Naval division uses the Web to keep financial data current

Naval division uses the Web to keep financial data current

By Kevin McCaney

GCN Staff

Sylvia Ronayne kept coming back to two words: timeliness and reliability. That's what users at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport need from management and financial data, she said. And that's what they get from the center's Web-enabled Executive Business Information System.

The Navel Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport keeps its management information fresh with EBIS.

Before the Newport, R.I., center's EBIS went online, a human resources manager, for instance, looking for a matrix on training hours would submit a request for the report. Someone would run the job, put the printout in an envelope and the manager would get the report within a few days.

Now, users can log on to EBIS and have the information in minutes.

And that's just the first step, Ronayne, the EBIS project manager, said. Under the old system, the processing and delivery time meant the data was old and, as a result, often not reliable. As well, managers requesting the information might realize they had other questions, or wanted the data presented in a different way, either of which would generate another request.

'The beauty of it now is that they can see that first question and answer it themselves,' Ronayne said. Users can then move the information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or other application, drill down and work on it there. 'We can spend our time doing analysis, rather than on queries,' she said.

The EBIS system was deployed in 1996 and went into production in 1997, Ronayne said, and has developed considerably since its launch. 'We've been growing by leaps and bounds,' she said. 'We can't keep up with the demand.'

Earlier this year, EBIS installed a suite of tools from Cognos Inc. of Burlington, Mass., to develop its online system. The system employs a Cognos database, runs Microsoft Windows NT and uses Fiber Distributed Data Interface networking. Users need only a Web browser to gain access.

'It's completely thin-client,' said Ben Plummer, vice president of customer operations for Cognos. The system requires no applets or plug-ins, which not only speeds up the process but also eliminates some security concerns, he said.

All on the Web

The Cognos system, which the company calls its Business Intelligence Platform, also can run in a client-server configuration, and Ronayne said NUWC does have some power users who want that kind of access. But, 'we're trying to eliminate as many clients as possible, so we're totally Web-enabled,' she said.

EBIS handles about a million transactions a day for NUWC Division Newport, Ronayne said. NUWC provides research, development, testing, engineering and fleet support for the Navy's submarines, autonomous underwater systems and underwater weapons systems.

Data for EBIS is collected from a variety of locations and formats into a data warehouse. It's an internal system, with a class-level security structure based on a user's authority.

'What we provide is the ability to extract this information and perform a transformation on it, into what we call a PowerCube,' that frees it for users to work on, Plummer said.

Collecting all the data into a single database has also eliminated a lot of duplication and paperwork, Ronayne said.

NUWC is one of the first Defense sites to take the Web approach, and it is being considered a model for other bases and organizations. 'Over the last seven or eight months, we've have more requests from Navy sites to come and see EBIS,' Ronayne said. Though at the moment limited to the Newport site, she said EBIS will be expanded to include the other NUWC center in Keyport, Wash.

She and Plummer agreed that a Web-enabled, browser-accessible system is a model for the future. 'E-business is the way most of us want to go,' Ronayne said, emphasizing the importance of timely, reliable information.

'It's not just nice to have,' Plummer said. 'It's really a mission-critical' capability.

Another advantage is that such systems can be implemented fairly quickly, without much change in the network infrastructure and with a manageable learning curve for users. It reflects, in general, the speed of working in an electronic commerce environment.

Agencies don't have two years to plan and implement a system, Plummer said. 'What they're looking for is payback in 90 days.'

Ronayne said she deployed EBIS with her existing staff and that training wasn't a problem. The payback? Timeliness and reliability, she said. 'The data integrity is there.'

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