This is the inside story on why the Army is going outside the typical pathways of government contracting to consolidate five enterprise resource planning systems.
The Army saw an opportunity to do more than just get the latest software when it started looking at upgrading its enterprise resource planning systems.
“It was an opportunity to transform the way we have done business,” said Col. Matthew Price, who is co-leading the team implementing the Army’s Enterprise Business Systems Convergence program also known as EBS-C
That transformation means combining multiple ERP systems into the single EBS-C platform, which is intended as an end-to-end view of the Army’s logistics and finance systems.
The systems being consolidated include the Logistics Modernization Program, General Fund Enterprise Business System, Global Combat Support System-Army and Army Enterprise Systems Integration Program.
“The reason for that is to see everything from end to end and provide commanders at the tactical level the opportunity to have more decision time,” Price said.
That is an ambitious undertaking under any circumstance. But what also makes EBS-C noteworthy is how the Army is going about it. The branch has been running the competition as an Other Transaction Authority procurement.
The Army chose Accenture, IBM, and Groundswell for phase one awards in August to build prototypes for the system. The Army will pick a single winner in mid-2024 and award them an eight-year contract. The value of the OTA has not been disclosed.
So why an OTA? Why not a traditional contract?
The Army didn’t want to take a waterfall approach and give a long list of requirements to its contractors and hope they come back with something that works.
“We’ve taken this very complex endeavor and broken it down into manageable, measurable intervals,” said Lee James III, acting project manager for EBS-C.
The OTA is currently in phase one. Each company has won a $7.5 million to build a solution in the Army’s operational environment, James said.
Next summer, the Army will pick one company after they evaluate the solutions.
“In phase two, we’ll start iterating towards a viable or that initial capability,” James said.
Each company is basing its solution on SAP, which the Army has heavily invested in over the years. After conducting market research, the Army determined that staying with SAP was the effective way to move forward.
“We are going to stick with the SAP transactional database and leverage that,” James said. “And when we say leverage, our intent is to avoid customization because that is what software costs up.”
James said both his and Price’s team have a motto – “Commercial as possible, military as necessary.”
The goal is to stick with commercial best practices as much as possible.
“We are going to maintain that standard configuration and business processes that come along with the SAP database,” James said.
Using an OTA gives the Army its best chance to meet its goals because of how those procurements are designed for prototyping, James said.
“We are the poster child for OTAs,” James added. “Our strategy is we want to prototype this capability and see what industry is offering.”
A more traditional contract means writing requirements, reading proposals and maybe listening to oral presentations before awarding a contract.
“We would make an enduring contract decision based on a month or two evaluation process,” James said.
With OTAs, the evaluation process is ongoing because of the prototypes.
“Each team must actually implement their solution in our environment. They must meet security guidelines. They must obtain provisional authorities to test and operate,” James said. “All of that factors into our evaluation and we can make a better decision before we enter into a long-term contact with an industry partner.”
Price said that to accomplish this, the acquisition side of the equation has to have a stronger relationship with the operation side -- the people who use these systems every day,.
“The acquisition team and the project management office are the pathfinders for our ERP modernization efforts,” Price said.
That relationship and OTA process both get away from a feeling among some that the functional side throws a requirement over the wall for the acquisition side to run a procurement, Price said.
“The OTA allows us to do an iterative deployment, which allows Army leaders to see the tactical and operational fielding of a capability,” Price said. “It’s not a big bang fielding where you push it out to 190,000 users at once.”
Price and Lee have also already identified areas beyond the five systems being consolidated that can be brought onto the platform once the final contract is in place.
“We’ve identified some gaps that don’t really have good business systems in place,” Price said. These include munitions management, bulk fuel and medical supplies.
“Those three categories have been inherently manual,” Price said.
Tying those so-called consumable items into a system like EBS-C can enable a lot of new capabilities and insights.
“We are looking at data analytics because that data will be available from the theater all the way through the tactical and operational units,” Price said. “It is all about visibility.”