Crafting a New IT System for Logistics: The Baseline
The USMC is building a new information technology system as a core part of their new logistics enterprise. In so doing, the USMC has followed a deliberate business approach in order NOT to hand over the task to a systems integrator. The USMC initially worked through their judgment on what they knew and what they did not with regard to shaping an approach to IT for their logistics modernization. They worked through their own domain expertise to determine what help they actually needed and could effectively use as they modernized. They then worked with Oracle Corporation to develop appropriate software for the new system, with Oracle owning the licenses emergent from support to the USMC. “We did not want a systems integrator, for they never put themselves out of business. We wanted someone like Oracle who did what they did best, develop software, while we do what we do best support our troops,” said the USMC program manager in an interview in 2008 with the authors.
The Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps (GCSS-MC) program is a modernization effort that will consolidate USMC legacy systems into an integrated infrastructure based on the Oracle E-Business Suite in order to improve the effectiveness of the Marine Corps with emphasis on Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) operations. The purpose of GCSS-MC is, “to develop integrated enterprise logistics information systems that provide supply, maintenance, acquisition, transportation, health, and engineering services to the Marines in a deployed and garrison environment, enhancing their war fighting capability.”
According to the USMC-Oracle team, “GCSS-MC is based on Oracle commercial-off-the-shelf software (COTS), primarily in the areas of service, customer relationship management, supply, maintenance, logistics (and the financial and human competency information required to support these areas), and other related areas. In addition, GCSS-MC is implementing a service-oriented architecture (SOA), using Oracle SOA Suite which includes Oracle Web Services Manager and Oracle BPEL Process Manager for integration and orchestration requirements.”
The USMC team underscored that the new system was being introduced to support expeditionary operations, not simply current land operations in Iraq. Indeed, the system was being crafted to support the far end of engagement and deployment and worked backwards from that point. In other words, if the system worked in CONUS but not in the tip of the deployed spear, the USMC was not interested. Rather the deployment at the tip of the spear was the defining element for the entire system.
In shaping an approach, which can reach from CONUS to the field and back again, the team has conceptualized a five-zone model within which the logistics IT system must function. This model is based on the functioning of the current USMC Tactical Communications network. The USMC Tactical Communications Network and the IT model can be conceptualized as 5 Zones, i.e., Garrison (Zone 1), Naval Network (Zone 2), Expeditionary Network Tier 1 (Zone 3), Expeditionary Network Tier 2 on the move (OTM, Zone 4), and Expeditionary Network Tier 2 on the pause (OTP, Zone 5). The austere network conditions refer to Zones 2, 3,4 and 5.
The robust capabilities necessary to operate in an austere network condition define the overall requirements for the Oracle IT system to be deployed with the Corps. The lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan are important to this effort. For example, the USMC realized that during the first thirty days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the readiness status of the MAGTFs (in zones 4 and 5) was not visible to logistics planners (in Zones 3 and 1) due to the austere network conditions. Requests for supply were either not fulfilled or fulfilled repeatedly due to the lack of visibility of the need to planners. Furthermore, repair and maintenance of assets were not documented appropriately due to lack of accurate reporting tools. The objective of the new logistics system is to be able to enable the USMC to provide the staus of readiness, and to request for logistics support under maneuver and austere network operational conditions. The new IT system will provide links between the needs and fulfillments, and will also enable the USMC to record the repair and maintenance work done by the organic support units.
Although the USMC-Oracle team did not focus on the differences between the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) logistics modernization model and their own, it is important to note that the USMC is crafting its approach based on existing communications capabilities. The team did note that they were building their approach with the possibility of expanded communications bandwidth being deployed in the future. As bandwidth increased, they could narrow the gap between zones 1-5, as the austere zone became less so. It is notable that they are not building their approach on assumptions that such bandwidth will inevitably be provided. Rather, they are sizing it to current communications capabilities.
The challenge for the team has been driven by the austere communications environmental standard. As one team member commented: “How do we take a modern tool like Oracle systems and make it useable on the battlefield. In the first 30 to 60 days of battle, the network available would only be our classified means after which we can combine commercial with classified systems with significant bandwidth increases. But how to combine these two experiences into one system?”
A key part of the effort has been to determine the proper data mix between what needs to be communicated back to zone one and what stays in zone five. The team has determined that the determination of what data needs to be moved throughout the system and by what means is crucial to success.
