The Navy's ERP navigator
2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner Susan Keen's technical expertise helps keep the service's massive program on course
2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner Susan Keen is handling the the technical requirements of the implementation of the world's largest government ERP system for the Navy.
Enterprise resource planning systems can greatly improve operational efficiency, but putting them in place isn't always an efficient process. ERP projects are notorious for substantially missing budget, deployment and performance targets.
When the Navy decided to implement the world's largest government ERP system, it gave the job of handling the technical requirements to Susan Keen. And Navy officials are glad they did.
MORE ON THIS TOPIC: 2008 Technology Leadership Awards home page
'The technical requirements for this unprecedented undertaking are immense, and Ms. Keen has provided exceptionally skilled technical direction,' said Ronald Rosenthal, Navy ERP program manager. 'She ensured that the technical aspects of the purchase, design, integration and development of the program all kept pace with the transformational evolution of the Navy business environment.'
Keen started her Navy career as a software developer in 1978. In 1988, she became program manager of a $100 million computer modernization project at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, Md. A few years later, she became director of the aircraft division's information management department at the Naval Air Warfare Center, providing information technology services for 15,000 users at three sites. After being selected to the Senior Executive Service in 2000, she became chief information officer at the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) and championed early efforts to establish an ERP system.
'The Navy recognized the need to have enterprise-level capability that standardized the way we do business across the whole,' she said. 'We realized we needed a better enterprise view of our assets, particularly in the financial arena, so we could meet compliance challenges. We were also very interested in getting better visibility around all of our assets, especially inventory of assets that make a difference in how the Navy performs its mission.'
The first step, called Navair SIGMA ERP, consisted of four pilot projects in different business units to examine whether ERP would be beneficial. Each project conducted a competitive award, and each selected SAP.
'We had the opportunity of watching SAP perform in these smaller pilots,' Keen said. 'Based on that very good success, the Navy went forward with choosing SAP as our final solution.'
In 2004, Keen was appointed technical director of Navy ERP to oversee the implementation of SAP enterprisewide. The project faced the usual challenges.
'Particularly in the government, enterprise solutions don't come easy,' she said. 'Pieces of the organization run mini-enterprises with their own supporting IT systems, and bringing those together to common standards, common practice and common processes are tough challenges.'
To minimize the risks, they looked at how others had brought ERP into their organizations. The common practice was to assign the project to a systems integrator, and the projects frequently exceeded their budgets. The Navy decided to take on full management of the program, including product development.
'This allowed us to partner more tightly with the system integrator [and] reap the benefits of their experience and knowledge while also allowing them to see in real time what we understood about our business and our culture,' Keen said. 'It allowed me to manage more at a day-to-day level instead of looking in the rearview mirror 30 days after the systems integrator had been spending money and developing product.'
BearingPoint was the principal integrator with IBM as a subcontractor. Keen supervised as many as 500 Navy and contract employees at a given time. The system started going live at Navair in October 2007 with 15,000 users at eight locations. This year, another 10,000 Space and Navair users will be added. By 2013, when the implementation is expected to be complete, the system will have an estimated 88,000 users.
'At each stage of development, Ms. Keen led the program technical team to create and execute a schedule that fully met the efficiency and effectiveness expectations of the Navy,' Rosenthal said.