Naval Facilities Engineering Command Integrates Legacy Apps

The Navy command that oversees the building and maintenance of naval bases around the world will christen a project this week to integrate legacy, Web, and Windows apps.

May 17, 2004

6 Min Read
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The Navy command that oversees the building and maintenance of naval bases around the world will christen a project this week to integrate legacy, Web, and Windows applications without the time and expense of conventional integration methods. The goal is to use Web services to combine these applications into a larger "composite" program to eliminate redundant data entry that has caused delays, errors, and general unhappiness among the command's 900 contract managers. If successful, the approach could be duplicated throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

In the first phase of the integration strategy, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command's Charleston, S.C., engineering field division will launch a composite application designed to let contract managers use a single screen to enter data into both a Windows-based contract-procurement system and a mainframe financial system. The next step will be to tie together all of Navfac's applications by early next year, including construction, maintenance, and project-management programs, along with the contract-procurement and financial apps.

The naval command is trying to solve legacy-integration problems without a sizable investment in enterprise-resource-planning or application-integration software. Composite applications, which tie together apps written with various development tools and running on different platforms, were used by fewer than 15% of large companies and organizations last year, but at least 60% will use them in four years, Gartner predicts. That's largely because new programmatic-interface technology makes these applications easier to build, the research firm says. By 2007, Gartner expects at least half of composite apps will be implemented using this type of interface and related graphical-development tools.

Two years ago, Navfac was planning a lengthy and expensive enterprise-application-integration strategy. About the same time, however, the Navy decided to trim $45 billion from operations by the end of the decade in order to channel funds from nonfighting to combat-related operations. The EAI effort was nixed, so Navfac's IT group had to look for innovative ways to manage the engineering and maintenance contracts--worth as much as $9 billion annually--the command oversees.

Navfac leadership realized it needed to run more like an enterprise, King says.

The demands placed on Navfac's 600-member IT team to cut costs, standardize technology, and integrate systems are similar to those that business-technology groups at large companies face, says Capt. Dan King, command information officer overseeing IT for Navfac's 25 main facilities in the United States and Europe. "To make a command run well, you've got to integrate," he says.Navfac's applications had been written using several development tools, making integration difficult and potentially expensive. The command could have spent $200 million and four years implementing an ERP system or acquired an EAI package costing as much as $3 million. Instead, it will spend $600,000 through the end of this year on Jacada Ltd.'s Fusion tools and the services it needs to work with them.

So far, Navfac has used Fusion to tie together its Windows-based Standard Procurement Systems, used at more than 100 Navy locations worldwide to manage the contract-awarding process, and its 20-year-old mainframe-based Financial Information System. It did so using XML-based Web services and an Oracle 9i application server. Navfac expects full return on the investment within a year of deploying a composite application that links its five main applications.

The Defense Department-mandated contract-procurement system, written using Sybase Inc.'s PowerBuilder development tool, handles more than 50,000 transactions per year. Until now, any data entered into the system had to be rekeyed into the financial system that manages the funds for the contracts, which account for 85% of Navfac's engineering and maintenance work.

Expensive ERP apps and integration tools kept Navfac from integrating sooner, Smith says.

With conventional EAI, Navfac would have had to create brokers, adapters, and translators to enable the program to pass data among various applications--a big job. "We simply could not get this done before," says Cmdr. Scott Smith, assistant command information officer for enterprise integration. "We didn't have the time or the money to build an interface."

With Jacada's tools, Smith's group writes a layer of code using existing logic that links each application to the composite program. By comparison, more-sophisticated EAI tools create composite applications by forcing users to rewrite business logic, a more expensive and time-consuming process.

Jacada and competitors such as ClientSoft, Seagull Software Systems, and WRQ have offered programmatic interfaces for years that help create graphical user interfaces for mainframe and other legacy applications. With the Fusion tools, Jacada offers a single user interface to both legacy and Windows-based applications. To do it, Jacada grabs data from the underlying application, not, as some other products do, from the computer screen, says Daryl Plummer, a Gartner VP and chief fellow. "Jacada is looking at the way the application works, not the way the emulation works," he says.Fusion is most useful to workers who employ a number of desktop applications. If a company doesn't have a lot of different desktop applications and needs to do most of its integration where the data resides, Fusion won't help, Plummer says. "It's for stitching together processes that are labor intensive."

After Charleston, Navfac will roll out the composite app in September to its other engineering field divisions, in San Diego, Pearl Harbor, and Norfolk, Va. Then it plans to combine all five of its applications into one large composite app that would simplify life for about 4,000 of its more than 14,000 military and civilian employees.

"Navfac leadership over the past few years has realized that it needs to run more like an enterprise," says King, who has spent 24 years in the Navy. "Word has gotten out to our leadership to break down stovepipes." During his three years as Navfac's IT chief, King has overseen the integration of the group's IT systems with Navy-mandated systems such as the Navy and Marine Corps' intranet, a secure network being built to let military personnel manage everything from benefits to ammunition supplies. Under King's leadership, Navfac also has pruned its legacy applications from 30,000 to 700.

The work may just be starting on Navfac's latest integration effort, but both the Navy and the Defense Department are watching carefully. With 34,000 procurement officers in Defense using the same contract-procurement application as Navfac and dealing with similar integration hassles, a lot hangs on the project's success.

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