Guard dumps contractor

Guard dumps contractor

Agency buys reporting app to access fleet info in new database

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

After spending more than $30 million to develop its Fleet Logistics System, the Coast Guard has canceled its contract with the FLS vendor and is buying a commercial program that will let users better access data in the new system.

Citing funding shortfalls and problems working out 50 minor bugs in FLS, the Guard last month canceled its contract with OAO Corp. of Greenbelt, Md., said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Wright, the agency's FLS deputy project manager.

OAO repaired roughly a dozen more troubling glitches before the Guard canceled the contract, he said. For most of the 50 lesser problems, which the Guard refers to as Priority 3 bugs, the agency has found workarounds, Wright said. Many of the problems are related to report creation, he said.

Until the Guard selects a new FLS contractor, Logistics Management Institute of McLean, Va., will maintain the system, Wright said.

Meanwhile, the Guard has spent $56,000 on a report writing tool'the Cognos Impromptu reporting application from Cognos Inc. of Ottawa'so users can access information stored in FLS and configure the data so they can use it, Wright said. Another $24,000 will be spent on training Guard staff how to use the app, he said.

The Cognos tool will run on users' Pentium desktop PCs under Microsoft Windows NT.

The Guard has spent six years developing FLS to automate and integrate systems for ship development, acquisition and maintenance [GCN, Sept. 6, 1999, Page 1].

FLS has about 400 users now. The Guard expects to eventually have 4,000 users at maintenance and support commands.

In December, the Coast Guard Information Technology Review Board decided the Guard should continue developing the behind-schedule logistics system.

The board recommended, however, that Rear Adm. George Naccara, the Guard's chief information officer, establish a method for monitoring IT projects and gauging their risks.

Wright said the basic problem with FLS development was cultural. In the past, engineers developed software by talking to their clients about which options were needed, then did not consult with the clients before delivering the finished project, Wright said. Today, most clients need to have more input in the design process so a usable product can be developed, he said.

'OAO was not prepared to make the shift,' he said.

Wright said he blames the 'cultural mind-set' at the company for the problems that occurred with the system. Guard personnel 'were brought in one week a month and asked for input. I'm not so sure that got translated over into the application itself,' he said.

But OAO officials said they designed and delivered exactly what the Guard said it wanted. 'We proposed baselines; the Coast Guard agreed to them,' said Charles Talley, director of the information engineering center at OAO.

'We tested and implemented it, and they accepted it,' he said. 'There is always going to be someone who didn't get everything they wanted.'

Budget cramp

Budgetary concerns also have hindered the project, Wright said. In most years, money allocated to the project fell far short of what the Guard had sought. Referring to OAO project management, Wright said, 'I just can't afford it anymore.'

Logistics Management Institute will send programmers to work on FLS under Guard management, saving the Guard the cost of OAO's overhead, Wright said.

The Guard told OAO that financial woes were the only reason for ending the contract, a company official said.

'We were told that there was a lack of funding,' Talley said. 'We were told that ours was one of three contracts terminated due to funding cutbacks.'

The Guard also cut ties with the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Damneck, Va., which the agency was paying to independently verify the FLS development work, Wright said. The third contract was not related to the FLS project.

Larry McGovern, OAO's program manager for FLS, agreed that the project had serious financial problems.

'The team size had to fluctuate from year to year to make up for the lack of funding,' he said. 'There were insufficient funds to do everything that everyone wanted.'

To help Guard users work around the bugs and other limitations in the system, the agency has handed out manuals at the Maintenance Logistic Command Centers in Norfolk, Va., and Alameda, Calif., instructing users how to get to information stored in the system.

FLS stores data on four Hewlett-Packard 9000 K-Class Model K460 servers. The servers run HP-UX 10.2 and host an Oracle7 Release 7.3.4 database. Users access the systems via the Coast Guard Data Network, which uses T1 lines.

So far, the Guard has rolled out two limited versions of FLS as part of Phase 2. Version 1.15 is a client-server system, and Version 1.17 is Web-based. Users access the Web version using Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0.

When Phase 2 of FLS is completed by August 2001, users will be able to do all maintenance planning and track parts and systems aboard ships, Wright said.

The Guard's FLS plan calls for three more phases, but officials have not set deadlines for those phases because the funding is not assured, Wright said. Phase 3 would let users control the inventory of parts and supplies; phases 4 and 5 would integrate FLS with the Guard's procurement and financial systems.

For now, Guard personnel are trying to use FLS as best they can.

'We've been very active in trying to have it repaired,' said an FLS user who asked not to be identified. For example, FLS basically acts as a data depository, he said. But there was no way to retrieve the information in any usable form, he said.

Where's the data?

Users employ a script program to look at data stored in the system, but a lot of information remained locked in FLS for weeks until the agency came up with workarounds.

Wright noted that during development, OAO and the agency collapsed 100 reports into 40 that contain information about ship maintenance and parts availability. OAO programmed FLS to generate those reports. But because requirements changed, it does not generate the reports effectively, Wright said.

'The reports aren't as useful as they should be,' he said.

OAO officials said they did not know users were having problems accessing reports.

OAO had recommended a third-party report generation package during FLS development, but the Guard said it could not afford it, Talley said.

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