Dept of Defense Modernization of ERP

Fielding Software to Defense: A Journey of Ineffectiveness, Inefficiency, and Frustration

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Having served 27 years as a Logistics Officer in the US Army and recently retired, I understand how software solution technology can assist us with our mission.  We would often attempt to leverage available technology, but oftentimes, would find ourselves doing a significant amount of work that a software solution should be doing, despite the United States Department of Defense (DoD) spending an enormous amount of taxpayer money on the solution. 

While in the Army, I was aware the military did not always do business in the most efficient manner. However, since retirement, a huge reality check in how the DoD does business has struck me… actually, hit me right in the face. 

Modernization: Words But No Action

I have chosen to continue to serve by working for a supply chain software development company that enjoys business in both the private and public sectors, to include the DoD. During this time, I have seen how the private sector uses supply chain software to fully realize, and many times, achieve world class results. 

Unfortunately, over my nearly three years, I have also learned that the DoD is significantly ineffective and inefficient, even more so than I thought, and this has resulted in extreme frustration.

To put it plainly, DoD is “in a rut” and is choosing to stay there. 

Opting to choose software solutions that we have used for the past 30 years.  The question I often ask…why do we want to continue with solutions that do not work and have never really achieved results they promised?  If these solutions were so great, why are we looking for other options?  Does the DoD really desire other options?

Unfortunately, the community continues to advertise their desire for new, innovative, modernized software solutions, but on many occasions, choosing solutions that already exist, just updated slightly or in another form. In many instances, they are choosing software that has under-delivered results that were expected over the past 30 years. Just because they are big, have huge business development budgets.  And none of them are organically built or suited for Defense operations.

Fielding Software to Defense: A Journey of Ineffectiveness, Inefficiency, and Frustration – a real commitment to modernization is long overdue… Click To Tweet

Everyone knows the dirty little secret: get in with the big ERP vendors, customize the software, and live forever on the sustainment expense.  News Flash: There are other software solutions out there! 

Multiple attempts have been made within multiple organizations inside the DoD to offer software solutions that are modernized, highly transparent, and have audit capabilities that are more advanced and quite frankly better than anything DoD has today.  Most resulting in the acquisition of the same or slightly updated versions of the same solution. Even as an Army veteran, I am often told this solution “does not fit” what we are looking for, or this solution is not SAP or Oracle based software. 

The DoD publicly says they are looking for modernization from industry, but their actions suggest otherwise.

To be fair to industry, these Defense organizations should officially state their position as “I want x solution” vs encouraging industry to provide proposals (at significant expense) on alternative, better suited solutions when they have no chance of being selected. Regrettably, based upon personal experience and talking to many others, I would respectfully argue they are not. Not only is most of DoD not looking for true modernization change they down-right discount it.

ERP for Defense

All of this results in a great amount of frustration across industry trying to help DoD improve for the next big fight. As I know DoD realizes, during our next fight with a possible peer-competitor, we will not enjoy strategic freedom of movement across our oceans or skies. 

Having said that, one of DoD’s favorite acronyms is “ERP” – Enterprise Resource Planning. An ERP is supposed to allow a customer to operate an entire business on one software solution. However, the traditional ERP many of us know does not really do that. Therefore, I argue a true, modernized “digital network” ERP is not only needed, but urgently required right now.

Critical Capabilities for Defense ERP

Today’s ERP is a powerful tool for managing enterprise resources, but it lacks many of the critical capabilities required to enable agile and effective defense operations in complex and volatile domains. ERP-reimagined for defense organizations must:

  • Optimize and combine logistics support across all military groups, supply classes, and operational tiers while integrating with legacy environments
  • Deploy at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional ERPs while creating a “Never Legacy” environment
  • Support true disconnected/D-DIL operations, ashore and afloat
  • Natively support key Defense capabilities such as management of munitions and guided weapons, food service, bulk fuels, medical supplies, and sparing across supply, transportation, and maintenance functions 

The US Army wants to modernize, streamline, standardize, and unify its software solutions improving auditability through the Enterprise Business Systems-Convergence (EBS-C) effort. 

However, the Army has said the solutions must be SAP-based, basically ignoring any solutions that are not.  To be frank, the Army has been experimenting with SAP-based solutions for decades, and has invested billions of dollars. What have we gotten? 

We have gotten a multitude of solutions that do not communicate, are not integrated, are cumbersome to users, are not auditable, and often fail the end-state users in the field who really need them to work. Most Soldiers will tell you they spend entirely too much time doing “back of the envelope work” or “excel spreadsheets” to ensure they have the visibility they require, rather than the software solutions doing it for them, as they should.

"After billions of dollars of investment in ERP, what have we got? A multitude of solutions that do not communicate, are not integrated, are not auditable, and fail end-users." -Michael Bruens Click To Tweet

Additionally, the Army has no disconnected capability to extend the true operational reach of commanders in contested and/or degraded environments. We must gain the capability now. It is 2024, what are we waiting for?  It is time to move forward, not backward. The Army EBS-C effort is ongoing, so there is time to improve.  We will see what happens.

The US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) is fielding a Joint Transportation Management System (JTMS) capable of subsuming many existing solutions/systems currently in use and integrating end-to-end transportation and financial processes to achieve auditability, transparency, and optimize allocation, providing the joint warfighter the competitive advantage. 

However, during the Pre-Request for Proposal (RFP) process, USTRANSCOM has insinuated they believe an SAP-based solution is probably best, since many other defense organizations have SAP-based solutions.  Again, I would argue, we have had SAP-based solutions the past 20+ years, but are not (generally) happy with them across DoD, so why do we want to continue down the same road when we already know what is at the end of that road? Is it because it is safe? Or that we have invested so much money that no one wants to “buck” the “career” system. 

Logistics will win or lose our next war.

Michael Bruens

This is not a war against SAP, Oracle, or any other software provider, but it is a plea to the DoD to broaden its aperture and seek true modernization. Does the DoD want to be bold and truly move our logistics capabilities of visibility and actionability into the 21st century with a network-centric approach? I cannot believe we do not desire to be better.

I challenge the DoD to be big, and be bold, challenge the status-quo, field solutions that are different and can truly bring DoD logistics into the 21st century. 

I have no doubt, we will require this technology soon in contested and degraded environments from tactical to operational, to strategic levels of war. 

The next big war with a peer competitor is not far away, technology may even help us avoid it. I believe logistics will win or lose our next war. We should not and cannot wait any longer to truly modernize, the time is now!

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Michael Bruens