Imagine, if you will, the head of the Defense Department's top IT organization, going from one exhibit hall booth to another at a trade show and saying "I need ideas!"
Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett, USA, said that's just what he did Monday night as the 2011 Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Customer and Industry Forum opened its Technology Showcase at the Baltimore Convention Center.
DISA Director Pollett told reporters that he and his senior staff decided on what he described as a "shotgun start," on their first tour of the exhibit area.
"We just kind of worked the room, in terms of telling industry that we were interested in what they were doing," in the areas of digital communication technology .
"I think I got through two rows," of exhibitors, said Pollett, adding, "I do think it's important, if you're going to take the time to engage with people, to take the time to listen to them and hear what they have to say."
Having DISA senior leadership listen to the contractors who create the hardware and software that allow it to manage the military's computer networks - and vice versa - is the primary reason DISA has been holding these conferences for the last several years.
In a wide-ranging speech opening the conference, Pollett noted that in the past six months, the U.S. military has found itself supporting as many as six simultaneous operations, each different in scope, each making different kinds of demands on the Pentagon's information infrastructure, and each providing different "lessons learned."
In describing the military response to the Japanese earthquake, for example, Pollett said that "capacity is not enough," describing the ample bandwidth of network connectivity available to U.S. forces, but ultimately finding themselves stymied by the extensive damage from the tsunami and the later quake.
"If you don't have the diversity (of technologies) to complement capacity, then you truly do not have resilience, and without resilience, you can't assure survivability," he stated.
In Iraq, where Pollett discussed the transition to Iraqi security forces taking over from departing American troops, the challenge has been one of providing network connectivity transitioning from "fiber/terrestrial" to satellite delivered broadband, supporting not only U.S. agencies like the State Department, but other coalition partners.
Pollett noted that escalating cyberattacks against both public and private networks this past Spring made cyberspace the sixth "operation" that was handled by DISA and the newly created Cyber Command.
Pollett also noted initiatives that other military services have initiated to explore better ways of using information technology. The Army has been the lead service in moving military email away from servers sitting at Army bases worldwide to "enterprise email" located in the cloud. The Navy has been using Microsoft SharePoint to better share information at its many ports globally in a model dubbed "enterprise service centers." The Air Force, he says, is developing the service/application environment as a platform, prompting a service-wide review of every software application.
Returning to his entreaties to industry representatives in the audience, Pollett urged them to help him and his DISA staff solve challenges in the areas of mission assurance, cyber readiness inspections, mobile operations, and coalition information sharing.
The DISA Customer and Industry Forum continues at the Baltimore Convention Center through this Thursday.