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Carla Lucchino and Laura Knight

May. 22, 2014 - 02:30PM   |  
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Interview with Carla Lucchino and Laura Knight
Carla Lucchino (left) and Laura Knight believe DON TRACKER is on the verge of great success. (Alan Lessig / Gannett Government Media)

In April, Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen announced the development of a new system that will manage records and taskings for shore-based commands and organizations across the Department of Navy (DON) enterprise. He said the system — called Department of Navy Tasking, Records, and Consolidated Knowledge Enterprise Repository (DON TRACKER) — will cut costs by enabling the removal of numerous existing systems, eliminate the manual intervention needed to move taskers between disparate systems, and simplify training, among other benefits, he said in an April 10 memo to Navy and Marine Corps organizations.

In the memo, Halvorsen directed that “from this point forward,” no further investments would be made to new or existing records management or task management systems or applications — a move aimed at ensuring a quick transition to the new DON TRACKER system which will deploy in spring 2015.

Leading the development and deployment effort are Carla Lucchino, assistant for administration to the secretary of the Navy, and Laura Knight, program manager of the Sea Warrior Program within the Navy’s Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), who discussed the program on May 13 with Federal Times Editor Steve Watkins.

“It’s a huge game-changer for the Department of the Navy,” Lucchino said of DON TRACKER. “A lot of people say that this can’t be done, it’s too big, it’s been tried before, no one’s been able to succeed. I think that we’re on the verge of a great success here.”

She added: “We’ve been asked if we’re willing to share this with other parts of the Defense Department, and we are, once we develop our own capability. So, there might be some opportunities to expand beyond the Department of Navy when it’s all said and done.”

Perhaps you can explain the vision behind the DON TRACKER Program, and why it’s so critical to the Navy.

Lucchino: About four years ago, the secretary of the Navy asked me to take a look at lots of our admin processes and to find better ways to do things, and if we can save some money in the process, that would be very helpful. One of the teams we had looked at our records management. A second team looked at our tasking systems. We found that we had a lot of inefficiency. We also knew that we weren’t keeping track of all the records that we needed to keep track of. And we didn't have an automated way to do that at all. And our tasking systems are numerous.

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I think that at one point we thought that we had 23 and maybe more. Imagine this: Doing the same thing 23 times or not even having an automated process, doing a fair amount of it manually, which of course allows for the inclusion of perhaps risk and error. We can’t have that.

Additionally, we were revamping our FOIA system because we knew that needed to be improved. Creating DON TRACKER was a natural outcome to all of that. One system for records management for FOIA interface and for tasking where you actually receive the task, write the response, and send the response out all in one place. So, it makes perfect sense to us. We think that it’s a must-have type of capability. I’m happy to say that we're really on the verge of putting it in place.

Knight: In addition to that, as we look through the business processing, we are singling up on a process too, which is the key. We did all of the business process re-engineering work, looked at a sound, solid, huge business case to do this. I’m singling up on these 13 business processes. What’s really going to be the power behind it? It’s the business more than the IT solution. It’s fixing the business. I think that it’s going to be remarkable if we can get this rolled out.

Thirteen business processes?

Knight: Yes, across the DON. Everybody had their own. When you do the business-process re-engineering, you try to do the most efficient process that you can. So, when we single this up as a single DON task-management and records-management system, we can consolidate down to a smaller number of business processes. So we have to make sure that we do that business process work correctly across the department or else we would roll out the system, and it still wouldn’t get all of the benefits. So, we have to work on the business process with the business owners and then roll out the system.

Just so that I’m clear: There were 23 systems, but among those 23, there were 13 processes.

Knight: At least. There were more than that, and we consolidated down to 13 business process. Instead of the Marine Corps and the Navy both doing a different records-management process, now we’ll do one. So we consolidate through the process of business-process re-engineering — you figure out what is the best process to single up on. We’re getting way more efficient based upon having multiple ways of doing business [reduced] down to one way of doing business, which has 13 sub-business processes in it.

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Lucchino: I want you to imagine this. You’re a sailor or you’re a Marine. Every few years, you get stationed at a different base or installation, or you’re deployed. Every time that you go to a new location, you have to relearn all of these processes, every single one of them because every command is going to do it a little differently. So, that takes time. Not that it’s hard to do, but it takes time. It’s inefficient. And then, we never quite get a standard rhythm because there are so many different ways of doing this. When we have DON TRACKER deployed Department of Navy-wide, all of that will go away. So imagine the time savings.

