Army, Marine ERP Rollouts Illustrate Challenges of Govt IT Reform

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Just last month I wrote about the federal government's continued struggles to reduce its IT spending by adopting a more centralized procurement approach, citing individual upgrades of health information systems at the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs as obvious candidates for this type of approach.


The Government Accountability Office earlier recommended the two agencies identify opportunities for joint investments, and a May 2010 DoD report done in coordination with the VA found the departments share 10 of 13 core health IT requirements. The fact that the agencies are still going ahead with individual projects speaks to the difficulties of breaking down the traditional cultural and political barriers that traditionally divide agencies.


Similarly, the Marine Corps and Army are both spending at least a billion dollars on new ERP systems, even though they probably have a lot of the same requirements, reports Federal News Radio.


According to the story, the Marine Corps plans to spend $1 billion on its Global Combat Support System (GCSS), while the Army will pay $4 billion for a similar system of its own. The Army is using SAP software, while the Marines chose Oracle. Both seem to share the same primary goal, of streamlining logistics processes.


This news exasperated at least one legislator, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Speaking at a recent hearing of the Armed Services Committee, she said:


My understanding is that the two systems, as designed, are not even naturally compatible, and that the Department of Defense will have to continue to pay just to develop interfaces between these two systems. I get a headache when I think about all the money that we have thrown away in the federal government on data systems and information technology. It just seems unbelievable to me that we are paying for the development of two separate systems that don't speak to each other. Since the Army's is more expensive, I'm hoping that [the Marines' system] is the one that could be utilized. This could be a $3 billion moment. And we're looking for $3 billion moments right now.


Apparently there are no plans to adopt a single system. The Army's Office of Business Transformation told Federal News Radio that the cost of conducting comparison analyses of both systems and the costs of terminating one or the other would be "obvious challenges" to standardizing on a single system. Both systems are already in the first phases of their rollouts. So there no doubt would be expense associated with moving to a single system this late in the game.


The article goes on to quote a couple of Marine officials who tout the benefits of its new system, noting the Marines expect to attain ROI by 2015.


Last week I wrote about the Office of Management and Budget's 25-point reform program, which seeks to make significant changes in federal IT governance and procurement as well as infrastructure and systems. While it's too late for these ERP projects, hopefully it will make it easier in the future for agencies to identify opportunities for joint investment -- and more importantly to actually work together on them.