Paperless Navy . . . Pshaw!

By Lieutenant Michael Junge, U.S. Navy

Our inability to throw off the yoke of paper may be in part the result of a generational gap or the ever-present resistance to change. The Workplace97 Conference indicates that a cultural dependence may be at the root of our problem—office paper consumption continues to rise between 1.9% and 2.8% annually. For the Navy, however, the very methods that we use to procure equipment and implement change hamper our ability to modernize. Until 1994, the Navy's Automated Data Processing (ADP) Program was limited in two ways:

It was governed by an instruction written in the early 1980s, when Apple IIC was the predominant desktop computer, Commodore 64 was entering the home PC market, and Atari still was a serious competitor.

No one in the Navy was able to anticipate the revolution in home computing that was to occur in the ensuing years.

The result was that commanding officers and supply officers with some vision began to procure computer systems without regard to interconnectivity or expansion; personal preference became the deciding factor in system design. In their defense, Macintosh was the first graphical user interface, making it a natural for forward-thinking techno-geeks, and the industry itself didn't begin to standardize until the inauguration of plug-and-play.

In 1996, as a result of a change in supply procedures and increasing hope for large-scale modernization, Pacific and Atlantic Fleet Commanders put an end to piecemeal procurement by consolidating computer purchasing and taking the authority to buy desktop ADP components away from individual seagoing commands. This step served to standardize things somewhat—unfortunately, it also ended the ability of some commands to make up ADP shortfalls—but if we are going to effect a revolution in productivity, what we really need to do is to rethink the way we do business and set concrete and achievable goals. The Navy has made some headway, but too many program managers have little or no sea time—and what time they have too often is on large-displacement, large-crew ships. What happened to labor-saving initiatives for the small-crew guided-missile frigates, mine countermeasures ships, and patrol craft?

Today, our desktop computers are in many ways faster and more powerful than our tactical data systems. We wouldn't dream of sitting someone down at an OJ-194 or Litton Engineering console without hours of training and preparation—or at least a perfunctory canned lesson—yet this is far more training than we have on PCs. Combat direction systems link at a screaming 75 bits-per-second—1/1440 the speed of a basic modem at home. Systems are cheap and easy to purchase. They are expandable and 12-year-olds are building their own local area networks. Why then do we still have ships that we expect to operate for 20 or more years that do not have LANs? The primary culprits are lack of direction and lack of conviction. We have many point and decision papers on the importance of computing, with many lofty goals and ideals, but they all ignore the basics of computing—the here and now, as well as the industry's own requirement to advance and grow.

Lack of direction is the Navy's number one problem. There have been point papers and test platforms, but no one is really in charge of desktop computing (or if someone is, he is very good at remaining anonymous) and no one is willing to foot the bill for upgrades such as SNAP III, which has a reported installation cost of roughly $500,000. Wait a minute, you say? How many computers does a ship get for half a million dollars? Not 250! For the moment, let's forget the benefits that SNAP III gives us for current ship's maintenance project management and look instead at a simple LAN. How much would it cost to install a LAN to connect, say, all of the officers' staterooms, radio, ship's office, supply, log room, departmental offices, the chief petty officer mess, and the commanding officer and executive officer? For a liberal estimate, we are looking at 16 drops. Let's even say that we are buying brand new computers and want a dedicated server. Sixteen computers at roughly $2,000 each, plus $4,000 for the server, plus 16 Ethernet cards at $100 each, plus $1,000 for incidentals (and cable) equals $38,600—less than 1/10 the cost of a new install of SNAP III, with maybe a few weeks to get up and running.

Where's the software to run the LAN server? Two options:

  • Purchase an appropriate LAN software package.
  • Use the built-in capabilities of Windows 95 to run your LAN.

After that, you can use existing site licenses and Navy software (Compass, MDU, MTF) to operate your system. If your command can't liberate $38,000 (who can?) count how many computers you have that already are running Windows 95. For each one, subtract $2,000 from the starting cost. Most ships will find that they can build a homegrown LAN for less than $5,000. We are, after all, talking about only 16 computers; there are Spruance class destroyers with more than 100 PCs, nearly half of them with Pentium processors.

