Profiles in IT: Change Agent

This manager's guiding $6.9-billion deal with EDS to transform the U.S. Navy's view of e-business, including what might be the largest smart-card rollout ever.

Last October, services provider EDS signed the biggest government IT deal in history—potentially worth $6.9 billion—with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Under terms of the agreement, EDS will supply the hardware, software and technology to create a 400,000-seat network called the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI). The idea, says Dave Wennergren, deputy CIO for e-business and security at the Department of the Navy in Crystal City, Va., is to "buy IT like you buy utilities, as a service, rather than bear the cost of procuring the equipment, maintaining it, replacing it and running help desks."

When it's finished, NMCI will transform the Navy into something like a private-sector e-business, Wennergren says. His job is to find new ways to exploit the intranet. "If you use the highway analogy, I look after the cars. What are we going to do to leverage this great infrastructure we're building? What are we going to do to provide access to the department's intellectual capital on a single enterprise portal? What are we going to do to make sure we have the right kind of security solutions in place so that we can do secure transactions over the Internet and collaborate with industry and academia, and yet know we're not losing our assets along the way?"

The NMCI deal does several things for the Navy. First, it provides incentives to EDS to replace outdated systems—a problem in some government agencies—and keep the network's users satisfied. It should save taxpayer dollars, and it favors off-the-shelf products and technologies. Perhaps most important, though, it lets IT staff get rid of system selection, procurement and maintenance chores and focus on applications. Others in the Department of Defense will be watching the project closely, Wennergren says.

Despite the lofty IT title and the leading-edge projects Wennergren shepherds, he joined what the Navy calls its CIO organization just three years ago to lead its Y2K efforts. Before that, he worked on base closures and reorganizations. He started his career as a management analyst at a Navy field facility in Philadelphia, and has worked for the organization more than 20 years. "My career has always touched on IT," he says, "but I'm not in the CIO organization because I'm a technical person; I'm in the CIO organization because I'm someone who's done a lot of change management."

In his e-business role, Wennergren involved the Navy in the federal government's first-ever online reverse auctions, and he led in the creation of the eBusiness Operations Office at the Naval Supply Systems Headquarters. That organization coordinates e-commerce activities for the Navy and Marines and advises the Defense Department and other government agencies on e-commerce technology and practices. It also funds pilot projects.

If the Navy is going to conduct e-business on the Internet and its new NMCI, it expects those transactions to be secure. Wennergren heads a number of initiatives, both in the Navy and, more broadly, in the Defense Department. Smart cards, which use the same technology as American Express Blue, will give defense workers access to secure computers and networks. From there, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) will ensure that transactions are secure.

"We're in the process of implementing a PKI, in the form of digital certificates on the hardware part, to every active-duty person, every selected reservist, every civilian employee and every contractor that works on-site within both the Department of the Navy and the entire Department of Defense," Wennergren says. "I have to look after the 800,000 people who are going to get smart cards within the Navy, and also make sure that the 3.5 million people in the Defense Department get smart cards over the next two years."

Wennergren reckons he's working on the biggest smart card rollout in the U.S. at the moment, and he's collaborating closely with vendors and standards groups to make sure his efforts are in line with private-sector developments. In fact, close contact with suppliers and other users is a hallmark of Wennergren's IT work. "If you don't understand the issues that industry's grappling with and you can't help industry understand what you're dealing with, then you're just going to fall out of sync," he says.

Finally, Wennergren serves as the Navy's critical infrastructure assurance officer in a Defense Department group that aims to protect military from physical and cyber terrorism. "It's a broad portfolio," he says of his work, "and the only common thread I can see is that they're all exciting and important things that are forcing us to embrace change across the department. There are [many] things going on in the Department of the Navy now. I think leading change is by far the most exciting thing you can do."

About the Author

Bob Mueller is a writer and magazine publishing consultant based in the Chicago area, covering technology and management subjects.

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