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NEWS | March 11, 2020

Future Capabilities

By Capt. Michael Leachman, Navy Reserve Chief Technical Officer

VIDEO | 02:22 | U.S. Navy Reserve Capabilities

NORFOLK, Va. -- For our Reserve force, efficiency to lethality is everything. The faster a trained and equipped Sailor can deploy and take up a weapon, the more lethal the Reserve force becomes. But lethality can be approached in multiple ways. You, for example, through your civilian background or military training may have the requisite knowledge needed to build technological advancements. In that scenario, the faster you can get to a research center could result in expedited developments allowing the Navy to stay ahead of adversaries.
Any way you look at it, improving efficiency improves lethality, and both improve our ability to maintain our nation’s military advantage, which is the core of Great Power Competition.
Balancing a diverse group of highly skilled Reservists to fill Navy mission requirements is complicated, though. It takes time to find the right people — Sailors with the right skills who are able to put their civilian lives on hold to answer the Navy’s call — and then more time is added to get those people out the door.
Ideally, we would like to say any Sailor in the Navy Reserve is 100% ready to answer the nation’s call at any time. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the incredible number of obstacles — processes, websites, administrative requirements and levels of chain of command — a typical Reservist has to manage in order to maintain readiness and the ability to go on orders. These tasks shape my primary responsibility as the chief technical officer for the Navy Reserve. My team develops the future capabilities of the force by modernizing our information systems, minimizing unnecessary administrative burdens, and simplifying the way we do business.
To illustrate the unique obstacles facing our community, take a Sailor being notified of his selection for a mobilization. Right now, the process is quite manual. For most Sailors, we actually call the member to notify them they’ve been tagged for a mob, and then they receive a set of orders sent to their <>  email address. Issues quickly arise as the member logs into their email away from a Navy computer system. Even though they are connected through an Outlook server, they won’t be able to access the orders because emails containing privacy act information must be encrypted. The Sailor now has only one option, to drive to their local Navy Operational Support Center.
A couple things have transpired for the Reserve member in this illustration. One is that most NOSCs are going to close around 1630. That means the member probably has to take time off work to leave early. And unless they made the drive on the next drill weekend or could reschedule drill time — the trip didn’t just cost them time, but money, just to get a copy of their orders.
Scenarios like this aren’t just an inconvenience. They can actually affect mission readiness by slowing down the process of bringing Sailors to the fight. As odd as it sounds, being able to access everyday administrative processes efficiently increases the lethality of the Navy Reserve.
We want to take the manual processes a member uses and decouple them from the NOSC and make them digital. This isn’t to say that we’re planning to get rid of brick and mortar Reserve centers. It’s really about making it as easy as possible for Reserve members and NOSC staffs to accomplish readiness requirements.
Many services our members utilize are directly associated with the NOSC, meaning the member has to originate services at the NOSC. There are some services the NOSC can perform on the member’s behalf, but most require a visit to the counter to request a service typically involving filling out a form. The point is that these administrative tasks are mostly manually processed. It may even mean an email is printed and then scanned in to start a routing process.
A common misconception is that email is an automated process. It’s actually very much manual as emails travel from person to person. There’s a problem that lies in working solely by email, in that there is no real way of tracking down an email without getting in touch with the specific people addressed in the email. Whether visiting a NOSC service desk or by sending an email, the receiver ends up a possible single point of failure.
Take for instance, a request chit. You fill it out, sign it, and turn it in to your chain of command. The Navy now has five working days to get the chit back to you. What if you turned the chit in during your drill weekend? Five days later, you’re not at the NOSC. There’s a good chance you won’t see it again until you show up for the next drill weekend. All you know in the meantime is that you don’t have your chit back, and to find out who has it you will have to ask someone to stop what they’re doing and go find it. And if it’s lost, you’ll have to start all over again.
Not only does the process take time, we also have no visibility on the location or status of the chit. Now what if we fully automate the request chit by extending it to the members mobile phone? The member could log into R2S using his mobile device, fill out, and digitally submit the request. Then instead of the NOSC informing the member of the chit’s status, the app will inform the member. Status notifications will be automatically delivered to the member along the process. The notification may say it’s at the senior enlisted leader level, but hasn’t been approved yet. Now, at least you’ll know who’s desk it’s on.
