the service says it will buy only things that are cybersecure and cost effective.