The other thing is that DON TRACKER will do the thinking for us. So, you won’t have to remember that this record has to be held this amount of time, and then it goes here, or that this record has to be dispositioned like this. It’ll be automatic. So, you won’t ever have to learn it because we’ll build it right in. So, that ties to the process re-engineering that Laura is talking about and to the great efficiencies that we’re going to have when this is all deployed and in place.

Can you discuss those efficiencies? Have you put some figures to those?

Lucchino: We haven’t really. Well, in the business-case analysis we have a little bit.

Knight: It’s a little over $4 million of investment. In this case, it’s in the first year of actually deploying the system that you get back all of your [investment]. And so, there’s a really good business case to do it. The savings will be based upon shutting down systems.

Lucchino: So when we were explaining this to the undersecretary and the secretary of the Navy, when they heard what Laura just said about an ROI within the first year, it was an instant decision.

So what is the timeline? Where does it go from here?

Knight: We started the program under the Small-Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program. So we do did that under SPAWAR [Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command]. That helped us to get started while the department was getting resources aligned. SBIR was able to take a technology need and we prototyped it through that program. That prototype we'll deliver this month. From there, we will then basically take that prototype into production. That is going through a contracting process right now. It’ll be put on the contract within the next couple of weeks. That will finish out this program. So, we will be deploying next spring. That’s where we’re set up to begin our rollout and deployment.

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Deployment is not a single event either. The deployment is complicated, as you can imagine with an IT system that’s this large and pervasive. We’ll have a very phased and prescriptive deployment plan when we get to that point.

What’s the scope or the scale of the prototype that you have at this point?

Knight: It’s very focused on the task management piece right now. The next phase will really implement most of the records-management piece. The tasking piece is well developed at this point.

And the next piece — the records-management piece — gets added when?

Knight: That’s this next year of effort. The prototype will be provided in about the September time frame. We’re going to start with an approach that we call “early adopters.” We have two early adopters that we’ll be taking that release to and a more improved release, too – we’ll go with an alpha and a beta version basically of this prototype and add in capability through the next phase of the contract. We’ll be first going to PEO EIS and to my program office as an early adopter. So we’ll totally take it on board, I’m excited. And then, we’ll be going to the director of Marine Corps staff, and they’ll be using it as an early adopter.

Lucchino: Those are two of the toughest critics: The folks who are actually putting it together [PEO EIS], and you cannot get a tougher critic than the United States Marine Corps. If anybody can break it, they’ll break it. That’s exactly what we want because we want to find out what works and what doesn’t work. We’ll factor that into the continued development and then into the final deployment, and it’ll make the system even better. Laura didn’t mention, but I want her to talk to you a little bit about what she calls “sprints,” which is where we allow users to interface in the development process.

Now, I have to tell you. I did a sneaky thing. I sat in on one without telling anyone because I want to make sure that I didn’t disrupt the process. It’s pretty impressive what they do. They’ll do the drop down. They’ll click on it, and they’ll actually have a debate over whether the word is the correct word or not. Will people understand what that means? Is it very intuitive? Is it going to mean different things to different people and cause confusion? Then they resolve that, and then build that into the final solution. So, that helps us to get a more successful deployment because if you field something that doesn’t work in deployment, it makes it much harder to get the users to sign up to it. It’s a struggle because it’ll get labeled as something that doesn’t work, and people will be reluctant to use it. But, when they have a say in creating it, they own the solution.

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How do you accommodate that in the context of a contract where the users are constantly saying, “Wait! We need this, this, and this.” Isn’t that what we always hear about: Changing requirements and so forth leading to problems?

Knight: You have a very valid point, but this is mostly about configuration of a capability. It is based upon a [commercial-off-the-shelf]-type of solution. And so, a lot of it is how you configure things. You do have to watch the requirements creep —I know what you’re talking about — but this is really built in and it’s a requirement of the contractor. It’s baked into the contract that this is the way that we’re going to do business. We manage the requirements piece through program-review boards. If we had a requirements issue, and we had disagreement about, “Is that in the baseline or not,” we would bring it to a board. We haven’t had any of that yet.

Actually through the prototype phase, this has all been working very nicely. I don’t expect that to change. Really, the company wants that feedback because they want to deliver the product that we want. They want that sprint user engagement. In fact, we’re adding more echelons into it right now of people coming in and looking at the product.

