As the current situation in Iraq illustrates, the problem of getting supplies to troops on the battlefield is less about having items available and more about knowing where those items need to be distributed.
Hobbled by an IT infrastructure that in some aspects is outdated, the U.S. Army is honing its supply and logistics IT systems, which are part of its overall ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.
The primary job for Lt. Col. Robert Zoppa, head of the Armys GCSS (Global Combat Support System) Project, is to get supplies to troops in Iraq or elswhere as quickly as possible.
“The current [IT] systems are old, archaic, and they dont do well when not connected [via satellite]. And theyre slow when they are connected,” said Zoppa, referring to the unit-level logistics systems used in Iraq by U.S. soldiers.
“In Iraq, when they finally did get to … Baghdad, there were all these floods of orders that came in. Thats a huge problem,” Zoppa said. “When you do get communications, it may be radio or by sneakernet, or someone pops in a Humvee and hands you a disk. When you have one person trying to pass this [information] to another company, combined with two or three other companies, you have a bandwidth problem. Once [orders] get consolidated at the battalion level, it starts to go up to the next level. It eventually works its way up the chain and consolidates, and maybe all [that a soldier] wanted was a new tire.”
Because of the numerous steps in such a supply chain, a soldier on the ground in Iraq might not know for a week that a requisition was incorrectly filled out. “In the meantime, [the soldier] is getting beat up by his commanding officer,” said Zoppa.
The Army is making do as best it can in Iraq, but to solve the problem in the long run, it is replacing its stovepipe supply and maintenance systems that were created decades ago, using DOS and BASIC, with SAP AGs MySAP Web-based suite of ERP applications.
The project, which was authorized a year ago and slated for completion in 2007, is broken into various stages, including business process evaluation and process blueprinting—the stage Zoppa is midway through now. During this blueprinting stage, all GCSS business processes are modeled using IDS Scheer Inc.s Aris tool set and put into a single database. Once all the master data associated with the processes is modeled, GCSS will move to the implementation phase.
SAP recommended that the Army purchase a version of the Walldorf, Germany, companys R/3 applications suite but also deploy the newer MySAP suite.
“Were doing developmental licenses on [R/3], then well implement MySAP ERP,” said Zoppa.
Like many things military, the overall vision for changing the Armys logistics system is defined in an acronym: SALE, or Single Army Logistics Enterprise. This will link the MySAP applications running at GCSS with those running at another Army project, called the Logistics Modernization Program.
The two systems will integrate through a hub called PLM Plus, which will use SAPs NetWeaver integration platform—the “Plus” being NetWeavers Exchange Infrastructure for integration and Master Data Management modules to harmonize and centrally manage data.
While the Army looked at about 30 ERP providers and finally boiled its decision down to the top three—SAP, Oracle Corp. and PeopleSoft Inc.—the Army went with SAP because it was already solving what Zoppa called “moving” supply chain issues. The Army also tapped SAP because the software company was already developing technology, called Force Element, for the German army. Force Element enables units to move around while still maintaining a connection to some systems.
“If you think of ERP software in its very basic form, companies use it to manage warehouses and plants,” said Zoppa, in Washington. “But a soldier is not an element or a plant. Theyre a human being. He walks around the battlefield with a gun, supplies, and he has personal data about him. We want to be able to take a soldier and reassign him [or her] if possible, and we want his personal [information] and equipment to go with him.”
“The bottom line is replacing [the Armys homegrown] ERP with a commercial ERP has never been done before. Its really cutting-edge,” Zoppa said. “I can tell you that no one has implemented SAP the way we are about to do it, and we are going to transform logistics.”