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500-Day Plan Rouses Dialogue

March 2006
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 
Command and control centers used in operations as well as in bilateral and multinational exercises rely on information technology to provide situational awareness. The U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 (CIO/G-6) 500-Day Plan is facilitating the discussions between senior leadership personnel to ensure the service can continue to meet the needs of the Army’s Campaign Plan.
Measuring progress ensures U.S. Army programs stay on track.

The U.S. Army is synchronizing its information technology efforts for the future by increasing and improving communication among senior leaders. The primary vehicle for this effort is the service’s Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 500-Day Plan, which was revealed last fall. In addition to outlining the Army’s vision, mission, goals and objectives, the strategy calls for regular reporting from high-level personnel in charge of achieving the initiatives it sets forth and measuring progress.

The plan comprises six strategic goals, which are subcategorized into major initiatives. Developing and maintaining a secure, seamless, interdependent network is the first goal. The second addresses knowledge management needs. Information assurance has been elevated to the level of a goal because of its importance to military operations. Ensuring information management and technology investments is the fourth goal, while the fifth focuses on Army personnel. The final goal concentrates on delivering an integrated enterprise strategy.

According to Maj. Gen. Conrad W. Ponder Jr., USA, chief integration officer, Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 (CIO/G-6) at the Pentagon, while the 500-Day Plan originated with determining the vision, mission, goals and objectives, it soon became apparent that more details were needed at the objective level. At the direction of Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, USA, the Army’s chief information officer, specific initiatives were created. “Gen. Boutelle said, ‘Let’s get something that people can get their arms around, tangible programs that we can communicate to Congress and we can communicate to contractors to give them an idea of which direction we’re going in at a high level.’ The 500-Day Plan allows us to communicate our vision and mission. Without the tangibility and measurability, it’s very difficult to make something happen,” Gen. Ponder says. The plan explains the direction in which the CIO/G-6 is heading not only to the community outside the Pentagon but also to those within the CIO’s office, he adds.

Development of the plan occurred under a number of guidelines. The 500-day time frame was chosen because goals for a longer term are very difficult to consider given the uncertainty of world events today, the general explains. Also, Gen. Boutelle requested a concise document that could be easy to use and referred to often. Consequently, the plan presents an overarching view of initiatives but does not include time frames or budgetary items.

October 1, 2005, was the first day of the 500-Day Plan, and the Army did not waste any time in moving to what Gen. Ponder calls the execution phase. The first meeting between managers and senior leaders took place in November 2005. “There was a very effective dialogue in that initial meeting. We did find out that we’re very much time-constrained, but the dialogue was very effective. We first thought we would have just the directors and general officers meeting. But now, we’ve expanded that to have the division chiefs come in because the lesson learned was that it was very good for accountability and measurement. They understood from the discussion going on there what was getting done, what the priorities were,” Gen. Ponder explains. A full-day off-site meeting with all senior leaders and Gen. Boutelle will be held every four months, he adds.

The general emphasizes that these meetings are not briefings but rather discussions. This methodology is very important, he says, because it ensures that both other members of the senior managerial staff and the Army leadership understand what issues they are grappling with.

To assist in assessing the status of programs, the managers use a dashboard approach, which illustrates a program’s progress as red, yellow, green or gray. Gray indicates that a program has not yet started or has been canceled. Gen. Ponder explains that red is not always an indication of failure. Instead, it could indicate the need for additional help in accomplishing certain tasks. Likewise, green may not always signify that the program can be ignored. Rather, it may point out that, because the program is on track, resources can be used more effectively in another area.

“It’s a paradigm shift, and it emphasizes the balanced scorecard approach. I’m excited about it because we’ve seen the dialogue. In a resource-constrained environment—which is where we’re headed—we have to be sure that every dollar we’re spending supports the Army’s vision, mission, goals and objectives,” the general says.

Another aspect of the 500-Day Plan is Army portfolio management, which is part of the service’s second strategic goal to transform processes, applications and data into network-centric capabilities across the Army. The initiative leverages the Lean Six Sigma approach, a methodology that engages leaders in analyzing processes to find efficiencies. The technique originated in the communications equipment and automobile manufacturing industries, where it has been applied to the production line. The Army is reviewing its systems to determine which ones can be combined or eliminated. The goal is to reduce redundant systems by 80 percent by fiscal year 2007.

