Navy plans major spending to update its personnel IT systems

The Navy is in the middle of a major ramp-up in the investments it’s making to the IT systems that handle personnel and pay matters. The amount of funding it’s putting toward the task rose from $13 million last year to $30 million in 2017; in 2018, it’s asking Congress for $53 million and expects the number to rise to $75 million by 2020.

The increase is mostly explained by the ongoing rollout of an initiative called Sailor 2025, a sweeping effort that’s meant to help put the service in a better position to compete for talent with the private sector, including by better matching sailors’ talents with jobs and letting them map their own career paths through what Navy hopes will be a more flexible personnel system.

Sailor 2025’s big picture is laid out in an interview we aired last week with Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the chief of naval personnel, but suffice to say much of what the Navy’s aiming for depends on consolidating and modernizing dozens of HR systems that are both stovepiped and, in many cases, more than 30 years old.

“So far, we’re keeping a lot of these initiatives alive through brute force and sheer willpower,” Burke said. “We needed to transform our IT systems and everything else about how we conduct business in the personnel world.”

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On the IT side, this summer, the Navy will finally launch the first element of its Integrated Personnel and Pay System online at a pilot site – Great Lakes – its main boot camp facility. The new system will gradually replace a hodgepodge of legacy IT that’s collectively called the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSIPS).

 

The Army and Air Force have launched their own “IPPS” programs to harmonize their pay and personnel systems, but, significantly, the Navy’s version is the first to seek and receive DoD approval to host and process troops’ records in a commercial cloud computing facility, a step the Navy believes will be a major game-changer.

“It gives us a lot more flexibility than previous government attempts to do things like this,” Burke said. “We’ll also be able to go to handheld-device type of access, we’ll be able to make things more user friendly, to deal with shipboard low-bandwidth or no-bandwidth applications. We want to make things easier for our sailors and families to operate, but ultimately, as we’re able to start to get reliable and large amounts of data in one place, we’re going to be able to do a much better job of predictive analytics. That’s going to let me do things like talent matching – not just a sailor’s technical aptitudes, but matching him or her with what that sailor likes to do. It’ll help us get better at retention and target our retention incentives.”

During the initial rollout involving four classes of this year’s Great Lakes recruits, the Navy will compare the new system’s performance side-by-side against legacy systems to ensure no major errors are introduced by the cloud-based version.

“If those records are good, they will stay in the new system and it will be the new official system of record for those people,” Burke said. “As we continue to validate more and more capabilities of the new system, we’ll turn off old parts of the system and then start to migrate the rest of the Navy into the new system as quickly as we can migrate those people’s records.”

Officials estimate the bulk of the Navy’s current personnel will be moved into the new cloud-based system by 2019.

The budget request the Navy sent to Congress last week says a significant chunk of the spike in 2018 personnel  IT spending stems from its expectation that it will award its first task order next year to fold military pay into the new system.

Other major plus-ups involve programs that are meant to “extend the reach” of the Navy’s existing programs to solicit candidates for jobs, including spending on IT programs that the service has deemed to be supportive of a Defense Department initiative that aims to increase troops’ ability to move back and forth between active duty and reserve service.

But Burke said the service has been focused on doing all it can to modernize its HR business processes prior to making the decision to invest in new IT systems.

For example, until this year, the Navy used staff at 63 separate personnel support detachments to handle reimbursements for moving claims, a process that yielded a high payment error rate. So officials tasked a group of 25 specialists to redesign the reimbursements process and consolidate it within a single payments center.

“Today, those 25 people are doing half of all the Navy’s processing, it takes them about half the time, and they brought the error rate down to zero. In a few months, they’ll be doing all the Navy’s processing even before the new IT comes online,” he said. “That’s the approach we’re taking: consolidating things, getting faster, smarter better, and then we’ll bring the IT in. We don’t want the clunky processes to go faster, we want to make them smarter and simpler.”

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