HP builds NGEN dream team, but is it a slam dunk?

NMCI's incumbent contract-holder, HP, is collaborating with the industry's biggest players, but it's still not a sure thing to win the NGEN contract.

Hewlett Packard Co. isn’t just hedging its bets that its status as the incumbent Navy-Marine Corps Intranet contract holder will win the Navy’s highly anticipated, $14.5 billion Next Generation Enterprise Network contract – it’s joining forces with some of the industry’s top players in a bid to seal the deal once the request for proposals drops Dec. 21.

Despite what on the face may seem unusual given that the companies are sometimes competitors, the team HP has put together to vie for the NGEN contract includes AT&T, Northrop Grumman and IBM. By combining forces, HP hopes to gain the competitive advantage as well as provide the best service to sailors and Marines, according to Bill Toti, HP vice president for Navy strategic programs.

“The way we are approaching NGEN absolutely changes the landscape of Navy-Marine networks going forward,” Toti said. “If we were interested in doing just the best thing for HP, the alliance would not look the way it does today. The best thing for HP would have been to continue to go it alone, as we have done for the past 11 years. We built this alliance because it’s the best thing to do for the Navy and Marine Corps, for the sailors and the Marines out there in the field.”

Each company brings its own distinct area of excellence, Toti said. AT&T’s predominance in telecommunications, Northrop Grumman’s authority on command and control, and IBM’s prominence in IT are all chief among reasons they were selected, he said.

“We realized going forward that the world is moving toward a more mobile, wirelessly connected environment, and AT&T is the number one player in that domain. That’s their specialty,” Toti said of AT&T.

As for Northrop, “command and control is a different domain and skill set than the general commercial IT environment. The command and control schema that the Navy and Marine Corps have to evolve to going forward, in a more globally connected, network-centric warfare world – that requires a specialist in that domain. Northrop Grumman is the lead player in that domain,” he said.

And though IBM and HP are widely viewed as competitors, Toti said that IBM’s existing presence in Navy IT systems means that including them is what’s best for sailors and Marines.

“The Navy currently operates a great number of IBM products on their networks. Rather than us trying to backdoor those products to get better integration with the networks going forward, it just made sense to bring the guys that are providing those services to the Navy and Marine Corps today onto our team,” he said.

It’s not clear which parts of the team would be doing what since the detailed requirements in the RFP have not been released, but Toti said HP is confident in the fact that the company has operated NMCI since its inception will translate into it being the clear choice for the smoothest transition to NGEN possible.

“If we win, there aren’t many transition issues at all – it’s only going to be about reallocation and things like that. The problem if other people win is that this network is so big and so complex and has so many moving parts on a day-to-day basis,” Toti said. “We do so many things; the big risk is how does anybody take that on? There are written requirements, and there are thousands of unwritten requirements. The Navy is skilled at writing requirements…but we can’t write a recipe for that.”

Still, HP’s incumbency does not discount its competitors, according to analysts.

“There’s always the inherent competitive advantage of the incumbent in any contract, but that can also play against them. They can get ‘incumbentitis’ – they can get too committed to the baseline and miss chances to be innovative and come up with new ways of doing things. Incumbents lose all the time,” said Warren Suss, president of federal consultancy Suss Consulting.

HP faces teams led by Computer Sciences Corp. and Harris Corp. in the NGEN competition.

Suss said that despite the sheer multitude of complex requirements, a lot of effort has been made to make the details available to all competitors.

“The government has gone to great lengths to create a level playing field to enable other companies to bid and be successful,” he said. “There is an enormous amount of information and data available on the inventory and on the architecture, requirements, standards and specifications to be addressed.”

In other words, despite the obvious in-house advantages HP may have, the competition is still wide open for other companies who are able to get the details and analysis right, and that’s helped by some factors like NMCI’s prevalent commercial off-the-shelf technologies.

“The proof is in the pudding: There are sophisticated companies putting up millions to bid on this contract, and they wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t have a shot,” Suss said. “This is not a slam dunk.”

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