EDITOR'S DESK: Lessons of NMCI

Wyatt Kash

Few federal projects have attracted as much second-guessing within IT circles as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. Then again, few projects have been as big'or as gutsy'as what NMCI was designed to accomplish.

NMCI began as a bold effort to replace a massive tangle of legacy computer systems with a standardized, centrally managed deployment of hardware, software and services. It has since become the largest seat management program under way in the federal government'and one that faces some difficult choices ahead.

As this issue's special report on defense IT systems makes clear, the Navy's decision to put the $8.8 billion project into the hands of a single contractor has put the NMCI program'and its contractor, EDS'into mutually precarious positions.

The Navy must soon decide whether to extend the contract when it expires in 2007 or rethink its options. So far, EDS has converted 247,000 out of 360,000 projected computer-seats to the new service.

But the learning curve for EDS has been steep and expensive. The Navy originally estimated less than 5,000 legacy systems would need converting; the actual number came closer to 100,000. The cultural and command challenges at more than 300 bases were also vastly underestimated.

The result: Despite recent surveys indicating 74 percent of users are satisfied with the system, frustration with the service remains. Meanwhile, EDS is suffering from the staggering costs tied to fulfilling the contract.

NMCI deserves credit for creating an enterprise platform that today delivers voice, video, software upgrades as well as a degree of IT accounting that would have been impossible had the Navy stayed on its old course. At the same time, NMCI offers some noteworthy lessons: Perhaps the most important are the danger of committing such a massive undertaking to a single contractor and the need for proper due diligence.

Some may also argue the concept of seat management has faded, giving way to a newer era where the real need is to manage technology changes effectively over time, not just the costs of a computer seat.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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