Does that also add risk in terms of stretching out the schedule?

Knight: We have not found that because what happens when you go to an agile approach like this. We set up what each sprint is going to cover. If things start to fall out the back end, those either get recycled back in as change requests later on in the process, or it could be a post-deployment release. Those things will happen. How we write requirements is always challenging with IT because a lot of it has to do with when you see the product. So we expect some of that. I don't expect that any of the key requirements would not be met through the process.

We have a priority order of requirements. Everybody comes into IT nowadays with, ‘You have to prioritize your requirements.’

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Who is the company with whom you’re working?

Knight: Progeny Systems Corporation. That’s the small business. That was what was awarded through the Small-Business Innovative-Research Program.

Their role until now has been to create the prototype, and now they’ll get the contract to basically kind of beef that up?

Knight: Right, the objective of the Small-Business Innovative-Research Program is that you will do phases and those will go into production. So this is taking Navy’s research dollars and making sure that we take and do good research and are able to productionize that product. So, this is really a big deal in this program to take something through the right phases of innovative research and turn it into a production product. That’s phase three of the program, that’s where we’re going into right now. During that phase three is where you productionize what you investigated during the prototype phase.

That’ll be awarded in the next couple of weeks you say?

Knight: Yes.

Can you say roughly how big of a contract you expect that to be?

Knight: The whole effort is $4.6 million. Of that $4.6 million that we estimated to be the development for the project, the SBIR Program donated $1.5 million. So those are the funds that gets generated into the SBIR program. So, $4.6 million is the total development costs for the program. That'll get us all the way to deployment.

And then in the coming year the record-management function is going to be added onto that?

Knight: It’s where most of the focus will be [during] the next year.

So how does the transition work between these new systems that are coming online at these PEO-EIS and the Marine Corp staff? Do they basically go through their existing systems and through this, or are they just cutting the cord and they're going right to this process?

Lucchino: Well, we’re going to lay out a plan, but there’s a communication plan. There’s a training plan, then there’s what I would oversimplify by calling a test phase, which is the early adopters and then the early deployment. We continually learn from all of that and improve as we progress through all of this process. And then ultimately, we’re going to turn the old systems off. You may be familiar that the Department of Navy chief information officer issued a memo recently [April 10 memo by Halvorsen] that said that we stop investing in those old systems because he know that it’s imminent that we're going to start turning them off.

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So, I think that that will help with the transition. I don’t think that that’s a difficulty. I think that that motivates people to adopt the new system and to make it work. So, I think all of those things combined are going to help us to get through the deployment. I also think that this is going to be so good that once people start using it, if you’re not using it, you’re going to want to use it. We’re a tight-knit community and so word will spread fast that, “Wow! There’s this great new tool. We receive our tasks electronically. We write the response in the system, and — boom! — it goes right back to the requester.” If you’re not in it, you’re going to want to be in it because you'll almost be left out.

I imagine at some point there’s going to have to be a tipping point where, until you get to that point, people are going to be kind of tentative about it. “Do we really bank everything on this new system?” So where is that tipping point where the rest of the Navy says, “Whoa! We’ve got to have that! Let’s cut out the old systems”?

Knight: I think it’s when the department decides to turn off TV5 [Tasker Version 5] and CIMS [Congressional Information Management System]. Those are the tasking system, the congressional information management system and the records-management system that exist today. I mean when you stop those, that’s kind of when you say, “Everybody’s got to be on board the bus.”

What’s your sense of what the receptivity within the user community is for this project at this point at the lower levels?

Lucchino: The records managers are thrilled with this because we do all of that manually. We do it differently throughout each command. In some cases, we’re very aggressive in retaining and in managing records, and in others we’re not. So, this will create a consistently high-level capability. So, that’s a positive. Those folks are of the opinion that you can’t get this fast enough. The task? Just about everybody deals with taskings when we’re asked to respond to something or to do something or to analyze. And so, I would say that there was a bit more skepticism on that side. That was only because people are comfortable with the systems that they have now or with the process that they have now. So, this is the big change-management that Laura mentioned.

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So, as they become aware of this, and many of those people are helping to create this new solution, they’re becoming huge supporters. So again, it’s allowing them to help develop, allowing them to test it early, and then allowing them to be part of the early deployment that’s really going to win them over. And so, we’ve built all of that into the process. So, the reactions are all positives. I’m not hearing any negative, even from the senior leadership, the folks who get briefed on how this is going to work. Laura and I actually had a meeting with some of those senior admirals and generals. It was a case of who could volunteer faster to participate. So, that was great!

