The Naval Special Warfare Group 4 (NSWG4) is responsible for development and testing of combatant craft and associated ordinance and equipment. The command is also responsible for the development and evaluation of operational doctrine, tactics and procedures. NSWG4 monitors and certifies the Combat Readiness of assigned craft and SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman).

In the past, NSWG4 has had more than adequate numbers of craft, engines and spare parts. However, with today’s current demand for combat operations, security force assistance (SFA) and fiscal downsizing, NSWG4 had to develop a different business sustainment model to meet missions with fewer assets. This new model includes speeding up the procurement process for craft repairs and spare parts. By decreasing the ordering cycle time for repairs and parts, less craft and assets are required to meet continued customer requirements.

Prior to April 2011, customers manually filled out a lot of paperwork to purchase boat requirements, and routing packages consisting of printed paper forms and substantiating documentation. The manual paper process increased inaccurate purchasing information and there was no visibility into the process. Because customers were unaware of the procurement status, there might be delays that could ultimately force mission-critical boats and equipment out of commission.

NSWG4 set to work to develop a solution to streamline the purchasing process work flows, focusing on the Government Purchase Card Program (GPCP) process as the first target for improvement. Deck plate employees drove the process improvements while senior leadership served as coaches and mentors. Within 6 months, the team had developed and successfully implemented work flow automation that accomplished the three pre-determined goals of providing process (1) visibility, (2) standardization to reduce errors, and (3) accountability.

NSWG4’s new government purchase card program, SWIFT, now standardizes the credit purchase and approval process across all boat teams, while providing visibility, control and an audit trail for all purchases. Stakeholders throughout the approval chain can now track and monitor purchases and buyers know exactly which step they are at in the process through e-mail notifications. The SWIFT program, built using the Business Process Management (BPM) software, BizFlow by HandySoft, is accessible from anywhere with Internet access around the world.

Previously, the NSWG4 relied on antiquated and manual driven processes for their government credit card purchases. Without a standardized government card purchase and approval system, products and supplies could not be tracked; the process was cumbersome and hit or miss, delaying the procurement, approval, and delivery of critical equipment.

NSWG4 worked with RFLogistics, who helped with facilitating the Kaizen event, gathering the business requirements, developing the workflow application and conducting end user training. The SWIFT program delivered immediate and significant spikes in increased productivity, efficiency, and accuracy for NSWG4, and has opened the door for other workflow automation implementations including all contracts, to continue the improvement in delivery of service to support the SEALs in their mission.

There were several key elements that led to success with this program:

  • Incremental change led by employees: NSWG4 applied Lean Six Sigma principles and used the Toyota Production System (TPS) Model to implement incremental change to drive organizational increases in productivity and efficiency. The model from Toyota (TPS) uses small rapid improvement events (Kaizen) led by the employees and mentored by senior leaders to drive projects. NSWG4 is using this methodology rather than the traditional activity based model which mandates meetings, tollgates, excessive charts and measurements. NSWG4 didn’t try to ‘boil the ocean;’ it focused on solving a specific problem.
  • Speed: From defining the process specifications to going live with SWIFT was only six months. Securing buy-in from the stakeholders and end users encouraged active participation as the work progressed, and BizFlow by HandySoft, the COTS solution used as the basis of the implementation, was easy to use and needed minimal customization, delivering most of the requirements out of the box.
  • Cost: Using superior commercial off-the-shelf software that required minimal customization kept development costs down. And because the requirements were clearly defined upfront through the offsite, and leadership really listened to the stakeholders and kept them engaged, the process went smoothly and everyone involved was in agreement regarding what the final product should deliver.

The end result: an immediate increase in productivity, faster, more accurate acquisition process, including purchasing and ordering, standardization, transparency, and an easy to use ad hoc reporting mechanism that provides management with complete process oversight.

For the first time, customers now have visibility into the Government Purchase Card Program (GPCP). Through automation, users can track the status of an order, while the process moves faster and easier, and management is able to measure the process. On 450 requests/month, the average lead-time is now 3.2 days from request to completion – before the implementation of this new workflow automation, the process traditionally took several weeks, with considerable process time variation and major inconsistencies.

The automation for the GPCP using SWIFT provides visibility into the process, standardization, and forcing function for over 6,000 purchases and $5.2 million spent annually. NSWG4 can now measure cycle times, and capture other valuable financial data.

So successful was the implementation at NSWG4 (echelon III command), there are now plans to implement the software throughout NSW (echelon II). SWIFT is now the success model for future process improvement initiatives.

Commander Eric Miller, formerly the Logistics Officer for NSWG4, now works at NAVSEA as the Fleet Support Manager for PEO Submarines. Prior to being recalled on active duty back in 2001, he worked for General Electric, and was actively involved with lean efforts to decrease military engine repair cycle times and commercial aircraft interior completions.