Marines plan to Web-enable duty assignment application

'The application became critical because the Corps' assignment officers needed the ability to do very intensive searching.'

'Maj. Joe Zimmerman

Rick Steele

Application is an offshoot of a homegrown tool that Corps programmers created to replace mainframe processes

The Marine Corps has taken an application that its own programmers created to help make duty assignments and is making it Web-accessible via the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

In years past, if a Corps job placement official wanted to fill a vacancy, he spent days of tedious research combing through outdated spreadsheets and plugging data into stovepiped legacy systems.

Several hundred officials, known as monitors, would have to go from one major command to another assigning each Marine to a new job every three years. The monitors toted around briefcases and boxes that were stuffed with paper reports'and used a variety of homegrown computer programs.

Many job categories

Naming and categorizing jobs has always complicated the process. There are three business processes for each of three job classifications'officer, enlisted officer and reservist. Within each of the classifications, there are also dozens of detailed layers related to a job's functions.

Today, the monitors can use the Manpower Assignment Support System to identify Marines eligible for reassignment, their proficiencies and vacant posts for which they are best suited.

The same information is available to all monitors using MASS. The monitors access the client-server application via NMCI. The Marine Corps is currently working with contractor InfoReliance of Fairfax, Va., to develop a Web-friendly version of MASS.

Maj. Joe Zimmerman, project officer at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., said he expects the Web version will be ready this spring.

'We're doing that as part of our initiative to provide an enterprise solution, to provide self-service capability out to the Marines,' Zimmerman said. The current client-server version is only available in a specific user domain, he said, so it's not possible for all interested users to tap into the data anywhere, anytime.

The best attributes of MASS are its advanced filtering and reporting capabilities, said Marshall Thames, vice president for InfoReliance.

He used as an example a position calling for an Arabic-speaking pilot with Middle Eastern experience and a top-secret security clearance. A monitor would be able to filter the roughly 1,000 fields of data available on every Marine to find the best matches for the job, Thames said.

'Every field can be filtered in every situation,' he said.

The Marine Corps first developed MASS in 1996. An in-house team of government programmers crafted the app to replace several mainframe processes. The first versions, however, only applied to officer assignments. MASS initially couldn't scan for enlisted officers and reservists who might meet a job's requirements.

'If you think about the job that a monitor has, the hardest thing is trying to find the right Marine, particularly if you have thousands of Marines to choose from,' Zimmerman said. 'They needed the ability to do very intensive searching.'

So although the initial version helped, it was far from perfect. The decision to expand it came in 2000, when the Corps started experiencing system availability issues while using MASS, Zimmerman said. The program was sometimes down for long stretches of time, usually coinciding with yearly software release cycles for the service's stovepiped manpower system, from which MASS drew information for its own database.

In theory, this was a good idea. 'A software release would go out, and MASS would pull in data to populate its own database, so you wouldn't have to rekey everything,' Zimmerman said. But in practice, every time the stovepiped system updated, MASS failed.

So the Corps turned to InfoReliance 'to assist in developing new processes, integrating processes and bringing the organizations under one umbrella,' Zimmerman said.

Although the foundation code remains the same, InfoReliance has added many enhancements since 2001, he said.

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