The App That Started InnovaWe witnessed a historic event this week in Norfolk (July 2011): the last remaining TRMS server at FFC was taken offline. This shutdown had been planned for several years now and was expected to happen long ago with the Full Operational Capability (FOC) of DRRS-N but many thought and hoped that it would never go away. The highly successful app survived almost 20 years and its early success was responsible for the formation of InnovaSystems International, LLC in 1997.
TRMS stands for the Type Commander’s Readiness Management System and was designed to assist each Type Commander (or TYCOM) for Surface, Submarine and Aviation communities on each coast manage data for their primary mission: improving fleet readiness. Prior to TRMS, we developed an app at Lockheed Martin called PCTHAIS (pronounced PC-Thighs) to replace an 80’s mainframe system to track ship casualty reports (CASREPs) using PCs. Jon Jensen was responsible for bringing the system into Lockheed – I’ve asked him to respond to this blog with the details from his perspective. Due to the fact that high-level Navy officials wouldn’t take the “Thighs” name seriously, they changed the name to TRMS in 1992. Our Lockheed team was chartered to helping a government development team at Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic (NCTAMS-LANT) learn the Ada language in DOS and transfer a Database Environment technology developed by the Idaho National Engineering Lab called AdaSAGE.
As a member of the AdaSAGE tech transfer team, I wrote code for a new TRMS module in 1992 called TRAREP which automated the reporting of ship training completions from the surface training manual. The ship version of the app was the very first TRMS Afloat program which helped the ships track training requirements, periodicities, schedules, completions, etc. We developed the app using a process called rapid-prototyping where our team would travel from our office in Idaho down to San Diego each month, spend a few days on each of the delegated beta-test ships who helped design the user interface and workflow, then work with the Ashore command who needed to collect data from all ships to manage training readiness for the Pacific fleet. We delivered a beta-version each month until the app was ready for full implementation on all ships which was about a 12-month process. The app was very successful, primarily due to the ownership and involvement from the ships and ashore users combined with the rapid response of the development team of bringing changes back every month. This drove demand for a series of other TRMS afloat apps to automate other processes including CASREPs, SORTS, etc.
In the mid-90’s, we stumbled on an idea that really got high level attention and funding. Early TRMS was primarily a low-level report tracking tool at the TYCOM used by E3-E5 staff to help their officers build briefs for each department to eventually get briefed to the TYCOM commander. On a whim, we developed an ashore dashboard with drill-down capability that consolidated each of the department’s readiness indicators that essentially automated many of the manual staff functions for the daily, weekly and monthly briefs up the chain. By using color-coded SORTS C-Ratings per unit with the ability to drill down into PESTO and schedule data by resource and primary mission area, the TRMS Readiness Viewer was born. Steve Brower was the main programmer on this with me while we worked with the sponsor, a Navy Commander in DC named Fred Thompson (who now works for OSD on DRRS). Suddenly, our monthly TRMS visits at the TYCOMs changed from working with chiefs and petty officers to training three-star Admirals and their ACOSs of O6s.
In 1996, we obtained a waiver to dump the Ada language and convert the main TRMS Ashore readiness viewer app to Microsoft Access 2.0. Although Ada and AdaSAGE were successful in their time, Windows 3.1, Visual Basic, and the huge library of COTS tools made it clear to us that Ada’s days were numbered. Our Lockheed department had no interest in doing anything other than technology transfer of AdaSAGE (we were not an applications development shop) so we headed out on our own to San Diego to make TRMS more cost effective and innovative using modern technology. With Access, we were able to provide users a self-service BI capability and soon, hundreds of useful reports and graphs were created by users at all six TYCOMs.
