Army delays logistics rollout
Army delays logistics rollout
Date for operational testing of new system is pushed back to October
Col. Stephen Broughall says he does not anticipate missing the target date for completing the project.
By Bill Murray
Army officials have delayed by four months the rollout of a new logistics system.
In April, officials in the Program Executive Office for Standard Army Management Information Systems pushed back their target date for operational tests for the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A) from June to October, said Col. Stephen E. Broughall Jr., GCSS-A program manager at Fort Lee, Va.
The problems officials cited were an ambitious deployment schedule, struggles with learning a relational database management system development product and a vendor's difficulty in translating user technical requirements.
Instead of handling 13 separate systems for ordering parts and materiel, GCSS-A will have a common look and feel throughout because it will use Oracle8i running under Microsoft Windows 2000, officials said.Better and simpler
In addition to better performance with fewer errors than the predecessor systems, Army officials hope to train supply clerks less often and to outsource that training.
The older STAMIS programs use Cobol and other mainframe languages, said T. Kevin Carroll, the Army's program executive officer for STAMIS.
GCSS 1.0 has two components'supply property and maintenance'and the program is helping the service manage most of their tracked vehicles and munitions, including the Abrams tank system, armament munitions systems, Bradley fighting vehicles, ground systems integration, light-towed howitzers, medium tactical vehicles, and tank and medium-caliber armament systems.
All four military services are fielding their own versions of GCSS, with Defense Information Systems Agency officials working to ensure that the systems are interoperable.
GCSS-A officials have to analyze operational test results before they receive a Milestone III decision from Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence. That decision'to give the Army the authority to start fielding the system to 40,000 users by 2005'may not come before the end of December, Broughall said.
Army officials must pay GCSS-A contractor GRC International Inc. of Vienna, Va., for four more months of software development work, Broughall said. But, he said, he doesn't anticipate having to spend more money on the contract or missing the eventual goal of completing GCSS-A by October 2002.
The Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, will field GCSS-A first, he said.
'We've had to defer other requirements' to meet the overall goal, Broughall said. For the initial operability tests later this year, for example, Army officials are focusing on retiring two retail logistics systems: Unit Level Logistics Systems and the Standard Property Book System. They had originally planned to retire six legacy systems this year.The road ahead
GCSS-A has been allocated $22 million in funding during the next few years, he said.
Releasing the final version of GCSS-A could take one to two more years after the program office has released the final version, Broughall said during a phone interview from France, where he was talking with armed services officials about deploying one of his programs.
'Users are anxious to get the system fielded,' he said. Broughall's office will develop the software and make it available, as well as purchase 40,000 PCs.
GRCI officials have had difficulty translating user requirements, Broughall said.
'This is a very complex requirements environment,' particularly when Army officials are replacing 13 legacy applications with GCSS-A, he said.
The contract, which GRCI won in November 1997, consists of a number of task orders through the company's General Services Administration Information Technology Schedule contract, said David Browder, vice president and general manager of business solutions for GRCI. Late last year and early this year, Army and GSCI officials worked intensely to determine the baseline technical requirements for GCSS-A, he said.
Oracle's rapid-application development tools are not easy to learn, Broughall said. 'Getting to the point of mastering it is very difficult.'
Oracle is a subcontractor for GRCI, but officials from the two companies had different reactions to Broughall's comments.
The GCSS program office selected Oracle8i and the Oracle development tool kits, and the decision was driven by advertised productivity enhancements that Oracle made two to three years ago, Browder said.
'We have not been able to meet [those] productivity enhancements,' but Army and GRCI officials have been able to meet benchmark tests for average productivity gains using the commercial development tools, Browder said.
'People are used to putting graphical user interfaces together easily to form a simple prototype on a desktop,' as they would with Microsoft Access, said Clark Campbell, an Oracle Army account manager. The Oracle development tool is different, he said, and takes getting used to.Slowly but surely
With repository tools such as Oracle's, users generate screens at the end of the design process, he said.
When put to the test by developers, the software works well, Campbell said. Army Software Development Center officials at Fort Lee, working with GRCI and Oracle, get 100 percent generation out of the Oracle tool, which functions like a computer-aided engineering tool, he said.
'You build the framework, and it then generates your screen' and gives the user an impact analysis report.
It's been challenging to work with the Army's 13 legacy systems for retail logistics, said Hayri Tarhan, an Oracle senior sales consultant. 'They don't have documentation for some of them. In some cases, the people who wrote them probably retired.'
GCSS-A is one of the largest planned federal deployments of Win 2000, and officials are considering distributing the operating system's Active Directory feature, which will allow them to maintain consistency with other applications, Broughall said.
'There are still a lot of things we need to know with this large an implementation' of Active Directory, he said.
Broughall is working with the Army director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers' Active Directory Working Group.
'The Army's plan is to use us as a pilot, to see how it goes,' he said. 'We've had a couple of meetings with GRCI, Microsoft and the Army to see whether it makes sense to deploy Active Directory.'
Following integration tests conducted since May at Fort Hood, 'we've had very good luck with Windows 2000 Active Directory,' Browder said.
Working with both Active Directory and Oracle products should not be a problem for Army users, Tarhan said.