Pentagon still burdened with multiple back-office systems

Despite years trying to eliminate redundant back-office systems, the Defense Department still suffers from a proliferation of financial and other business information systems that do not provide adequate data on Defense business, top Pentagon officials said this week.

At the Army Information Technology Conference sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chapter of AFCEA International, Lt. Gen. David Melcher, the Army's military budget deputy, said his service currently has 187 financial management information systems. None produces the kind of data needed for a sound audit, he said.

But Army officials said the use of large-scale enterprise resource planning applications, which are common in large commercial enterprises, will help Defense reduce the number of financial systems while improving access to information across the services and the department.

Melcher said the Army intends to deploy by 2011 the General Fund Enterprise Business System, which is based on ERP software. It will provide the Army with integrated financial data and at the same time help the service eliminate 87 or more of the existing financial information systems.

The Defense Business Transformation Agency is close to selecting a contractor to provide a financial ERP for 20 Defense agencies, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, said Maj. Carlos "Butch" Pair, Defense Business Systems Acquisition Executive for the Business Transformation Agency. The Pentagon also is developing and deploying a Defense-wide personnel management system, which Pair said will be "the largest ERP installation on the planet."

But as Defense bases more of its business systems on ERP, it must solve a problem: The department has limited in-house expertise with the approach, Pair said. The Business Transformation Agency has recruited 26 top executives from industry to fill the gap.

The Army has cut the number of its business information systems by 40 percent over the past several years, but it still has 1,615 business systems. More must be consolidated, said Gary Winkler, director of governance and acquisition for the Army Chief Information Officer.

To understand which business systems did what, the Army built yet another system, the Portfolio Management System, which provides top leadership with information on each system, including functionality, cost and whether it can exchange information with other systems.

The Army also has started to use an Asset Discovery Tool, which examines networks to determine what software and hardware resources reside on the networks and whether the assets are used in the most efficient manner. Winkler said the tool already has helped the Army discover that if it consolidated licenses for software from Adobe Corp., it could save $10 million a year.

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