Commentary | Nov. 3, 2020

The correct way to attain your C5I solutions—The new C5I requirements intake process

By Shana Brouder, MyCG Writer

What if every unit got to pick and choose which Coast Guard missions they wanted to perform? A piecemeal approach to operations doesn’t work for a cohesive service, and it doesn’t work for buying technology either. The Office of C5I Capabilities (CG-761) recently released new guidelines to the workforce on how to properly submit a C5I requirement request–the C5I requirements intake process for identifying solutions to root problems.

This revamped process is how operational needs are met with sustainable solutions, which include both material and non-material solutions. Material solutions are physical assets–hardware, software, and other tangible things. Non-material solutions include training or process improvements and are things that solve problems but are intangible. 

Members need to submit their C5I needs through this new intake process before any solution can be put into place. In the past—although there was another system in place—many technological solutions often fell short of addressing big-picture needs and were not aligned to the Coast Guard’s collective mission. 

Understanding C5I Requirements

Steven O’Bannan, deputy of office of C5I capabilities, puts it simply: a C5I requirement is a “thing the Coast Guard needs from a C5I perspective.” Although you will find other types of requirements within the Coast Guard, a C5I requirement, at its heart, is an official operational need for an asset that uses an information technology or a communications system in any way.

For example, COVID-19 contact tracing has become necessary enterprise-wide and has transitioned from being a simple need to a formal Coast Guard operational requirement. Thus, the requirement is the need for COVID-19 contact tracing throughout the Coast Guard and the solution is the software. 

The Need for the C5I Requirements Intake Process and Its Benefits 

While it can be challenging to navigate the requirements process, it is vital to the success of the Coast Guard as a whole. The process prevents individuals from finding solutions or making purchases on their own without first determining the requirement or its broader alignment.

“The requirements intake process answers many questions,” said Jeffrey McDowell, also in the office of C5I capabilities, “which ensures the solution found is sustainable as well as successful.”

“We are looking to make solutions that are sustainable to the Coast Guard,” added O’Bannan, “instead of just buying the capability because at first glance it seems like the best fit.” 

The new C5I requirements intake process offers both material and non-material solutions. The emphasis on non-material solutions is what differentiates this process from its predecessor, the Capabilities Requirement Oversight Panel (CROP), which solely focused on producing material solutions to needs. 

“CROP was focused on material outcomes,” said McDowell. “The new process validates that non-material solutions are sometimes the best solutions and holds them at the same level. Why build something, when that asset won’t fix the root cause of the problem?”

In the first three months of the new process applied, the office of C5I capabilities has resolved 137 requests submitted through this new intake process utilizing current systems or solutions. All the requests were resolved by using existing solutions the Coast Guard already owns and operates, saving both time and money. 

What Happens to a C5I Submission 

The C5I requirements intake process is designed to help the entire Coast Guard workforce enter a need through the office of C5I capabilities. For example, if a member in Sector Detroit finds that his accounting process could be improved through new software, they would first visit the C5I requirement intake tool page (CAC access) and answer the following three questions: What do you want to do?; Why can’t you do it?; and What would be your perfect solution?

From there, the submission goes through several rounds of review to understand the root cause of the need. This triaged approach (referenced in the graphic) allows the office of C5I capabilities to ensure they are the best office to answer this problem. Sometimes the submission is rerouted to another office when a C5I capability will not solve the problem, and other times it is routed to a higher level to ensure the most appropriate response is found. 

This new approach, which is designed to be trackable by all parties, focuses on the root cause of a need and treating that root cause, rather than focusing on acquiring a new piece of technology for every concern. It intentionally brings all parties involved into the process to highlight why a certain solution is being chosen as the right one, whether that solution is material or non-material in nature.

Currently, it takes less than 30 days for a solution to be provided after submission, with the ability to track the request at every stage in the process. This turnaround time from submission to solution is a major improvement from the previous process. However, “this process, and all related processes are still growing,” explained McDowell. 

All C5I requests must go through these steps to be operationalized. “It is critical that individuals, prior to looking at solutions themselves, go through the proper channels to create an official requirement,” explained O’Bannan “We can save them a lot of pain in the process if they come to us first.”

McDowell added, “Let us help develop that requirement, solution appropriately, and find the funding to make it last not just this next year, but for many years to come.”

For more information on this process, please visit the CG-761 website.