IT-21 Intranet Provides Big "Reachbacks"

By Rear Admiral Robert M. Nutwell, U.S. Navy

An intranet earns its keep by improving organizational productivity dramatically. Overall returns on investment of greater than 1,000% have been realized by several companies. Chrysler Corporation, for example, implemented a supplier cost-reduction program in 1994 based on an extended enterprise intranet. The program cut costs by $1 billion in 1996, and is expected to yield savings of $2 billion by 2000.

Such dramatic results are possible because an intranet gives everyone access to modern computing and information services, which enhance productivity in two ways. First, individuals have better access to information sources such as web sites and to information-processing tools such as presentation programs, and leaders/managers have better communications tools. Second, teams —e.g., staffs or battle group operational planners—achieve better collaboration through instant, electronic communications.

Better communications will translate into increased capability to perform warfighting and warfighting-support functions, and also into reduced operating and support costs. These benefits will be derived in two ways:

  • The IT-21 intranet will make existing processes more effective and efficient. For example, collaborative tactical planning afloat will be performed by video teleconferencing and "virtual whiteboard" instead of by AUTODIN message and helicopter shuttle, shrinking the process from days to hours or minutes.
  • IT-21 will allow us to reengineer existing organizations and processes—operational, operational support, and business. Intranet "web" sites, for example, will make mission-critical information readily available to the war fighter. Instead of multiple data bases that must be searched manually, the sites offer one-stop shopping for each category of information, with links and search tools to access other sources. The war fighter gets more current, accurate, and comprehensive information—faster. An example of support process reengineering is the replacement of shipboard disbursing offices with automated teller machines and an e-mail/ phone/video connection to a centralized disbursing office ashore. This concept would reduce shipboard manning, as well as improve service by allowing sailors direct access to the account manager.

A fundamental theme in the IT-enabled reengineering of many afloat/deployed processes is "reachback." In this concept, the intranet is used to access off-ship/off-site resources at a centralized location in the theater or back in the United States. Reachback has the potential to improve the support our sailors receive by giving them direct access to the best expertise and information available. It also reduces operating and support costs by eliminating shipboard/deployed billets and allowing us to achieve economies of scale by consolidating support functions at a central location.

IT-enabled reengineering is not a panacea. The case (including consideration of improved mission effectiveness) must be made individually for each proposal. However, there already is an abundance of evidence that such initiatives will yield a rich return in many (perhaps most) applications.

The potential benefits of the IT-21 intranet can be categorized by the various warfighting, support, and quality-of-life functions as follows:

Warfighting Functions . IT-21 is an essential part of network-centric warfare, which involves the linking of sensors, shooters, command nodes, and support sites with a strong information network to provide speed of command—the ability to think and act ahead of the enemy. Network-centric warfare requires the deployment of three interoperable warfighting networks: a joint composite tracking network (e.g., the cooperative engagement capability); a joint tactical network (e.g., Link 16); and a joint planning network, which for the Navy, is the IT-21 intranet. The cooperative engagement capability and Link 16 primarily are data circuits; IT-21, on the other hand, is a multimedia network. It enhances the speed and effectiveness of command by providing near-continuous voice, video, data, text, graphics, and imagery connectivity to all ships and to command elements afloat and ashore for the following command-and-control functions:

Common Operational Picture . IT-21 will provide improved situational awareness by allowing everyone to view the rich common operational picture provided by the Global Command and Control System (GCCS) and its Navy component, the Joint Maritime Command Information System (JMCIS, soon to merge with GCCS and be renamed GCCS-Maritime). The intranet will make this picture more timely and accurate through better connectivity to nonorganic sources. Also, fewer personnel will be required to maintain the picture.

Operational Planning and Rehearsal . Distributed collaborative planning, combined with automated planning tools in JMCIS/GCCS, will allow a dispersed team to put together a solid plan in a few hours, rather than days. Planning-related travel costs will be reduced. Mission rehearsal will be facilitated by access to onboard and off-board modeling and simulation tools.

Command Communications . Video teleconferencing and e-mail will improve communications between commanders, replacing tedious secure voice conference calls and slow AUTODIN "personal for" messages.

Information Access . IT-21 will provide everyone with quicker, easier access to mission-critical information such as intelligence, logistics, and weather. There will be less need for subject-matter experts on board, assuming the applications are user friendly and adequate training is provided to the users.

Decision Support . Commanders will have faster, easier access to decision aids and the information required to make prompt, effective decisions—directly enhancing the speed of command.

