System keeps tabs on trainees

The Corps manages the training for these weekend warriors, who train one weekend per
month and up to 20 days per year, on a budget of $20 million.


Last year, reserve units deployed to Haiti, Bosnia, Okinawa and Australia for joint
training with the Army, Air Force, Navy, active-duty Marines and NATO forces.


Officials at the Marine Force Reserve (MARFORRES) headquarters in New Orleans plan,
schedule and budget the reservists' activities using the Training Exercise and Employment
Plan, or TEEP.


Before MARFORRES officers began using Lotus Notes, Marines set training schedules by
rummaging through a deluge of faxes, telephone messages and e-mails, using multiple
spreadsheets and databases.


For each event, reserve units at more than 200 sites submitted separate eight-page
reports to headquarters detailing where they were going for training, how many reservists
were participating, what equipment they needed and the overall cost.


The paperwork then had to work its way up the chain of command for approval or
disapproval, and in some cases, the same information was entered five times into a
standalone, a custom relational database. Once the multiple reports and approvals were
complete, the TEEP officer had to consolidate the information into a single plan.


But the Marines still had the problem of disseminating the TEEP to more than 200
reserve sites after all the changes were incorporated. MARFORRES was swamped and needed a
central repository to deal with the more than 2,000 requests per year and 100 changes per
week to the TEEP, said Maj. J.R. West, TEEP officer for MARFORRES.


In October, the MARFORRES staff met with Lotus Notes developer Delfin Systems of
Reston, Va., to begin implementation of a TEEP front-end system. Delfin used Lotus Notes
Version 4.51 with groupware, messaging and Internet access.


Within six months and at a cost of $200,000, MARFORRES rolled out the first online TEEP
prototype. To save time and travel costs, Delfin was given electronic access to the
Marines' server in New Orleans to work out bugs remotely.


"We've gone from zero to 60 mph in six months," West said. "The other
program that I used would take 20 minutes for the relational database to crank out a
report. Now everything is point and click instantly."


The front-end database is housed on 255 133-MHz Digital Equipment Corp. Pentium servers
with 256M of RAM and running Notes Version 4.51 in a Microsoft Windows 3.51 environment.
The Reserve is upgrading to Windows NT 4.0.


End users run Notes on about 2,000 Pentium PCs with 16M of RAM and running Windows 95.
The Marines are also using Lotus Notes Mail for messaging.


To link the disparate reserve units, the Marines have a Reserve intranet, RNet. The
Corps standardized RNet with Lotus Notes and Lotus' office automation suite, SmartSuite
96, to provide a common environment for all reserve units.


Previously, the sites used many office applications. The TEEP officer received
information in multiple formats.


"I was getting this information in Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel, butcher block
paper, e-mail--you name it," West said.


Turnaround time on training requests has dropped from weeks to one hour, West said.


Changes to the main TEEP file are sent to each Notes server, giving the reserve units
real-time access to information on requests and the events of all the reserve units. The
program also lets MARFORRES create daily situation reports during an exercise so that
users can get up-to-date information on training projects.


"You can click to your one screen once you get to the TEEP request and never have
to leave there," West said. "You don't have to get out a pen and paper and a
spreadsheet to figure out the costs. It's all right there. The visibility is there for
everyone to see as opposed to faxing or sending out 200 e-mails with the newest version of
TEEP attached to it."


Notes also provides the Marines with improved reporting capabilities. MARFORRES can
create up to 30 standard reports from the TEEP database.


"I guarantee I can satisfy all my bosses and all my people's bosses," West
said. "It's paperless, and the beautiful thing is we never have to leave our desktop
computers."


Previously, the Marine Corps was unable to track the history of TEEP documents. Now
MARFORRES can trace a training request or change up and down the chain of command.


Notes sends out an e-mail to the next person in the command chain, alerting them that a
request needs approval. The system stamps the date and name on the documents at each step
of the process.


An added benefit of the improved workflow is that Lotus Notes has reduced the need for
TEEP conferences by two-thirds, West said.


Although the Marines had been holding three to five planning conferences per year,
MARFORRES now hosts one planning conference each July that runs two days instead of five.


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