If it is so cheap and so easy, why isn't everyone doing it? With the expected installation of SNAP III on all ships (sure), no one is willing to fund the installation of competing—or even complementary—LANs. So let's be realistic and meet halfway: Publish criteria for desktop connectivity that are in concert with SNAP III and let ships install their own LANs. Then use that cabling and interconnectivity to integrate SNAP III.

Even commands with LANs that may think that they are on the cutting edge of the paperless phenomenon fall short of logical execution. A keyboard, floppy disk, and monitor do not automatically remove paper abuse. Some commands have actually increased the amount of paper used and added administrative requirements that negate the time savings that were to be realized. Some true stories:

A major fleet staff publishes its fleet operation order via floppy disk for further distribution to in-chopping units. A great idea—the issuing command has realized significant cost savings by not having to print and mail hundreds of thousands of pages each year. The reality, however, as briefed at the battle group level this year, is that once units get the disk, they need to dedicate an operations specialist, a ream of paper, and a LaserJet print cartridge to print the document out. Why print it out? Because the document was published in MSWord and was not configured to be read by a text reader. (This manual also was transmitted infected with an MSWord macro virus.)

Message Dissemination Software—now used by most, if not all, commands—is a wonderful way to save time and money, as we no longer must print 10 to 20 copies of every incoming message. But how many commanding officers still insist on hard copies? Add to that a cumbersome and nonuser-friendly program that frequently fails and whose managers are poorly trained and you negate both the time and cost savings.

Captain Stan Myers created for the Navy a user-friendly and effective evaluation writing program. The failure is the manner in which we execute evaluation drafting. A hardcopy evaluation still is generated at each level of the chop chain. In some cases, the department head may actually call up the electronic copy and make changes himself, but there are many administrative offices that, rather than alter the electronic copy, type the entire evaluation from scratch and enter it into a new data base. Think this can't happen at your command? Look closely. Many yeomen and personnel men are afraid to ask for help on these programs that we have had for years, and most officers are right there with them. End result: zero net gain.

If you don't (or even if you do) have a LAN, here are some things you might think about doing to reduce your consumables cost ($8,000-$10,000 annually for an FFG) and increase productivity:

If you transmit instructions on a regular basis, invest in a recordable CD drive ($500) and configure your instructions to be read by Adobe Acrobat. Publish everything on a routine basis (6-12 months) whether you change it or not. This lets the user minimize the number of CDs he has to track. Require outdated CDs to be sent back and reused. Perspective and Link have been published in this manner for more than a year and information usually is available two weeks before the magazine arrives in your mailbox.

If you insist on hard copy messages or evaluations for your chop or review, reevaluate your position. By doing this you increase workload and are impeding the process. At a minimum, evaluations should never be printed out until they are ready to be signed.

Rewrite Message Dissemination Software so that it is truly a Windows-capable data base. The current program does not allow for cut and paste or for selective printing of portions of the message. Regardless, allow us to get rid of the office codes listed at the end of the message. Those single pages that say nothing more than "BMCS 1st LT ORDO" get really annoying.

Gear things to the mid-level shipboard user. Recognize that the fleet is why we are here and that however nice you may have it at a shore command, someone in the fleet did without—so you could send e-mail to the office next door.

Defenders of Navy policy, writing in response to these ideas, will mention the vast achievements in connectivity, telemedicine, video teleconferencing, BupersAccess, JASS, SIPRnet, and the like. Many will discuss the bright future of computers in the Navy. Someone undoubtedly will mention smart ship. All of them will have missed the point. What we need is a standard of one computer per officer, one per every three or four chief petty officers, and one for each division and departmental office, linked by a low-cost, upgradeable local area network whose main goal is to eliminate waste—in the form of both lost finances and, more important, lost time.

Computers are good for many things besides playing solitaire or Myst. It is far past time that the Navy recognize that desktop computers are an important and integral system, not just a nuisance or security risk.

Lieutenant Junge is the combat systems officer on the Underwood (FFG-36), currently deployed to the Mediterranean.



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