Support Functions . The continuous connectivity provided by the IT-21 intranet will enable us to automate and reengineer virtually every support function, with significant improvement in capability and reduction in operating costs. These enhancements are central to the Navy's "smart ship" and "smart base" concepts, in which automation and information technology are used to reduce manpower and other operating costs.

Logistics . IT-21 will permit faster, more accurate tracking of material and equipment, including in-transit visibility, while reducing the cost of logistics management. The Streamlined Automated Logistics Transmission System—an early computer network for logistics management—already is saving the Navy more than $50 million annually. The intranet will make this system more effective and even cheaper to operate. Federal Express uses a corporate intranet to help maintain its competitive edge in the shipping industry.

Training and Education . The intranet will make possible computer-based, self-paced training and worldwide access to resources within the United States (tele-training), which will make training courses more current and easier to arrange. Courses that now are taught only in the United States will be available to deployed personnel. Fewer onboard trainers will be needed. Just-in-time training will be easier to implement, and schoolhouse/pipeline costs will be reduced. Educational services will benefit in the same ways.

Maintenance . Onboard technicians will be able to use the intranet to reach back to theater or U.S.-based experts. The result will be better maintenance and reduced requirements for onboard personnel.

Medical and Dental Care . Telemedicine will improve onboard medical care in a similar fashion. This capability will be especially valuable to independent-duty corpsmen. In addition, most of the administrative function can be consolidated in a central location off ship, further reducing personnel costs.

Personnel Administration/Disbursing . These functions can be performed through reachback, allowing most personnelmen and disbursing clerks to be moved off ship. Service should improve with automation and more direct access to the individual's accounts.

Unit Administration . The IT-21 intranet and its local area network components will enable a virtually paperless environment and automation/streamlining of administrative functions such as action correspondence tracking and inventory management. This will get tons of paper off the ship and free war fighters to focus on operational matters. Smaller units need this reduction in administrative workload urgently.

Regional Support Services . In San Diego, a study has shown that regionalizing the 911 and security functions alone could save $3 million per year. The consolidation of such services in a single regional site depends on strong communication links.

Quality of Life . The IT-21 intranet will support significant enhancements to the quality of life of deployed personnel and their families:

Connectivity . All deployed personnel will be able to communicate with their families and friends at home via free e-mail, reasonably priced phone calls, and even video teleconferencing on special occasions. This is reachback in its finest sense.

Distance Learning . Deployed personnel will be able to take extracurricular courses via the intranet. This will be a primary method of raising the overall level of education of naval personnel to meet the Navy's future needs—as well as personal needs.

In addition to these benefits, the IT-21 intranet will enable the Defense Messaging System (DMS). The acceleration of satellite communications, installation of local and wide-area fiber-optic networks, and upgrade of base-level information infrastructure inherent in the IT-21 initiative are needed to implement DMS, which will replace AUTODIN in December 1999. DMS will ride as an application on the intranet.

IT-21 also helps to solve Year 2000 problems—by replacing older equipment that is not Year 2000 compliant with equipment that is—and enhances joint interoperability—by accelerating the migration of Navy command-and-control systems and communications programs to DoD and joint architectures.

IT-21 has the potential to reduce the cost of ownership of information systems through the establishment of a common operating environment and centralized network management. Industry surveys indicate that such improvements can reduce the total cost of ownership by as much as 50% (from about $10,000 to $5,000 per seat). Further savings can be achieved through circuit bundling. The Norfolk metropolitan area network, for example, will reduce the cost per megabyte from $389 to $50 by bundling several T1 circuits into a T3 circuit.

Finally, IT-21 could serve as a model for a broader Department of Defense intranet. Because it is based on contractor off-the-shelf technologies and an open, standards-based architecture, IT-21 easily could be extended beyond the Navy or merged with similar efforts in the other services. It also provides a basis for networking with allies and coalition partners.

For an investment approximately equivalent to the cost of a new surface combatant or submarine, the IT-21 intranet will enable a paradigm shift in warfare and warfare support. This exciting initiative will help the Navy to meet the operational and fiscal challenges of the 21st century.

1 See Adm. Archie Clemins, USN, "IT-21: Moving to the Third Stage," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1997, pp. 51-54.

2 See "Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origins and Future," by VAdm Arthur Cebrowski, USN, and John Gartska, in this issue, pages 28-35.

Admiral Nutwell is Deputy Director, Space Information Warfare, Command and Control.



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