What existing systems will the DON TRACKER replace and consolidate. You mentioned there are 23 out there. Are those 23 all going to go away?

Lucchino: Eventually.

Knight: But what we built the business case on was really only the biggies, even though we know that there is a lot more to capture out there. So, that's what the other echelon, like the echelon 2 commands, have implemented in absence of having something that was a reasonable tool to use within their commands. So those are the things that we are targeting as well, but that will come along over time. That part is not over night. But the big ones — the TV 5 [Tasker Version 5], the Marine Corp Action-Tracking System [MCATS], the Congressional Information Management System [CIMS] and the Total Records Information Management [TRIM] — those are what we call the four biggies to shut down the soonest. That’s what generated the good business case.

Those you estimate will be shut down by when?

Knight: We’ll work through that. We have to get the last contract in place here. And then what we’ll work on is with the community. I mean the community and the subject matter, the business owners, help to determine how we deploy the system. I don’t do that. We work with Ms. Lucchino’s staff, with the DON CIO staff, and with all of the other folks to determine what is the best way to roll it out, so that you have the most acceptance the quickest, and that you have the shortest period of dual operations that you would have to have with any capability. So, we don’t want to have TV 5 in place very long once we start rolling it out at the staff level, for example. So, those kinds of decisions, we’re working through that all of the time with them now and going through the process of “What does that look like?” That’s a year out.

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We pretty much know that the Marine Corps will probably be first in the deployment by design because we’re giving them the early adopter. I would presume that they would probably be one of the first people to whom we deploy.

So, are you expecting that by the end of next fiscal year that this will be rolled out entirely?

Knight: I don’t know yet. We’re still planning through all of that. I couldn’t really speculate until we've talked to all of the business owners about how we're going to do that. Some deployments, I've had deployments on other systems that roll out over nine months. We've done some very complicated things in the Navy that take way longer than that to roll out because they're hitting every single person in the Navy. So, it just depends.

When it is entirely rolled out, will it have all of those 13 processes, or will some of those be added after it's already rolled out?

Knight: It will support the DON business as defined in those 13 processes. That will be all there at the deployment.

And then, I imagine there is also the task of folding all existing tasking and instructions and records into the system. How are you handling that?

Knight: They’re determining that as well, which ones will get migrated in. There’s obviously lots of records out there currently residing. They have to determine how to pull those in or not, and how to archive them, so all of that is being defined as well. How do they migrate? Because that’s a big data issue as well as you know. There’s a lot of data to migrate. I would not suspect that there would be a whole lot of open taskings, but there will be some that are going to go through both systems for a little while maybe until we get it totally cut over. We’ll have to manage that very carefully.

Have you defined the scale of the records — types, categories of records — that will be eventually migrated into the system. Are there some that won’t be included?

Lucchino: The records managers are evaluating all of that now. And there are some records that we’re going to generate that aren’t going to be in the system at any point in time. War records might be a great example. There are different rules for retention and storage of different records. So we have a really good team of records-management experts who are looking at all of that now. They would have to do that even if we didn’t have DON TRACKER because we’re trying to get our arms around the whole records-management function for the Department of Navy. We’re much better than we were a year ago, but we’re not there yet. So this would have occurred regardless of DON TRACKER or not. DON TRACKER will just give us some added capability that we didn't have previously.

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Any closing thoughts?

Lucchino: I will just tell you from my perspective, a lot of people say that this can’t be done. It’s too big. It’s been tried before. No one’s been able to succeed. I think that we’re on the verge of a great success here.

As a matter of fact, we've been asked if we’re willing to share this with other parts of the Defense Department and we are, once we develop our own capability. So, there might be some opportunities to expand beyond the Department of Navy when it’s all said and done. I can’t speak for the secretary of defense, but I know from a user’s standpoint that it would be very efficient, and would actually give us great capability if the whole Department of Defense could be on one system or if the systems could communicate with each other, so that you eliminate any manual intervention. I mean it would reduce errors. It would reduce risk. It would speed the process along. All of that repetition would go away. So, if we can get there, and it wouldn’t be all that fast, but if we can get there, that would be a great accomplishment, certainly for the Department of Navy, if not for the whole Defense Department.

Can you say where the interest from elsewhere and DoD has come from in your program?

Lucchino: We’ve had queries from the Joint Staff.

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