By Maj. Michael R. Hannah and 1st Lt. Ashleigh R. LinkMarch 6, 2018
To ensure readiness for the generating and operating forces, sustainers must understand the procedures for fielding the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army). GCSS-Army is the Army's newest logistics information system. It is internet-based and more auditable than standalone legacy systems.
The 198th Infantry Brigade leaders at Fort Benning, Georgia, identified the need to share their recent GCSS-Army fielding experience in order to help midlevel managers identify the most critical steps for a successful GCSS-Army conversion. The leaders facilitated the brigade's conversion by dividing the fielding procedures into three phases: preparation, fielding, and post-fielding.
THE PREPARATION PHASE
Preparing for the GCSS-Army fielding requires intensive leadership and should begin months, if not a year, prior to conversion. Overlooked steps will delay a unit's conversion and result in more time spent correcting errors than gleaning knowledge from the fielding team. The extensive checklists provided by the fielding team are indispensable. Prioritizing management, achieving leader buy-in, and using correct templates will help units manage resources during this phase.
MANAGEMENT. Begin by identifying the managerial alliance. In many units, this will be the property book officer, brigade and battalion S-4s and noncommissioned officers-in-charge, Army civilians, and maintenance technicians. The managerial alliance must be available throughout the fielding process to guarantee knowledge continuity during the conversion.
LEADER BUY-IN. Achieving leader buy-in for the fielding process is paramount to a successful conversion. Units may resist the change because of their familiarity with legacy logistics information systems. However, they must understand that resisting change and failing to prepare will delay the transition and cause massive disruptions in daily sustainment operations. Leader emphasis will encourage subordinates to complete training, establish a realistic timeline for conversion, appropriately disseminate tasks, and correct conversion errors. In the 198th Infantry Brigade, company-level leader involvement allowed for a successful transition in the business area of supply management.
TEMPLATES. In the preparation process, leaders work with the fielding teams to identify templates and administrative authorities, correct property errors, and complete online training. The 198th Infantry Brigade learned the necessity of templates firsthand. Because administrative authorities for the master driver had been left out of the template, users were constantly submitting help desk tickets after the conversion to correct associated errors.
Having the correct template will lead to achieving the proper administrative authorities. Achieving these authorities is essential to onboarding unit-level clerks to perform their functions. Not achieving the authorities in a timely manner will disrupt the supply and maintenance capabilities of the unit. If an operator cannot get into the system, then supplies will not be invoiced, vehicles will not be electronically dispatched, and a commander must revert to assigning property manually using a hand receipt.
THE FIELDING PHASE
The fielding phase may be the main event of the GCSS-Army conversion, but it is by far the easiest of all three stages for a unit that is ready. A midlevel manager's efforts are divided into three areas: final preparations, time considerations, and validation.
FINAL PREPARATIONS. As a unit approaches its conversion date, there are many considerations, but the most important one is that the unit will be shut off from ordering supplies for several weeks. Therefore, the unit must work diligently to identify any shortfalls in meeting their 60- to 90-day supply requirements. However, supply support activities were fielded GCSS-Army during Wave 1, so they will still be able to support units during the Wave 2 fielding. Therefore, a unit can still receive limited supplies but will have to input the materiel release orders into GCSS-Army after the conversion. Property accountability is essential during the conversion process. The fielding process is not perfect, and the final storage locations do not always reflect the sub-hand receipts from before the conversion. The unit will need to ensure that the sub-hand receipt holders sign for their property again to ensure all requirements are met in accordance with applicable Army regulations.
VALIDATION. The accountability process is very important as units scrub their property books for items after they "go live" with GCSS-Army. The issues that can arise during validation are missing property, property listed on the wrong hand receipt, and the inability to order because of a lack of connection with the budget department. Many people will be working behind the scenes to help resolve these issues, and they will be resolved as long as the appropriate people are involved. The brigade and battalion S-4s and noncommissioned officers-in-charge, maintenance technicians, and the property book officer should begin communicating with their subordinates on the first day. Identifying errors and resolving issues before the fielding team departs is critical. Units should ensure junior enlisted members are given a platform to communicate their issues.
TIME. For the fielding phase, time is the last consideration for a successful conversion from legacy systems to GCSS-Army. Military personnel have other duties assigned that arise on a daily basis, such as force protection and charge of quarters, which affect personnel availability. While these competing requirements are important, leaders should not allow them to derail the conversion and training processes. If other tasks take priority, the opportunities afforded by over-the-shoulder training will be minimized. Over-the-shoulder training gives Soldiers focused, hands-on experience with the new system. If Soldiers do not have adequate time to learn, they will not understand the conversion holistically. They may not be able to manage a property book, or the unit will lose time when supplies are not ordered.
The final phase begins as the fielding team departs and the unit begins to navigate GCSS-Army independently. The main considerations during this phase are understanding the resources offered by the GCSS-Army help desk and maintaining professional relationships.
RESOURCES. Units will stumble onto challenges after the conversion, but there are resources to correct these issues. Leaders should foster a learning organization by instructing operators to first consult the end-user manual. If the manual does not have the answer, users can consult the GCSS-Army help desk. The GCSS-Army help desk can often see the Soldiers' problems and assist remotely. This is just one advantage GCSS-Army has over isolated legacy systems.
RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships are the final piece in a successful transition. As with any other change in a sustainment function, such as a shift in dining facility hours or an added step in the vehicle dispatching process, not all end users will be completely satisfied. The most common obstacle managers will face is personnel turnover. New Soldiers will arrive at units having completed only the online training, and they may be the sole sustainers in their companies. To keep little problems from becoming big ones, managers must remember that everyone is trying to achieve the same outcome. Remember that GCSS-Army operators are learning as well; use this opportunity to understand their dilemmas. This provides an opportunity to build cohesive relationships and rapport by sharing knowledge.
Thanks to company commander and first sergeant involvement, the 198th Infantry Brigade was able to convert to, train on, and implement the system with ease. If everyone in the unit remains composed, proactive in their customer requirements, and focused on the end state, all fielding problems will be resolved. Leverage experience, be proactive leaders, and use all available supporting resources.
Maj. Michael R. Hannah is the 198th Infantry Brigade S-4. He holds a master's degree in agriculture from Stephen F. Austin State University and is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.
First Lt. Ashleigh R. Link is the assistant brigade S-4 for the 198th Infantry Brigade. She holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from the Pennsylvania State University.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.