Editor's Note: This article was first published on Aug. 25, 2014.

Col. Darby McNulty took over the world's largest human resources enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation in May 2014. The Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A), under the Army's Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), will consolidate over 40 legacy pay and personnel systems. IPPS-A will transition soon into its most ambitious phase — rolling out to the active-duty Army — and eventually serve 1.1 million soldiers and encompass 157 business processes. McNulty recently discussed the program with Federal Times Editor Steve Watkins. Following are edited excerpts:

The IPPS-A program was rolled out in spring, and now your office is preparing to roll out increments two and three this calendar year. How is that rollout going, and what are the challenges you expect?

We rolled out the first increment of the [IPPS-A] to the National Guard, to about 357,000 soldiers. So they're in the process of accessing their records online in this web-based system to ensure that the information that's contained in there is both accurate and correct, and they're taking surveys to provide us feedback on what we're doing so we can make the system even better. About a week ago, we turned on the first 15,000 soldiers in the active component. That effort was focused primarily at HR professionals, so that we can get it to the folks that are going to manage all the systems in the Army first. Then we are going to do six successive waves of about 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers over the next couple of weeks. So, within about six weeks we should have about 500,000 or so soldiers turned on in the active component. In parallel, we are also doing final testing on the Army Reserve, and we intend to turn on the Reserves in the fall.

What are you getting back from the survey feedback?

We use very different systems in the three components today. So the feedback we're getting from the Guard and some of the early efforts with the Reserve is very positive, because we're providing them a capability that they've never had, and that's a single soldier record with all their information contained in a web-based system, all in one place.

By rolling this out in waves, we get incremental feedback so we can make this better as we move forward. We're bringing everything into a single trusted database from about 40 to 50 different legacy web-based systems. So we're able to do two things:

Number one, confirm that I'm able to pull all the information from these different systems into a single repository. Number two, get the word out to the force that the soldiers need to go in and correct their records. I have a responsibility to ensure that everything is accurate in the system, but all the soldiers have the responsibility to correct their data, so that when we move forward in increment two we'll have information that is both accurate and correct.

[As of Aug. 19, IPPS-A provided all soldiers in the Army National Guard and active component access to the system to review their soldier record brief for correctness.]

When this is all rolled out, what will this mean for a typical Army soldier?

Today, a typical soldier in all three components when they need to fix something in their records — say they were promoted to the next higher rank, or they got married and now they're entitled to a housing allowance, or if they have a family member who has special needs and that entitles them to certain things, or they've been demoted, or flagged for unfavorable activity, there's just a myriad of activities involving personnel systems — now that soldier has to go to many different locations around an installation. Some of it is automated; some of it is manual.

So when things get messed up, it's really important to bring the personnel functions and the compensation and pay functions together into a single, modern human resources system for the Army, versus using 40 or 50 very antiquated legacy systems.

We've got a system where the screens are still green and they use COBOL. So we're trying to really get away from that for all three components, for HR professionals, for commanders and leaders, and for soldiers and their families.

What are some of the performance issues, if any, you have identified with the increment one rollout?

Like any system, we found a number of small bugs as we incrementally test, fix and deploy capability. Then, finally, I would say we've really figured out how to improve how we communicate with the force through better strategic communications, through identifying command nets and personnel nets to get people to correct the system. We've also worked very hard on our AKO [Army Knowledge Online website] splash page to bring the soldier into this thing easy.

Is the program on track in terms of schedule and budget?

We achieved our milestone C for the first increment in February of this year. Then we reached a full deployment decision in April of this year, and now we are targeting the December timeframe for full deployment for the first increment. Then we've got a lot of efforts going on, obviously, with the next increment, which is the biggest part of this program. And we're in the midst of a competitive source selection for increment two right now, and we're targeting the November-December timeframe for Milestone B DAB [Defense Acquisition Board] and a contract award. This is to bring in the systems integrator for the increment two effort.

What is the timeframe for replacing those 40 legacy systems?

