Sailors may soon be able to use smart phones to request reenlistment, find their next duty assignment and take care of admin-related paperwork as the Navy plans to pull the trigger on a massive information technology transformation.
Navy personnel officials are already working on a new, single computer system, a critical hurdle in the sweeping personnel reforms that will assist in managing day-to-day details and change how sailors are assigned, promoted and retained.
Sailors could begin seeing the effects of the change as early as this year.
The Navy will ask an array of well-known American tech companies to provide options for off-the-shelf technology to convert Navy's lumbering bureaucracy and outdated data systems into a cloud-based portal with easy-to-use apps.
"We’re going to roll this out pretty quickly," Vice Adm. Robert Burke told Navy Times in a recent interview.
"We are going be able to make all of our transactions services completely mobile accessible. If you get married, you take a photo of your marriage certificate and upload it and you’re done. You’ll never have to go to the office to do it."
The Pentagon recently granted the Navy a first-of-its-kind authorization to consolidate service members’ personally identifiable information in a cloud-based system. Until now, all personnel data was maintained on Defense Department servers and internal information systems.
The changes will reach far beyond being simply a more user-friendly app for sailors to file paperwork.
The sweeping IT systems update will consolidate more than 50 existing databases, some of which date back to the 1960s and use a patchwork of antiquated coding languages like Fortran and Cobalt. Those technologies have severely limited the Navy’s ability to effectively manage its modern workforce.
Unlike many military systems that are built from scratch and take years to develop, the Navy plans to contract with a private-sector tech company to use existing systems that will allow an almost immediate impact.
The Navy will begin testing a new pay and personnel system this summer at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes. Initially, it will run alongside the current system while working out any preliminary hiccups.
After that, the system will be updated incrementally to add new features that will be available to sailors via the My Navy Portal.
Right now, the Portal is a leading resource for pulling from as many databases as possible, but it's not all inclusive.
The database has long been identified by Navy personnel officials as the key that unlocks future possibilities for sailors. But officials went about it in a measured approach over the past four years and believe that improving what they have is a better choice than starting over again.
In 2013, Navy Personnel Command was just taking control of the Personnel Support Detachments from Navy Installations Command as officials sought to fix problems that resulted in massive personnel cuts for military and civilian workers.
Burke's predecessor, now-Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran, often referred back to IT modernization as the key to putting record management in the hands of sailors.
Burke believes the new system is key to making progress on the ambitious Sailor 2025 plan that will modernize how the Navy manages and interacts with its personnel.
That plan includes many of the details outlined by officials in the rating modernization plan last fall. Though officials nixed the elimination of rating names, all the other developments remain on the table
but will require this new mega-database to pull off.
The new database will easily track subspecialties of each sailor as well as a detailed account of their training history. As a result, officials will be able to project what additional training sailors should receive.
The greater detail of the future IT will also impact reenlistment bonuses and incentives.
"We see this being tied into tailored compensation," Burke said.
Burke envisions a Navy personnel system where reenlistment bonuses are just one type of incentive. The database can explore enlisted sailor past retention behaviors to "set the market" for present and future bonuses.
"They could say that ‘Hey, staying in San Diego for the next three tours to get my children through high school is more important to me than a higher [reenlistment bonus].' I think we could achieve that," Burke said.
The idea here is that incentives currently offered to stay in the Navy don't always jive with the needs of the sailor. Officials say it's not always about the money. Instead, being able to mix and match to meet needs of both the Navy and the sailor is the goal.
Sailors might receive smaller bonuses but be guaranteed a home port. Others might accept the Navy's critical need billet, but net more money and advanced training along the way.
Capabilities of the new technology should also better prepare sailors for their next job. New data can be cross-referenced with the year-old Billet Based Distribution system to identify the skills necessary for every job in the fleet.
Instead of the clunky career information systems of today, they plan to replace job hunting with something more like Linkedin, available to sailors through any number of electronic devices.
The end result is that Navy officials can ensure they've got the best sailor for the job, or at least identify necessary training to better qualify the sailor.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.