Massive Air Force ERP software project still struggling

Two completed pilots of the more-than-US$5 billion project are being scrapped

A massive Oracle ERP (enterprise-resource-planning) software project being conducted by the U.S. Air Force continues to experience difficulties, with the defense agency deciding to toss out some completed work as part of a restructuring plan that will be announced soon, according to an official communication released last week.

Dubbed the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS), the project was started in 2005 and is supposed to replace more than 200 legacy systems. Its total estimated costs, which were originally placed at about US$3 billion, have grown to more than $5 billion, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in an October 2010 report.

In October, the Air Force said it had begun a "strategic reassessment of the overall program" and was considering a number of alternatives. Those included "building on the current ERP software, leveraging other service/Defense Agency solutions, and/or modifying legacy capability," Air Force Deputy Chief Management Officer David Tillotson told lawmakers at the time.

"An announcement detailing program restructuring is imminent and a refocusing of ECSS capabilities will result," according to a document from the ECSS Communication Office issued last week, which was seen by the IDG News Service.

As a result of the restructuring, the Air Force plans to scrap two pilot programs, A and B, which had been "fielded with known deficiencies and workarounds," Lt. Gen. Judith A. Fedder, deputy chief of staff for Logistics, Installations and Mission Support, is quoted as saying in the document.

"The plan included workaround resolution in Pilots C and D for a feasible Air Force solution," Fedder's statement added. "Per direction, these C and D pilots will no longer be fielded. Without the enhanced capabilities of the follow-on pilots, the A and B-only solution is not suitable for fielding across the Air Force."

Users in the A and B pilot programs will be "rolled back to their legacy systems" by the end of this month, and will subsequently no longer "transact in ECSS," according to Fedder's statement.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined comment. A spokeswoman for CSC could not immediately comment Monday.

The Air Force did not immediately respond to requests for additional information, including the project's current total cost estimate and details on why the pilot programs were ceased.

But there are two sides to every story, and this one is no different, said Michael Krigsman, CEO of the consulting firm Asuret and an expert on IT project failures.

"The fact they did a pilot and decided not to proceed with the full thing? That's one of the reasons you do a pilot," he said. "It's better to have the pilot fail than have the whole program fail."

"But then it raises the question of what is the nature of the pilot, why did it fail and what are they doing instead," added Krigsman, whose firm has not been involved in the Air Force project. The question now is how the Air Force and CSC will address whatever deficiencies the pilots experienced going forward, he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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