“We will have the opportunity to make decisions at a corporate level about an overall IT portfolio versus individual portfolios,” Corps CIO Wilbert Berrios says.
Dec 31 2009

An Intelligent Path

The Army Corps of Engineers seeks competitive sourcing excellence through an ambitious consolidation and business intelligence project.

On the scorecard for the President’s Management Agenda in March 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers finally jumped from red to yellow in the category of competitive sourcing. It has hovered there ever since.

But Wilbert Berrios has a plan. In exchange for agreeing to a harrowing one-year deadline, the ACE CIO got the go-ahead under the Office of Management and Budget’s A-76 Most Efficient Organization rules to drastically shrink the agency’s sprawling IT infrastructure and collapse the highly siloed organization of 55 operating units into a single enterprise system.

To meet the deadline, the Corps’ plan turns on three major efforts. First, ACE has begun rolling all its units under a central information technology organization run by Berrios and supported by a contracting partner. Second, the agency will tap into the IT data stores of its disparate units by creating a new business intelligence warehouse. Third, ACE’s units will begin to use the new centralized system to reap required savings.

Can the consolidation and business intelligence double whammy finally push ACE to green? Recalling the old systems and their lack of per­formance measurements to control costs and improve operational efficiency, Berrios is confident in his answer: “Absolutely.”

Enterprise View

Systems integrator Lockheed Martin will help with the $447 million effort, which will marry consolidation with a data warehouse and analytical appli­cations designed to give ACE new insights into its IT performance and purchasing requirements.

ACE’s project distinguishes itself from other A-76 efforts within the Defense Department because of its enterprise reach. “Typically, when these A-76s are formed, they focus on one function at one particular physical location. In our case, this initiative affects 1,300 employees across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii,” Berrios says.

Each of the 55 ACE units traditionally managed separate initiatives, buying their own IT and services as needed. “This is an especially good example of an organization that’s looking at the entire enterprise to identify ways to reach some real efficiencies,” says Ramon Contreras, an A-76 specialist and partner with the Grant Thornton Global Public Sector Practice. “Having a good business intelligence solution in place will help management make better decisions that drive them toward their overall goals, whether they’re related to the President’s Management Agenda or other areas.”

ACE will see a big payoff if the five-year contract achieves its cost-savings goals. Berrios committed to IT cost reductions of 20 percent over the contract’s life, which represents nearly $400 million in savings. “We will have more discipline in the way we architect a common architecture with common processes across the board,” he says. “We will have the opportunity to make decisions at a corporate level about an overall IT portfolio versus individual portfolios.”

BI Building Blocks

The data warehouse and analytics appli­cations will be keys to this enterprise view. ACE will use a three-layer business intelligence (BI) architecture. At its foundation is a production database, which will manage all of the information about personnel, project and business operations that keeps the Corps running.


CONTRACT FALLOUT: The effort will consolidate 500 existing contractors and 1,100 contracts.

A second component will consist of a separate database that replicates information from the main storehouse to feed analytics applications from Business Objects. These reporting and querying programs perform the data slicing and dicing that will help ACE make enterprisewide purchasing and management decisions. Between these two layers is IBM WebSphere middleware, which moves and massages information from the main database to its analytical cousin — a task IT managers call ETL — for data extraction, transformation and loading.

It’s a standard architecture for BI systems, but for ACE it will be an entirely new way of doing business. “We are going to leverage business intelligence to capture information and to also manipulate information in different ways,” Berrios says. “There’s always that question that people don’t foresee. We will be able to very quickly formalize [the unexpected] and make this process part of our normal way of measuring performance.”

New Efficiencies

ACE intends to run all network operations and organizationwide applications under a single management unit by May 2008. “The way in which we govern, the way in which we capture requirements and deliver services is going to be very different,” Berrios says.

For example, ACE traditionally managed 55 separate help desks to answer staff questions and address technical problems. By next year, one central help desk will reign, and rather than becoming overwhelmed, the central service reps will be able to use the new infrastructure to solve problems more quickly, Berrios says. “We will track a problem, find out who is assigned to it and monitor where it stands all from one place — versus 55 different places all over the world,” he says.

Budgeting will also change. The current system uses two data centers that run all of ACE’s Internet access, e-mail and other critical applications. The centers then bill individual operating units for the services. But remaining IT expenditures, including significant outlays for desktop and notebook PCs, personal digital assistants, printers and LAN hardware, all traditionally occurred locally with little opportunity for volume discounts. “That’s going to change because there’s going to be only one network, and it’s going to be consolidated as one particular service at a fixed price,” says Berrios.

Local Benefits

Change will be significant for offices outside of headquarters. But after the pain of transitioning to central control, these formerly semiautonomous units should expect to recoup time and cost savings, too.

“When we go buy a router individually in each district, we are getting appraised a price for one unit. But if we buy 50 devices on an enterprise basis, obviously we are going to get a better price,” says James Cobb, the senior regional information officer who oversees activities across the eastern United States as well as Afghanistan, Europe and Iraq.

Better communication about requirements between field units and headquarters will improve the opportunity for volume-buying efficiencies. Cobb says this type of interchange traditionally hasn’t occurred at ACE. “Information just didn’t flow up to the top,” he says.

Will centralization mean less purchasing flexibility for local districts? Cobb isn’t concerned, saying that the new architecture may bring about more reliable funding practices.

“If you are proposing good initiatives, it doesn’t matter how you are organized,” he reasons. “If they are cost-effective and offer clear benefits, they will get recognized and funded.”

Photo: Forrest MacCormack