We started InnovaSystems in the fall of 1997 shortly after Microsoft released their first web development environment, Visual Interdev, which later became Visual Studio. Early success was based on process and technology innovations by Steve Brower, Chad Christians, Tom Geoffrey, David Roberts, Jim Kilty, Tyler Rothermund, Rudy Mabolo, and Jon Jensen who all started within our first six months. We developed the ship apps in Visual Basic using the same rapid prototyping approach with beta-test ships and converted our ashore apps from Access to Visual Interdev and SQL. The first TRMS web app (release 5.4) officially came out in 1998. Similar to our recent case study of achieving CMMI using TFS, Microsoft used the TRMS app to promote their software (primarily SQL Server) throughout the Navy and DoD. Prior to TRMS, Microsoft had very little market share within DoD, but they used us to give large-audience keynote presentations around the country at Microsoft DoD events. The success of TRMS and Innova attracted attention and additional funding from others within DoD including SPAWAR, Naval Air Forces, Marines, OSD, and DHS.
Key to this success was also our User Experience (UX) process methodology. The ship and ashore users were a critical part of the process as subject matter experts and testers while everyone on the development team learned their business. We spent several days at the beginning of each iteration training the most recent version in a training lab at the TYCOM, then on the ship. While one trainer demonstrated the app on the projector and assigned scenario-based functions to the students, another stood over their shoulders to see how the users worked with the software. We learned valuable information about work-flow and usability in addition to what the software really needed to accomplish. The users took proud ownership of the product and were very happy to see their ideas incorporated into each monthly iteration. We held internal CCBs for the most part with very little oversight from the sponsors. We were able to determine the right balance of simplicity to support the high turn-over of ship personnel with enough useful functions to make their readiness reporting lives easier such as providing the ship users tracking databases to replace spreadsheets. All of the readiness inputs from departments on the ships such as maintenance, supply, training, and personnel were streamlined into TRMS in the Ops Office. The ship maintained accurate, up-to-date information about their own ship so it made good sense to develop or use their systems afloat to create their readiness reports instead of using inaccurate, time-late data from ashore. We never really understood the strategy to develop FOMs ashore to send back to the ships, other than to save costs on afloat development. It’s an area that DRRS-N still wrestles with today, along with the complexity factor that might have been avoided if a dedicated beta-test user community and more TYCOM involvement was used. We don’t attribute this issue to anyone on the development team, the sponsor was simply focused on a new approach to manage requirements at FFC. We are planning to bring this UX emphasis back to the project this year, to support the N00R essential outcome to reduce complexity to the end user.
Early in 2000, under the project leadership of Tom Geoffrey, TRMS R6S2 replaced all legacy R5.4 programs and a big celebration was held in Norfolk where Sue Tysor cut the cake labeled TRMS R54 is dead! From 1997-2005, all Innova employees worked on-site at the TYCOMs (or some military base) and many of us became part of the TYCOM readiness operations. In the mornings, we tracked the TRMS reports from the ships and monitored the flow of the automated briefings to the Admiral. We even trained many of the TYCOM Admirals to use TRMS at their desktop so they could get a daily readiness overview, drill into data such as personnel rotation dates as well as running metrics to support their budgets. Shortly after 9/11, DoD began its emphasis on Mission Essential Task reporting to replace SORTS which started the DRRS-N project and forced TRMS into an LCM cycle. It’s interesting that it took 10 years from when Navy said it was going to turn off TRMS to actually turn it off. I said in my brief at the June 11 IPR that if we had known some of our TRMS apps would still be fielded nearly 20 years later, we might have done a few things differently. But in the end, TRMS was successful in helping thousands of users throughout the fleet improve readiness for DoD. TRMS is decommissioned, but its legacy will live with us forever!
Here’s a shot of most of the original TRMS team who were our company directors in 2006 at a meeting with Dr. Stephen R. Covey:
From Left to Right: Jim Halpin (Director of IT), Evan Arapostathis (Director of HR), Charles Stone (Director of BD), Lynn Hutton (CFO), Steve Brower (Director of Dev), Dr. Covey, Jim Kilty (Director of Test and SPI), Chris Wollerman (CEO), Tom Geoffrey (Director of PM), Marc Moore (Director of Customer Service), Chad Christians (Chief Architect) and Randy Riley (Director of Operations).