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App-Building Like a BOSS

24 May 2022

From Steve Ghiringhelli

NORFOLK - NIWC Atlantic and the Department of the Navy (DON)’s Office of Acquisition, Policy and Budget received the “Leverage Data to Drive Advantage” team award on May 23 during the 2022 DON IT Excellence Awards in Norfolk. The event threw a spotlight on a Marine Corps software factory known as MCBOSS, which the team leveraged to completely overhaul the DON’s official IT system for acquisitions.

Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic took home major honors during the 2022 Department of the Navy (DON) IT Excellence Awards on May 23, highlighting a quickly emerging Marine Corps capability that may help DON mainstream how it develops software.

For data excellence, NIWC Atlantic shared the “Leverage Data to Drive Advantage” team award with the Navy’s office of Acquisition, Policy and Budget for completely rebuilding the Navy’s acquisition system known as “RDAIS” (pronounced “ar-DAY-iss”).

In the individual category, NIWC Atlantic systems engineer Matt Gallucci received the DON IT “Person of the Year” award for his accomplishments as the data team’s chief engineer.

The awards presentation in Norfolk marked the sunsetting of RDAIS 2.0 and the official rollout of RDAIS 3.0.

“The RDAIS 3.0 team showcased how data can be strategically leveraged to achieve acquisition agility,” said Aaron Weis, DON Chief Information Officer (CIO). “The team also embraced and showed the advantages of the ‘DevSecOps’ approach [to software development].

“It was an amazing thing to watch the team retire the current generation and stand up this new capability,” he said.

RDAIS, the information system (IS) used by Assistant Secretary of the Navy (ASN) for Research, Development and Acquisition (RD&A), accounts for every piece of gear, equipment, product, weapons system, ship, jet and ground vehicle in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The RDAIS overhaul took just over one year to complete.

“The accomplishments of our combined team have been both exciting and exhausting,” said Erik Gardner, NIWC Atlantic’s RDAIS 3.0 technical lead. “They executed a monumental task with little to no precedent and took personal risks to organize, behave and think differently. I am very pleased to see how our Navy is celebrating their pioneering spirit.”

DON Chief Data Officer Thomas Sasala called the rapid development and launch of RDAIS 3.0 a significant step forward.

“It is one of the first cloud-native apps we have deployed and the first to fully embrace the DON enterprise approach to data management and electronic data exchanges,” Sasala said. “The RDAIS team should be commended for their forward-leaning approach, commitment to the mission and unwavering focus on the customer.”

MCBOSS

The prestigious DON IT awards threw a spotlight on NIWC Atlantic’s achievement as well as the vehicle that got them there — Marine Corps Business Operations Support Services (MCBOSS).

MCBOSS (pronounced “mick-boss”) is a cloud-native, software-development environment that NIWC Atlantic helped develop over four years ago at the request of Headquarters Marine Corps, whose leaders wanted software development overhauled at the enterprise level.

“The vision for MCBOSS was to provide Marines a secure, user-friendly suite of software solutions that could be quickly developed and delivered across the enterprise,” said Don Yeske, head of the Expeditionary Enterprise Systems and Services (E2S2) Division at NIWC Atlantic, where MCBOSS was originally developed. “That meant everything from your typical office-based scenario to training and sustainment operations to the tactical edge.”

In 2019, MCBOSS moved into the fast lane, after U.S. Marine Corp Commandant Gen. David Berger released his guidance prioritizing a transformational shift from disconnected legacy systems to an “integrated data architecture” that treats data as a critical resource.

“MCBOSS just happened to be at the center of a strategic technological shift in the Marine Corps,” said Peter C. Reddy, NIWC Atlantic executive director. “In addition to more integration with the Navy, the Commandant stressed the need for automation and removing redundant administrative processes from the shoulders of Marines.

“That’s what MCBOSS seeks to accomplish,” Reddy added. “Let Marines focus on warfighting, not time-consuming data entry tasks.”

Importantly, MCBOSS provides a foundation for enabling “DevSecOps” (development, security and operations), a software industry best practice that pairs programmers (Dev) with system administrators (Ops) and embeds security (Sec) every step of the way.

One of the key drivers of the DevSecOps approach is the urgent time crunch the DON is under when it comes to developing advanced, secure capabilities for the warfighter, which can take years for conventional procurements to yield.

“In reality, what you may end up with is a solution to a four-year-old problem,” said Jeff Hays, Enterprise Engineering and Integration Services team lead within the E2S2 Division. “By that time, the problem has changed. Actually, we may not even have that problem anymore.”

In any DevSecOps environment, real-time user experience informs every facet of development. Yeske emphasized how critical it is that process or organizational filters don’t stand in the way. “You can’t say you’re doing DevSecOps if you’re not regularly and directly engaging with your users,” he said.

