Innovation through agility: Building the Army's Integrated Personnel and Pay System

By Col. Gregory S. Johnson, Chief, IPPS-A Functional Management DivisionSeptember 18, 2018

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WASHINGTON -- In late November 1941, the U.S. Army's 11th Cavalry -- the Blackhorse Regiment -- was ordered to travel through Southern California to Camp Lockett, a small outpost located about one mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. Their mission was to protect the San Diego and Arizona Railway from possible Japanese sabotage. Fears of an attack on the railway would ultimately prove to be unfounded as Japan focused on the Pacific Theater.

Nevertheless, the 11th Cavalry's journey to Camp Lockett would make history. The horse mounted Blackhorse Regiment traveled nearly 90 miles through arid and rocky desert terrain in just under two days. It would be the Regiment's last-ever mission executed as a horse mounted unit.

By June of 1942, America's involvement in World War II placed new requirements on the Army and the U.S. military as a whole. It demanded the Army adopt a newer, more modern concept of war. As a consequence of this evolution, the 11th Cavalry was inactivated as a horse mounted unit, transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, and reactivated as the 11th Armored Regiment. The Army had officially moved from riding horses to driving tanks.

Today's Army finds itself with a similar dilemma: how to deliver warfighting capabilities in an environment increasingly defined by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war. The United States currently faces a host of challenges from adversaries spanning the globe and we as a nation are "facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order." The growing complexity of the global security environment provides the imperative for us to modernize.

While modernization ensures the American warfighter is equipped with the most capable weapons systems and equipment, it also applies to the processes and infrastructure that drive the management and pay of the Soldier -- the Army's most valuable resource. Currently, the Army utilizes approximately 200 human resources and pay systems to process routine transactions -- none of which are standardized across our Active, National Guard and Reserve components. This fragmentation and lack of standardization presents challenges to Soldiers and commanders alike, and detracts from the overall readiness of the Total Force.

For example, a recent Army Inspector General report showed that roughly 29 percent of all formal Soldier inquiries submitted in fiscal year 2015 dealt directly with personnel and pay issues. A subsequent investigation found that commanders struggled to keep up with administrative requirements, in large part due to the Army's HR and pay systems not being integrated. Overall, the research reveals that "the current Army HR automated systems at brigade and below lack the capability to create, route, and track awards, leaves, and promotions from initiation through completion" among other problems that place burdens on Soldiers and commanders and threaten mission readiness.

Our current HR and pay environment limits the Army's ability to effectively facilitate modern capabilities, including talent management. Today's environment is rooted in the industrial age and we need to take it into the 21st century.

To that end, as part of the Total Force Policy, the Army mandated the employment of an integrated personnel and pay system that standardizes business practices, provides authoritative data for military personnel, and facilitates a continuum of service across all three components. The Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Army, or IPPS-A, is our solution to a decades-long problem of inefficiency and data inaccuracy that has plagued the Total Force.


The Army first set out to develop IPPS-A at a time when the Department of Defense was struggling to integrate HR and pay capabilities for the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Recognizing the urgent need to modernize, the Army launched its own initiative to build a system tailored to the specific needs of the Army community and improve access, timeliness and accuracy of records for each Soldier. IPPS-A's objective is to fully operationalize HR and pay while simultaneously adding a talent management capability; an ambitious effort, given the bureaucratic complexity and multi-component structure of our nation's premier combat force.

Since we began this effort, the IPPS-A team has made significant progress towards building a system that will totally transform our Army's HR and pay processes. In the last 25 months, our program executed over 660 critical engagements with diverse stakeholders. We've engaged with stakeholders across the Army including leaders and commanders at all levels -- from the Pentagon to the battalion -- HR professionals, and most importantly, our rank-and-file Soldiers. These engagements are critical to ensure we capture and apply the feedback of those who will use IPPS-A as part of their day-to-day activities. In addition, we have kept key decision makers and stakeholders at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Headquarters U.S. Army, and Congress informed at every turn to solicit their support and ensure they are aware of our progress.

To date, our progress is based on our ability to operate as cross-functional agile teams. As defined in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "Conditions are ripe for agile teams in any situation where problems are complex, solutions are at first unclear, project requirements are likely to change, close collaboration with end users is feasible, and creative teams will outperform command-and-control groups." In other words, the current condition of the Army's HR and pay environment is optimal for agile execution.

The IPPS-A program enables teams of Total Force Soldiers and Army Civilians to work together as a triad to customize and tailor commercial off the shelf, or COTS, products to meet the unique needs of the Army. We leverage the expertise of subject-matter experts, PeopleSoft developers, Army Commanders, HR and finance professionals, data integration developers, testers and many others filling diverse roles. And by using COTS software, we will ultimately allow the Army to rapidly modernize and update like private-sector organizations.

IPPS-A's teams function differently than the typical Army chain of command. Each team is "largely self-governing: senior leaders tell team members where to innovate but not how. They also work closely with internal and external customers. This puts responsibility for innovation in the hands of those who are closest to customers." This structure enables our IPPS-A team to utilize a user-centered design process and facilitate events that consistently integrate the user early and often. We listen to feedback from the field and build the system in phases, with each phase delivering some value and improving upon the next delivery.

For instance, our User Juries provide Soldiers and Army Civilians the opportunity to actually use the system and provide feedback on various features and functionality. IPPS-A uses operational mission scenarios to showcase how the system will improve the lives of Soldiers, commanders and HR professionals, and these events also serve to train, develop and transition the Total Force in advance of IPPS-A's deployment. Practical, hands-on, side-by-side assistance is recognized by the Army for not only supporting proficiency and readiness at the unit level, but also strengthening the relationships between HR and finance professionals pre-IPPS-A, collaboration that is essential to successfully executing the system.


In the 1940s, the Army realized that while effective in the past, mounted cavalry -- like the Blackhorse Regiment -- were no longer adequate to fight in modern conflicts. So too are the fragmented personnel and pay systems that serve our Army today. Modernization is imperative, and the IPPS-A program remains committed to delivering a single, integrated personnel and pay system to all components. Only through harvesting industry innovation can IPPS-A expect to solve the Army's larger, more-nuanced problems of personnel and pay.

"It is essential that the technical competencies of the Army, its battle labs, and laboratory and development systems be focused in two ways," said Dr. Bruce D. Jette, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. "First, to know what is being developed commercially which may benefit the Army and, second, what must be developed by the Army because of its unique military value."

IPPS-A must be developed. Moving forward, the program will continue leveraging agile teams to innovate and formulate solutions to the challenges of building an integrated personnel and pay system. We will also continue listening to feedback from stakeholders at all levels as we rely heavily on this input to improve the utility and usability of the system. Only through your overt support can we bring this transformation to fruition.

The IPPS-A program is currently on track to roll-out initial capabilities to the National Guard in 2018/19 and achieve full operating capability for the entire Army by fiscal year 2020. As we work toward full operating capability, we remain committed to developing a system that embodies the mantra of "One Soldier, One Record, One Army" and we are going to get this done for the Total Force.

(Editor's note: The topic of Army talent management, including IPPS-A, will be discussed at the upcoming Association of the United States Army annual conference on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2-4 p.m.)

Related Links:

STAND-TO! The Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Army Increment II, Release 2

STAND-TO! The Integrated Personnel and Pay System- Army Release 1