Increment two will actually subsume most of these systems, and that will happen over a period of four to five years. We're going to deliver another four releases of capability in increment two. Release three for IPPS-A, increment two, will assume the personnel functionality of all the different systems in the Army National Guard. Release three will subsume all the legacy systems that are contained in the active component and in the Army Reserve. And release four will turn on payroll for all three components. Then release five will bring some additional functionality involving the evaluation systems we use in the Army and other things. So that effort will go basically from now out into 2020.

Is there a cost estimate for the total program at this point, and also an estimate of the cost savings of doing away with those 40

The funding profile for the IPPS-A program will be established at our Milestone B DAB, so we're still in the process of developing cost estimates both at the Army level and at the OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] level with the CAPE [Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation] as they develop their independent cost estimate. But I would say, in order of magnitude, this is roughly a $600 million to $800 million development and total lifecycle of about a $2.5 billion program. Then again,
we will firm that up at the Milestone B.

When we turn this on, there will be a number of savings to the Army. I'll hit some of the qualitative benefits first. We often talk about efficiencies in terms of dollars and other things, but the thing that strikes me most about the IPPS-A program is the amount of time it's going to save soldiers, families, commanders, leaders, human resource professionals. We spend an inordinate amount of time chasing paper or sending emails in a circuitous manner. So I would think that is the No. 1 benefit is that we're going to provide a fully integrated and efficient system that improves the quality of life of soldiers and families, makes the jobs of commanders, leaders and HR professionals much easier, and saves a ton of time. By saving that time, you're going to save an incredible amount of money.

I would say, though, it is pretty difficult to tease that out what it would be. I would say that overall we'll probably save the Army maybe $500 million to $1 billion over a period of 20 to 30 years.

What percentage of the total IPPS-A development is complete at this point?

I would say 10 percent to 15 percent of the development work on IPPS-A has been done today. The lion's share of the capabilities will exist in increment two.

Can you describe some of the key technical and change management and governance challenges that you confront as project director of this?

Well, some of the challenges you face, obviously, are we're going to assume eventually 40 to 50 systems, so you're dealing with 40 to 50 sets of stakeholders. The good news for me, as the arriving project manager, is a lot of this pioneer work was done before I got here. But clearly, there's 40 to 50 systems, and there's 40 to 50 sets of human beings that have taken a certain level of ownership of what they've been doing for years. So with that comes change management and driving change into an organization.

I have a very, very close working relationship with my functional management division chief. His name's Col. Rob Parsons; he works right next to me. We work hand in hand. His people and my people are collocated, so we do everything together. So as we try to bring change into the organization, or work with different stakeholders, he's right there to help pave the way for my technical team, or my test team, to get things done. That part is huge.

The other thing that's key is industry is also embedded with us. That has been very beneficial as you start to work through all the business processes that we're trying to subsume, and the business process reengineering that goes with using a technology to deliver this capability. IPPS-A is making extensive use of the Oracle PeopleSoft product, which is a very powerful HR tool. They've recently upgraded the technology, so we're working through all the business processes a final time to take a look at the capabilities of the technology. When you do that, you're able to see where there are there's efficiencies and where you can streamline processes. I'd say that's probably the biggest challenges — working with all the variety and number of stakeholders — but we have a pretty good team, so that helps.

What are some of the unique challenges to rolling out the largest ERP [enterprise resource planning] system in the world?

[T]here are a lot of business processes that go into the personnel and pay systems we use. There are about 157 unique business processes. We've gone through them in great detail over the last several years, and we're going through them one final time because we've recently made a technology upgrade to the PeopleSoft product from Oracle we're using, so we need to make sure we can streamline those business processes a little bit more. It's actually very helpful with the capabilities. So that's an area that we need to really focus on. The processes we use to do personnel and pay transactions are taking full advantage of the great technology we're going to use to do this. In many cases, the improvement in the PeopleSoft product is so good that we've been able to eliminate a bunch of things that are now redundant, or embedded in the tool we're going to use.

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