Through digitizing standard processes across the more than 180 Navy Reserve Activities, including the 123 NOSCs, we can be sure each location is following the same procedures and each Reserve Sailor is given the same levels of access and support. Once processes are standardized through computer-based systems, we can pull analytics off transaction points. There will be a viewable history with time stamps available for every step of official business transactions. Automated, mobile processes will be an incredible benefit to the force, because we will actually be able to see our processes working, find areas to improve, and update as necessary.
Automating a service, like a request chit, uses a digital tool called Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. A good example of what a CRM process looks like, is the recently deployed Navy Reserve Electronic Lodging app. NREL is a custom built solution allowing Sailors to request lodging for a drill-weekend digitally, from a smartphone.
Before NREL, according to the official berthing instruction, Sailors were required to go to the NOSC, head over to the supply office and fill out a request for berthing. There, the supply logistics specialist consolidated the lists, arranged them by date, and contacted the approved hotels to secure reservations. It was a very manual process with lots of steps and paperwork.
With NREL, very simply, the member opens R2S and selects berthing for the dates they want — it’s all populated inside the system. The supply office then sends the reservation to the hotel. Through the digitized process we now have metrics available outside the paper logs of an individual NOSC. Here at Reserve headquarters we can see across the force who is using lodging and we can dig down into the details of every transaction along the process.
Some users may not see a huge advantage in requesting lodging through an app. And no system will ever be perfect, but through metrics available in CRM and digitized processes we can see across the entire Reserve force where bottlenecks are, where staffing levels need to change, and how services are being utilized.
Another important tool we are using to develop efficiency is cloud computing. As a Reserve force we have a great need for the ability to do work remotely. As you’re reading this, the My Navy Reserve Homeport is transitioning to Microsoft SharePoint 2016. The new platform enables the collaboration of the force through document and content storage and allows you to work better in regards to the content you generate while at work or from your mobile platform
In the updated MyNRH platform every Reserve member will have access to the Navy computer software environment. You won’t need an individual copy of Microsoft Office installed on your personal device, it’s all available in the cloud. So if there’s any reason you are unable to reach your drill location, as long as you’re authorized to telework, you can use your home computer to do your Navy work — all in a secure environment in the cloud with the exact same services available on any NOSC computer.
Looking at the myriad of systems Sailors have to engage with, our goal is to create user-friendly ways we can equip our members with ready and relevant information. It shouldn’t be cumbersome or laborious to get the information needed to stay administratively ready to deploy.
At this point, you are probably thinking that all sounds nice, but it still takes a half-hour at times to log into any given Navy system. I wish we could say that’s a future capability we have in development, but that challenge is one of the biggest issues in the IT world.
For IT workers there are two opposing forces. You have security on one hand and convenience on the other. We constantly try to find the happy medium between the two, but at times it’s quite difficult. All of the systems Sailors are required to use have to err on the side of caution when it comes to information security. Sure, if enemy forces intercepted your request chit it probably wouldn’t affect us negatively in the realm of Great Power Competition, but aggregated information presents a problem.
If the entirety of a single system was compromised it could be a big concern in regards to operational security and the safety of our Reserve Sailors. We want to be careful how we manage data being used for the mission and how we handle data being used to help us manage the force. We see that on our side, but if you’re looking at it from the member’s perspective, sometimes what you see is a hard system — and that may be by design.
When we think of our solutions, security is first. But after that, it’s all about enabling the force to get work done seamlessly. There’s a long road ahead of us, but as long as we stay the course, we’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m always reminding our staff to work from the Reserve Sailor’s perspective. We have to continue to ask the right questions about how to get the task done. How do we get this member on orders, how does this training or administrative requirement get accomplished, and how do we do it in the minimum number of steps possible — that’s efficiency to lethality.