The Marine Corps is gung-ho on central management

A 'manager of managers' gives the corps a better and faster view of what's going on

The Marine Corps is working to centralize management of everything from its enterprise network to base maintenance.

'We're a small service, and we're not as rich as the others,' said Capt. Sabre Schnitzer, who headed the IT management project for the Marine Corps Enterprise Network. 'We fight wars for a living. We don't have money to spend on our networks.'

The Corps Network Operations and Security Command at Quantico, Va., chose a network 'manager of managers' from System Management Arts Inc. of White Plains, N.Y. Within two months, the number of trouble tickets dropped by 60 percent, Schnitzer said.

'We went from a reactive shop to a proactive shop,' he said. 'We know things we didn't know before.'

Similarly, the Marine Corps Facilities Management Department, which handles maintenance at 17 U.S. camps, posts and stations, chose a standard asset management application from MRO Software Inc. of Bedford, Mass.

'We're in the middle of the implementation,' project director Roger Wellborn said. 'We're taking away some of the flexibility from the installations' while eliminating paperwork and improving efficiency.

Centralized control needed

The Marine Corps might be the smallest armed service, but its global network is large: 8,000 routers, switches and bridges, as well as 137,000 unclassified and 72,000 secure nodes. The need for central management became obvious during one of last year's worm outbreaks, when a senior officer saw something was happening to the network.

'We couldn't tell immediately what it was' with existing management tools from Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp., Schnitzer said, because they 'wouldn't talk to each other. We were doing everything right, but it took us too long to determine what the problem was and lock down. The brass said, 'Develop a better method of managing the network.' '
The corps bought SMARTS' InCharge suite. Its components include Business Dashboard, Service Assurance Manager, IP Availability Manager, IP Performance Manager, Application Services Manager and Business Impact Manager, along with adapters for HP OpenView, CiscoWorks 2000, eHealth and SystemEdge from Concord Communications Inc. of Marlborough, Mass., and AppManager from NetIQ Corp. of San Jose, Calif.

The suite runs under IBM AIX, Linux, Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris. It does not use agents but instead gathers and standardizes data from existing management tools. It can associate services with specific IT systems and spot problems across devices.

Because of the Marines' tight focus on base and unit readiness, components such as the Business Impact Manager came into immediate use, said Carl Coken, SMARTS director of product marketing.

'They are more advanced in that area than many of our customers,' Coken said.

The corps installation took about 100 hours, he said, and 'within the first 12 hours, the number of calls they were getting dropped' because anomalies could be spotted early.

'Before, the trouble ticket resolution time was about seven days,' Schnitzer said. 'Within 30 days it decreased to three days. Ninety days after implementation, that had dropped to hours.'
Maintenance and repair work at Marine facilities from North Carolina to Hawaii also benefited from a central platform.

'We moved away from government-developed software' to off-the-shelf programs for facility maintenance in the late 1990s, Wellborn said. Each site bought its own software.

In 2002, 'we realized that we at headquarters needed to take an active role,' Wellborn said.

In February 2003, the Facilities Management Department at Corps headquarters certified MRO's Maximo asset management tool and began planning its deployment.

The individual site managers build a database of all their base assets and prioritize maintenance schedules, manpower and materials requirements. Then Maximo generates the preventive maintenance and emergency repair schedules, said Richard Padula, president of Syclo LLC of Barrington, Ill.

Beta testing began last year at Marine air stations at Cherry Point, N.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., and in Hawaii. Over the next 18 months the software will roll out to 14 remaining facilities in the United States.

'We've had to put a lot of emphasis on training,' Wellborn said. 'That's probably the bulk of our effort.'

The corps began using Maximo with paper work orders and forms filled out by workers to document what was done. Information from the forms then had to be entered back into Maximo.

But facilities managers have begun using Syclo's Mobile Work Manager, which runs on handheld devices. Work orders are downloaded to the handhelds, which can show field workers a detailed maintenance history. The workers enter time and materials data and upload it to Maximo. Eventually, 2,000 people will be using Mobile Work Manager.

'Most of the workers in the maintenance shops'the wrench-turners'didn't work with computers at all,' Wellborn said. 'But after a week, you almost can't pry it away from them. The biggest issue has been dealing with different cultures. Every facility is unique' and wants to operate in its own way.

Implementing InCharge also triggered changes, Schnitzer said. Some people had to alter the way they were doing things, which is seldom popular.

'It was such a good fit, it was almost a career-ender' for him, he said. 'It forced us to reorganize the way we do things. It showed us what we were not doing well.'

Greater efficiency did not lead to budget cuts, however. 'Interestingly enough, the money flowed' because of greater efficiency, Schnitzer said.

The Corps Enterprise Network has 1,293 authorized applications. Only 40 of them are moving to the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, so central management of the other applications will intensify.

Administrators can now manage sites remotely, even as far afield as Iraq. That's a force multiplier in the eyes of Marine commanders.

'For every guy in front of a terminal, that's one less weapon pointed over a sand dune,' Schnitzer said. 'It enables us to accomplish our mission more effectively, and that means saving lives.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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