September 30, 2013 --
By Monique Randolph, MCSC Corporate Communications
Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps is not just a logistics system; it is a system for the entire Marine Corps enterprise, said GCSS-MC program manager Dave Hansen.
As a former Marine Corps supply officer, Hansen knows about the legacy systems and processes GCSS-MC is replacing, and the benefits the new Enterprise Resource Planning system brings to Marines and the Corps as a whole.
GCSS-MC replaces the Supported Activities Supply System and Marine Corps Integrated Maintenance Management System, or SASSY and MIMMS, respectively. The two legacy supply and maintenance systems have been used by Marines for more than 40 years, Hansen said.
GCSS-MC is part of the Navy Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems portfolio of enterprise-wide information technology programs. The next-generation system combines supply and maintenance functions so Marines can transact on a single system. GCSS-MC provides better resource planning and logistics chain management, increased visibility and accountability, and improved operational readiness reporting of Marine Corps assets.
Marines conduct about 45 million transactions in GCSS-MC every month, Hansen said. While they have to input more information up front than they did with the legacy systems, the payoff is the speed in which they receive feedback from the system.
“[GCSS-MC] provides much more real-time capability for managing assets and maintenance, and tracking closely what’s happening with the things we order,” Hansen said. “For example, the old system took two to three days to provide a supply status for parts and equipment. GCSS-MC tells you if the part is available or on back order, and where it will come from right after you hit enter.”
Additionally, commanders can now access unit readiness data—such as supply, finance and maintenance information—whenever they want, compared to daily or weekly reporting cycles under the legacy systems. These reports enable them to make more informed operational decisions, measure performance and better predict logistics outcomes, Hansen said.
The program has not been without its challenges.
Because it combines supply and maintenance functions into a single system, many users felt the new system was too complicated when it was first introduced Corps-wide, said Master Sgt. Nicholas Bluma, maintenance management specialist in the GCSS-MC Program Office.
“Mechanics and technicians had to learn supply functions, and with such wide parameters, it seemed to give Marines too much flexibility to do permanent damage,” he said.
Classroom training, detailed training aids and a 24-hour help desk have since helped users adapt to the system, which is now used by nearly 30,000 Marines across the Marine Corps.
“Leaders must exercise patience and understand it will take more than just a few years for logisticians to fully grasp and understand the dynamics of such an immense, modernized logistics system,” Bluma said.
GCSS-MC uses the commercially available Oracle E-business Suite, applications the commercial industry uses for a variety of business activities from human resources to supply chain management. The Marine Corps tailored the software to meet its unique needs, which also caused a few issues for users.
“We do a lot of things different than industry, so we have made modifications and changes to Oracle to make it work the way we need it to,” Hansen said. “While those changes allow us to do the things we need to do, the downside we’ve experienced is latency—the system is slow in many respects.”
Addressing the latency of GCSS-MC is a top priority for the program office.
“One of the biggest latency issues we have is the mechanized allowance list that now takes Marines about four hours to run, but it shouldn’t,” Hansen said. “We’re releasing a fix very soon that will take that report down to 17 seconds.”
By December, the GCSS-MC program office will release a series of fixes, such as Materiel Returns Program and a segregated reports instance, to address other issues users have encountered with the system. The fixes will allow more reports to be processed simultaneously as well as speed up the reports themselves, Hansen said.
In December 2012, the program entered a period called “critical change,” an acquisition term used when there is a breach to the expected cost, system performance or schedule for an information technology program. GCSS-MC was unable to deliver a deployed capability that would allow Marines in austere environments without internet connectivity to use the system, which resulted in a schedule delay, Hansen said.
Following an extensive nine-month review of the program and a report to Congress earlier this month, the program is fully funded and on track to implement Release 1.1.1 by the end of 2014. Three products within the release—Mobile Field Service, Riverbed network accelerator and Enterprise Automated Task Organization—will provide Marines an interim deployable capability.
“Mobile Field Service is laptop software that will allow Marines who are not connected to the system to conduct a few different transactions and upload those transactions to the system once the Marine is reconnected,” Hansen said.
The Riverbed Appliance is a network optimization tool that will accelerate the ability for Marines to transact on the network when aboard a ship or in other environments where communications are spotty and latency is an issue. The third product, EATO, will help limit the number and time for transactions Marines conduct before deployments.
“Right now, when Marines deploy, they have to conduct about 6,000 to 8,000 transactions in GCSS-MC, and it takes about three months to do those transactions. EATO takes that down to about 60 transactions over about three days,” Hansen said.
Right now, the GCSS-MC Program Office is “laser-focused” on the 1.1.1 release, which is only 15 months away.
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done,” Hansen said. “What we’re doing here is not easy. Software is not easy; it’s not tangible like a truck. But we’re up to the challenge. I’m looking forward to showing people what GCSS-MC is and what it can do for them.”