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Developers of 'lifeline from the front' receive award
Written by Army AL&T Online   

FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- Without a single point of reach-back, a Warfighter could find the process of resolving a system-related issue to be rather lengthy, redundant and frustrating.

For its solution to this challenge, the Single Interface to the Field (SIF) team received a 2009 Project Management Excellence award from the Government Information Technology Executive Council (GITEC) in March.

The SIF portal has eased the process of incident reporting for Warfighters like Michael Tumminelli - who used it when he served as an operation's platoon sergeant throughout his deployment in Afghanistan from September 2007 to October 2008. Praising the SIF as his "lifeline from the front," Tumminelli used the portal to resolve each of his equipment issues and expediently locate experts.

"When we had issues with our (.50-caliber machine gun), personnel at Picatinny (Arsenal) would provide answers," he said. "We could find subject matter experts; and download images to help get our equipment up and running again."

Tumminelli described SIF as "a force multiplier," and "a great enhancement for the common Soldier."

"One time, (the subject matter experts) were able to accomplish a forensic investigation within 72 hours to help solve our problem," he said. "We literally relied on SIF every day during our deployment."

Tumminelli is the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) operations and requirements manager for Army Team C4ISR's Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) Team. He is now a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, where he serves as an infantry instructor.

The SIF is an entry point from which Warfighters obtain support of any system managed by the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) and additional digital capabilities. It not only guides them to the assistance they need; it links them to mission-essential information pertaining to areas such as fielding and training.

SIF is assigned to the Battle Command and Network Support Directorate (BCNSD) of the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

size0-army.mil-45285-2009-07-20-110759During his acceptance speech, John Wilder, deputy director for the BCNSD, indicated that project management has been key to the SIF's success since it became operational on Jan. 16, 2007.

Wilder attributed SIF's success to numerous areas. SIF has filled an operational void for system users who formerly used multiple incident reporting tools to relay issues. The support community has also benefited from this single repository of information for separate project manager offices to share among one another and with their users, Wilder said.

"There is no question that the SIF team has made a tremendous contribution to the Army and to the Warfighter by creating a one-stop, continuously manned reach-back support capability for any issue with C4ISR products," Wilder said.

Building upon the support received from Army Team C4ISR's senior leadership, SIF now garners similar support among commands such as the Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) and Army Sustainment Command (ASC).

"This is a major factor in overcoming the natural resistance to change and the reluctance for stove-piped processes to be synchronized into the larger framework," he said.

In this context, stove-piping means to focus efforts on an organization's internal process instead of a more holistic approach that takes into consideration other organizations..

SIF's user-driven requirements are built incrementally by component. Functionality is added over time, through the process of spiral development. It is mandated by either operations or fragmentary orders. This has allowed each project management office within Army Team C4ISR to participate in the program.

The SIF team takes numerous steps to ease the use of its tools by the user base. Its "Go-to-Green" process, for instance, has allowed users to become familiar with and contribute to the SIF portal. Army-wide and unit synchronization conferences are used to educate the community on its benefits.

Education is accomplished on a more personal basis through the training resources SIF provides to the project manager and ASC communities. The project manager community uses regularly scheduled, instructor led Web-conference-based training. In support of the ASC, the SIF team attends Combat Training Center, National Training Center and Joint Readiness Training Center training events to help "ease the integration of the use of the SIF tools into the day-to-day working processes of both the military and support communities," Wilder said.

Making constant reassessment a key objective, the SIF team follows a model of constant evaluation of the component tools and capabilities that coincide with its incremental development cycle. A user advisory group meets at least quarterly with working groups to share feedback and suggestions for product improvement, Wilder said.

The PEO C3T is providing a vast range of support for operations for Afghanistan in everything from equipping and training units in preparation for deployment; to around the clock reach-back field support; and RESET of units upon redeployment, said Lt. Col. Michael Rodriguez, director, of the PEO C3T BCNSD.

During this time frame, the PEO C3T embeds digital support engineers (DSE) in direct support of their assigned brigade combat team, who ultimately deploy with the unit into Afghanistan. Additionally, a lead DSE in the theater of operations has oversight of all Army units in Afghanistan.

As in Iraq, these DSEs and field-support representatives provide tiered support for all issues that arise with Army Team C4ISR systems. Both are assigned to the BCNSD's Support Operations Center (SOC), Fort Hood, Texas.

"Through use of the Single Interface to the Field Web portal and the 24/7 Army Team C4ISR Support Operations Center, PEO C3T is just a click or a call away from supporting the Soldier," Rodriguez said.

"Additionally, through Department of the Army initiatives, PEO C3T is engaged in conducting field assessments in order to help the Army redefine actual user requirements as they evolve in the theater of operations to ensure the right solution set is provided to achieve mission success." SIF is presently used in garrison, exercises and in theater.

Prior to SIF, Army Battle Command System (ABCS) 6.4 users had 11 separate numbers to call for support, said Robert Wheeler, SIF's technical project lead. Warfighter feedback indicated that the PEO C3T was providing exceptional support, but improvement was needed for the processes and tools used for synchronization.

ABCS 6.4 is a suite of digital systems with separate capabilities that allow Warfighters to plan logistics, track one another's whereabouts on a topographical map using Global Positioning System technology, plan fires, access weather information, share intelligence, predict Improvised Explosive Device threats and manage the airspace.

Separate individual Field Service Representatives would use various tools, such as the telephone or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, to report issues on a daily basis, Wheeler said.

"At the end of the day, a Commander had to put it together in one report - yet people were providing it in different fashions," he said.

The PEO C3T developed the SIF portal and SOC in response to this necessity. In two years, SIF has been used to process more than 25,000 trouble tickets.

Engineers benefit from the incident reporting module's issue tracking and trend analysis capabilities. These Knowledge Management components of SIF are used to create articles about particular system issues, frequently asked questions and solutions for the benefit of individuals who experience similar challenges.

The SIF has also become a single point of information for processes such as fielding, Reset, Department of the Army reports and incident reporting. To put SIF's value to the deployed Warfighter into perspective, one might reflect on the support from t car manufacturers. The typical car owner or mechanic will experience repair delays and frustration when forced to search through numerous phone numbers or Web sites to report issues for separate parts of a car. Warfighters were previously in similar situations, having to rely on separate elements for forward support, Wheeler said.

Since it became operational, SIF has supported most of the rotations at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center, at Fort Polk, La., along with several home station exercises.

Stakeholders include the Army's Program Executive Offices, Life Cycle Management Commands and the Army Sustainment Command (ASC); while its customers include Warfighters, ASC Army Field Support Brigades (AFSBs), Department of the Army G3/5/7, and the Signal Center in Fort Gordon, Ga., along with the headquarters of ASC, AMC and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

GITEC is a council of Senior Level Government Executives who are organized in support of the delivery of high quality and cost-effective Information Technology (IT) services to their customers. The Project Management Excellence awards are for federal government projects that have achieved success in one or more of the areas of effective management of the changing budgetary and IT landscape; collaborative government/Web 2.0 vision; technology that is reshaping America; enhanced business results from innovation and cyber security/governance.
(Sandy Santiago contributed to this report.

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