Marines update core logistics technology

The U.S. Marine Corps is replacing aging supply chain systems with Oracle software to better serve combat troops.

When your customer is a soldier in a foxhole, the benefits of an IT overhaul take on a whole new meaning.

Some companies may refer to their traveling salesmen as "road warriors," but the Marine Corps has the real thing, says Randy Delarm, the United States Marine Corps' program manager for Global Combat Support Systems, Information Systems and Infrastructure. DeLarm, a civilian, is charged with revamping the Corps' supply and logistics chain to increase troops' combat effectiveness.

On Monday, the Marines started a major project toward that end. The Corps announced it had begun the process of replacing five aging supply systems with software made by Oracle. The plan--Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps/Logistics Chain Management (GCSS-MC/LCM) program Block I--will retire a mix of mainframe and client server technologies, some of which have been in use since the 1970s. Replacing them will be elements of Oracle's E-Business software package, including the software maker's supply chain planning, procurement, logistics, maintenance and service applications.

"The ability for us to support the war fighter in the foxhole is the bottom line for the program," Delarm said. "Over the last decade we've placed a lot more emphasis on joint operations and supporting the commander fighting in such a conflict."

With Marine units and even multiple military arms joining together on the battlefield, commanders' abilities to put their hands on the right equipment and sufficient supplies is more difficult--and fundamental to success, Delarm said. While the Corps' legacy systems were designed to aid troops stationed at garrison, the new project will first address the needs of soldiers in the field, then adapted for less challenging environments.

"The older IT systems enabling our supply chain across services hadn't caught up with modern technology and given us visibility or access to real-time data," Delarm said. "We're implementing IT tools across the Marine Corps logistics chain to help both internal visibility and to be able to share information outside the USMC with joint commanders."

The Global Combat Support System will initially support 7,500 users and eventually reach the entirety of the Marine Corps worldwide.

Delarm said that while the Marines are looking to mirror the corporate logistics systems used by Fortune 500 companies such as Wal-Mart Stores, supporting field operations in a war places even greater demands on the technology. Battle commanders are often on the move and may not have access to high-bandwidth communications. And though the Marines are hoping to garner some savings with the update, the effort's primary goal is getting soldiers better equipped for combat.

The project manager, who works at the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., said Oracle beat other vendors in a head-to-head field test. The Marines largely weighed candidates' ability to provide an IT architecture flexible enough to support the Corps' extreme logistics demands.

"These are critical cultural and process changes occurring in Marine Corps' logistics arena that old tools just don't support," Delarm said. "This is not just an IT modernization; we're implementing modern technology to support our overall logistics business."

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