RDAIS 3.0

By November 2020, the Marine Corps had become strong proponents of the burgeoning MCBOSS software factory, even releasing a requirement that all Marines use MCBOSS — or, as a second option, any other Department of Defense-approved DevSecOps environment.

This coincided with MCBOSS’s highly successful rollout of Technical Data Management – Catalyst (TDM-Catalyst), an app that vastly streamlines data for Marines tracking repair parts and products at the Logistics Integrated Information Solutions program.

NIWC Atlantic’s E2S2 Division played an integral role in developing the TDM-Catalyst app.

Around the same time, ASN (RD&A) asked NIWC Atlantic to overhaul RDAIS. In response, NIWC Atlantic turned to a small team of software engineers working at the command’s Operational Application and Service Innovation Site (OASIS), who recommended leveraging MCBOSS.

“We knew the Navy wanted to move toward cloud computing and modernized approaches to software development,” said Gardner, a founding member of OASIS. “In addition to adopting a new technology, DevSecOps requires a shift in organizational mindsets. Old mentalities have to collide with new ones. But that change in culture requires proving another way of doing business will actually deliver value.”

OASIS, which got its start around the same time as MCBOSS, is an incubator of sorts for software developers who are strong believers in DevSecOps and other agile approaches to software procurement.

The unique OASIS environment is primarily concerned with nurturing a DevSecOps culture at NIWC Atlantic, “evangelizing” the message outside of the command and enabling cyber-ready capabilities throughout the DON enterprise.

“OASIS helps software development teams leapfrog slow-moving, traditional processes to rapidly build, accredit and deliver secure apps, whether in the commercial cloud, an enterprise data center or at the tactical edge,” Gardner said. “But to disrupt the status quo, you need to get down in the weeds, ask pointed questions and constantly evaluate the user’s experience to confirm what is being delivered equals real value.”

In the case of RDAIS 3.0, NIWC Atlantic helped the RDAIS software team — which comprised engineers in Norfolk, Washington and Charleston, South Carolina — to rapidly transition to a modern continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) DevSecOps team, with full access to agile acquisition pathways and approved cloud vendor security authorities at the disposal of OASIS.

Gallucci led the RDAIS 3.0 team to acquire critical contract awards in less than 30 days, an “authority to operate” in an astounding 47 days and an operational CI/CD software factory pipeline that updates the ATO and deploys application improvements weekly.

The result was the first cloud-native DON business app ever developed within MCBOSS.

In the citation, the Navy praised Gallucci’s “fail fast” approach that sought to measure learning, digest performance trends and quickly respond to continuous feedback — all critical facets to the No. 1 consideration of any DevSecOps venture — user experience.

Acquisition professionals using RDAIS 3.0 can now rapidly share data, quicken their decision-making and support enterprise data analysis through the Navy’s “Jupiter” enclave, which acts as a funnel to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Through the success of the RDAIS 3.0 effort, Yeske said MCBOSS can help change how the Navy thinks about software acquisition.

“We never imagined several years ago that Marine Corps modernization in software development would end up effecting major modernization at the DON enterprise level,” Yeske said.

Capt. Nicole K. Nigro, NIWC Atlantic commanding officer, called the RDAIS 3.0 release a “remarkable achievement” considering the reboot was a total tech refresh of such a large and complex system.

“The greater Navy community now understands what we have known all along — NIWC Atlantic has developed a culture of outside-of-the-box thinkers who know how processes work, which strings to pull and what hill is worth dying on to deliver value to the warfighter using DevSecOps,” Nigro said. “I’m so proud of this team and how they leveraged MCBOSS to get the job done. I know they will continue succeeding well into the future.”

DASN APB

In addition to NIWC Atlantic, the RDAIS 3.0 Development Team award included the following analysts and policymakers at the office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition, Policy and Budget (DASN APB) Jaimie Reese: Robert Borka, Dave Tervonen, Meghan Nelson, Nick Tran, Drew Yourish, Jade Settoon, Melanie Dong, Karen LeJeune and Tom Angle.

“This was a huge undertaking to modernize a system that is used by every single acquisition program in the DON,” DASN APB Reese said. “The team’s innovative and agile culture required tools like MCBOSS that don’t let security and authority-to-operate policies slow things down unnecessarily.

“I believe software factories are absolutely critical to how the DON needs to develop and field software in the future,” she added.

Borka, director of Naval Acquisition Policy at DASN APB, said the team used MCBOSS to build a culture of trust, innovation, collaboration and high user engagement to “rapidly iterate and deliver capability on a high cadence.”

“We would not have been successful in our efforts without our Marine Corps partners,” he said. “The MCBOSS partnership enabled us to prove we can build and deliver software within the DON team. As we continue to develop more capabilities in RDAIS 3.0, the strong culture and partnership of this team will continue to support acquisition agility and rigor across the Adaptive Acquisition Framework.”

About NIWC Atlantic

As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.

 

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