By Maj. Graham Mullins, Test Officer, Mission Command Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command
FORT HOOD, Texas — Very few people care about technical enterprise financial business systems the Army uses until their paycheck deposits stop.
However, in the case of General Fund Enterprise Business Systems – Sensitive Activities (GFEBS-SA), not only does the money have to continue to flow, but the data must be restricted by a user’s need to know.
“GFEBS-SA replaces multiple legacy financial management systems following decades of use and integrates them across the functional business process areas of the Army,” said Mr. Hank E. Payton, Deployment Division Chief for the materiel developer of GFEBS-SA.
The Army is responsible for validating that GFEBS-SA can meet all requirements as defined by the Mission Command Center of Excellence.
Fort Hood’s U.S. Army Operational Test Command (OTC) fulfills this responsibility by planning and executing an operational test to evaluate the system’s performance in a real-world environment, while the Army Evaluation Center (AEC) conducts the actual evaluation.
Original test plans included Fort Belvoir, Virginia as the test team headquarters location with testers located with each unit under test.
“However, due to the COVID-19 environment, test planners had to rethink how to conduct testing in a new normal. The test team decided that the best way to proceed would be to conduct a distributed test with the test team headquarters and testers located at Fort, Hood, Texas, with numerous test units distributed across the country,” said Mr. Doug Pattillo, OTC Operations Officer for GFEBS-SA.
OTC used data from six different geographically dispersed units, including Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), Alexandria, Virginia; National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), Charlottesville, Virginia; the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade (MIB), San Antonio, Texas; the 513th MIB, Fort Gordon, Georgia; Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), Indianapolis, Indiana; and DFAS, Rome, New York.
The testers and units ensured connectivity over both secure and non-secure computer systems to ensure communication flow was smooth as possible.
This alternative testing method added some complexities to the test, but eliminated COVID-19 travel and individual health risks that would have otherwise possibly compromised the health of testers and player unit participants.
“Our goal was to ensure the test was conducted in accordance with U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s standards while also abiding by and continuously reinforcing the COVID-19 safety guidance established by OTC,” said Maj. Mitchell Monette, OTC’s Operations Officer for GFEBS-SA.
The Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) began during July, and according to Mr. Larry Wollenberg, OTC’s GFEBS-SA Test Officer, test operations during the Corona Virus pandemic were uniquely different from any test previously conducted by OTC.
“Specifically, the GFEBS-SA IOT&E was executed remotely through the distributed testing of a classified system — a truly unprecedented event for the OTC because of adjustments made due to the Corona Virus,” he said.
“The team relied heavily on the player units to successfully execute this unusual test event. It is standard practice for the test team’s data collectors to physically observe all financial transactions while recording incidents in a traditional test setting,” said Ms. Valerie Meverden, an Operations Research Systems Analyst on the OTC GFEBS-SA test team.
“Conversely, the distributed testing method used throughout the GFEBS-SA test required the player units to record incidents and email this information back to the testers,” Meverden added.
In addition to manual data collection, the test team used screen capture technology and server management software to create an accurate picture of software performance.
This novel approach, in addition to the COVID-19 risk reduction, resulted in $400,000 of saving by eliminating most of the test team travel, according to Wollenberg.
Wollenberg summarized the test event and said, “By using the distributed testing method, this test created a new standard for OTC and generated a blueprint for future enterprise tests to follow.”
He said the test was challenging to execute, requiring a large degree of adaptation and adjustments, but everyone working together met the goal of test completion in the trying COVID-19 environment.
“AEC received the data required to independently report to Army senior leaders to decide whether or not GFEBS-SA meets the Army’s need, while OTC ensured the safety of the testers and test units,” Wollenberg said.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
OTC taps the Total Army when testing Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. OTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer — the American Soldier.
OTC’s Mission Command Test Directorate tests systems for a net-centric environment that will process and transmit voice, data, messaging and video information through networks at the tactical, operational, strategic and sustaining base levels.