Marine Corps uses Web to track who's ready, who's not

Project at a glance

Who: Marine Corps Logistics Command and Marine Corps Systems Command

Mission: To improve the readiness of equipment by tracking equipment, parts and services, and sharing information through a Web application

What was: A collection of stovepipe logistics systems scattered worldwide, not connected and not interoperable

What is: The Marine Corps Equipment Readiness Information Tool is an open-architecture system that operates with a variety of databases and platforms and can import data from legacy logistics systems to provide a comprehensive look at equipment readiness.

Users: MERIT now has about 3,000 users, and is scalable in its current form to about 10,000 users. It has reached this level without being mandated for use throughout the Marine Corps.

Impact: Early studies indicate it could save nearly 2 million man-hours per year, or $120 million annually. Additionally, the Defense Logistics Agency is using it to improve its support of Marines in Iraq.

Duration: The initial version of MERIT was operational March 31, 2003, within 90 days of concept approval, and the team has added capabilities and functionality through additional releases every 90 to 120 days. The project currently is in Phase III of five planned phases.

Cost: About $4 million

On the line: Maj. Keith Moore stands among Humvees ready to be shipped from Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, Ga. Maj. Moore's team developed the MERIT system, which tracks Marine Corps equipment and supplies all over the world.

Todd Stone

When Marine Corps commanders prepare to send troops into a potentially volatile situation in Iraq, a key factor in deciding which units to deploy is the readiness of their equipment.

With a new Web tool, commanders now not only can identify units that are combat-ready, they can also see which are close to readiness, along with what those units need, where the parts or supplies are located, and how long it will take for them to arrive.

The Marine Corps Equipment Readiness Information Tool, or MERIT, is a decision support tool that integrates data from stovepiped logistics systems. It provides a graphical depiction of units' readiness, and detailed supply and maintenance information. It creates views by commodity, functional area and organization. Just as important, MERIT gives all users, from privates to generals, a common frame of reference.

Unlike many military initiatives, MERIT was not the product of a specific IT plan, said Maj. Keith Moore, leader of the MERIT team.

There already were some prototype Internet-based logistics projects scattered throughout the Corps, developed by individual groups to meet their own needs. 'Marines are pretty intuitive and aggressive, creating their own solutions to make their lives easier,' Moore said.

In 2002, Marine leaders issued directives to encourage the use of common data. They also instructed units developing their own systems to find others trying to solve the same problem, in order to come up with a single, unified system.

Once Marine systems officials got together to implement a plan for MERIT, Moore said, service brass gave them 90 days to develop some initial capabilities that would let command staff evaluate the program.

When the developers received approval to move the project forward, they used commercial software to get it up and running on the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet less than six months later.

The price tag for implementing MERIT was small for an enterprisewide program, about $4 million, Moore said. The Defense Logistics Agency contributed about half the amount.

MERIT uses an open architecture to allow additional capabilities and can operate on a variety of IT platforms. It uses Extensible Markup Language and an Oracle9i database with Oracle9i Advanced Security Option encryption.

One business application that influenced the team was, which uses Honeycomb 2.0 software from the Hive Group Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., to display real-time stock information.

'It made sense that if it could track thousands of stocks, it could track the readiness of [about] 200 major weapon systems to be displayed in MERIT,' the team said in its application for a GCN Agency Award.

The team worked with the company to add features to the Honeycomb software, such as portfolio management e-mail alerts and tickers, rather than trying to find other tools that could provide them.

Scaling up

Since its inception at the end of March 2003, MERIT has expanded to about 3,000 users, with the potential to scale up to 10,000, Moore said. In response to users' requests, the system is hosted on both the Secret IP Router Network and Non-Classified IP Router Network.

It can handle between 400 and 1,000 users concurrently in each domain. It is being used in Iraq on a somewhat limited basis because of bandwidth constraints, he said.

The day-to-day benefits of improved logistics for warfighters are evident. Cost savings, while harder to measure, are just as real, Moore said.

One early study of a small-scale implementation of MERIT at the Marine Corps headquarters estimated that the automation of information then being entered manually would save about 878,000 man-hours per year across the service.

Another found that about 500 Marines were being used just to create readiness numbers. Using MERIT would save the Corps from spending those hours and using those workers for logistics operations.

'Just those two studies together come to two million man-hours per year,' or as much as $120 million, Moore said. 'I think our numbers are probably an underestimation' of the savings.

MERIT has shown so much potential in both manpower and dollar savings, the team was scheduled to meet with the Office of the Secretary of Defense in September to discuss using it as a model for other services, Moore said.

There are other benefits that could show quantitative results, too.

'Before, we never had a common operating picture of what was broken,' Moore said. 'Now, looking at it from an enterprise viewpoint, when we're going to Congress and asking for equipment ... we know exactly what we need.'


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