Normal commercial IT logistics software requires significant bandwidth. A normal Oracle solution would require large bandwidth with a heavy footprint. Such a solution is not possible for zones 3 through 5. The Oracle team focused on leveraging services tools and messaging technologies to simplify the data to be transmitted. Among the simplifications are the core metrics, which started at 209 and have now been reduced to 144 core elements. By crafting new business processes for the USMC, IT tools are being developed to provide mobile field service for the USMC.
In other words, data is not simply being accumulated and pushed through the system. Business processes are being shaped which turn determine where information needs to go and in what form to be processed at the appropriate level.
For example, after an engagement, an infantry weapons unit calls in a Service Request for supply.
- The Service Request is approved by the Request Manager (using MFS in Zone 5) and routed via COTS standard security protocols to the Battalion Supply Section (Zone 5) for action. If the requested supply is available at the Battalion Supply Section, the Service Request will be fulfilled in Zone 5.
- Or, the system checks for inventory at Battalion Supply, and recognizing that no inventory exists for the requested item, the request is routed via COTS standard security protocols to the supporting Supply Management Unit (Zone 3) for action. If the requested supply is available at the supporting SMU, the Service Request for Supply will be fulfilled in Zone 3.
- Or, the items requested are not available at the supporting SMU, the system automatically creates purchase orders for the items and routes the orders to the source of supply via a secure data synchronization store and forward approach to Zone 1 for fulfillment.
- The source of supply fulfills the orders and provides the items to the requesting unit and records the transaction in the system as having filled the order.
For Oracle, the USMC opportunity allows them to adapt their COTS software to more robust deployment situations. By learning how this is done, they can improve the performance and security of their software applications. By adapting their software and retaining intellectual property rights, Oracle then is in a position to leverage the USMC experience throughout their core businesses. In turn, the USMC does not have to pay for extensive and exclusive customization and be held in bondage to a systems integrator. And the USMC gains a foothold in logistics interoperability because they are using a commercial product.
According to the USMC-Oracle team:
Oracle SOA Suite is a comprehensive, standards-based software suite for the building, deployment, and management of SOA. This includes the service-oriented development of applications, service-oriented integration of applications and IT systems, and process orchestration of system services and human workflow. The software integrates heterogeneous IT infrastructures and enables organizations to adopt SOA incrementally. The components of the suite share common capabilities including a single deployment and management model, tooling, end-to-end security, and unified metadata management.
Oracle’s SOA Suite consists of:
- Oracle BPEL Process Manager: To compose services into business processes
- Oracle Business Activity Monitoring: To gain real-time visibility into operation and performance of business processes and services
- Oracle Business Rules: To capture and automate business policies
- Oracle Enterprise Service Bus: To connect IT systems or business partners and route messages
- Oracle Web Services Manager: To enforce authentication and authorization policies on services
- Oracle JDeveloper: To develop, debug, profile, and deploy services
Oracle SOA Suite improves an organization’s ability to predict change – by improving its visibility into happenings in the real-time tactical environment – and to respond to change – by enabling the organization to develop and optimize business processes rapidly. Oracle SOA Suite also simplifies the IT environment by enabling organizations to provision, deploy, monitor, and manage it as a single cohesive infrastructure. Further, the suite leverages existing investments because it is modular, open, and extensible. Organizations can adopt it in a heterogeneous environment, without removing or replacing existing systems, as well as in an incremental fashion.
The Marine Corps will deploy the Oracle SOA Suite in and outside the continental United States, as well as in forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF) and Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). Oracle’s software is expected to enable the Marine Corps to more effectively track, transport, and deliver services and support to forces in the field. It will enable the USMC to meet Combatant Commanders’ information requirements and facilitate integration with other USMC/Department of Navy units.
A recent update of developments has been provided by a recent USMC publication. According to this publication:
“Among the recent changes at GCSS-MC is a two-release strategy for Block 1. The plan for GCSS-MC has always been to implement the new technology in “blocks” or increments. Currently that strategy has been refined to move the program forward by separating the first block into two releases. Release 1 .1, the “Enterprise Release,” contains the retail supply, maintenance, request, and service management functionality needed so supply and maintenance legacy systems can be retired. The second release (1.2), some times called the “Deployed Access Release,” is the more complex and sophisticated technology that enhances the MAGTF’s ability to access information in austere environments. Work on both releases is currently underway.” (See GSS-MC. Bringing Logistics into the 21st Century [pdf])
For more information on the Oracle SOA Suite, visit: http://www.oracle.com/technologies/soa/soa-suite.html
The article was first published in Military Logistics International (September-October 2008) written by Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte.
***Posted August 12th, 2009