This work feeds into an effort within the third goal of improving information security. One of the major initiatives is to begin to reduce the number of Army processing centers from more than 200 to seven. David Raes, senior associate, Booz Allen Hamilton Incorporated, McLean, Virginia, is working within the CIO/G-6 as a strategic planner. He explains that the Army does not have area processing centers per se; however, every installation and every command is its own processing center—which totals more than 200 in the continental United States alone.

“With Gen. Boutelle’s vision, we can elevate above the installation level and consolidate processing into regional centers as opposed to doing it at every installation. There’s some efficiencies to be gained with that and also security,” Raes says.

The Army currently has an information assurance architecture with the best available protections technology allows; however, resources do not allow the service to strengthen all 200-plus entry points into the network with the most up-to-date solutions. Consolidation will enable the Army to operate within budgetary constraints while improving security, he adds.

 
The 500-Day Plan aims to create efficiencies so the service can put the latest technologies in the field as soon as they are available. Today, personal digital assistants are not only a key tool for businesses but also essential for warfighters in the battlespace.
But consolidation will require some degree of interoperability, so to ensure systems can work together, the Army is expanding its interoperability testing capabilities. The Army’s Central Technical Support Facility (CTSF), Fort Hood, Texas, already tests the interoperability of tactical systems, and under the 500-Day Plan, the facility will be expanded and used to test the interoperability of applications servicewide.

But the push for interoperability does not stop there. To ensure the Army’s systems are in line with other armed forces’ systems, this initiative is being taken one step further, Raes notes. “The Joint Staff and Gen. Boutelle are working together to leverage the CTSF as a JITC [Joint Interoperability Test Command] capability. So, for instance, if it’s an Army application that needs to be jointly interoperable—to get the stamp of approval from JITC—once it’s CTSF-certified, it can skip that joint step if it meets the gates that JITC is asking for. They’re coordinating now to ensure that CTSF meets all the JITC requirements for interoperability,” he relates.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, USA, approved the operations plan for the interoperability testing facility, which was moving through the resource allocation process earlier this year. The goal is to complete certification of the center within the time frame of the 500-Day Plan, Raes says.

Gen. Ponder says that the ability to measure activity and progress is one of the most beneficial attributes of the 500-Day Plan. By delineating specific initiatives, results can be measured against goals. This assessment can be done in a number of areas, including time, resources and effectiveness. The effort has posed some real challenges, the general admits, because traditionally evaluation has been done only in the tactical and operational arenas.

“We’re measuring all the parameters that we laid out, and let me tell you, that is not easy. It forces people to really think through what they’re doing. They can come up with measures that don’t make sense a lot of times. In activity, for example, you don’t measure the number of meetings you went to. We want to measure outcomes. What are the outcomes? They may not be as tangible as 50 percent of this or 50 percent of that, but here’s the outcome we desire. Where are you in getting there? So it does require some creativity and some contract management,” Gen. Ponder states.

The plan also facilitates dialogue by providing a framework for discussion so that managers can report where a project stands and in which areas they may require assistance. This focused exchange helps identify the leaders’ roles and is a reality check for all personnel involved in the process, he adds.

Another important benefit of the plan is the synchronization it sets in motion, and as chief integration officer, this is one of Gen. Ponder’s primary tasks. He gathers together the members of the different directorates before meeting with leadership so they can collaborate and coordinate. In the past, this synchronization has not taken place because operational tempo has been so high and the venue did not exist to facilitate these types of discussions, the general says.

Although the 500-Day Plan offers many benefits, it poses some challenges as well. Unquestionably, top among these is executing the transformation of the Army while conducting a war, Gen. Ponder says. Priorities sometimes need to be shifted to meet current operational needs, he notes.

Resources are another challenge; however, the general points out that the plan is helping in this area. “We have a lot of industry partners that need to see what direction we’re going in. We have constituencies—legislative people—who don’t need all the details, but they need to see basically where we’re going and that’s what the plan provides,” he says.

The cultural changes many of the initiatives may instigate also present a challenge. Sharing the vision, mission, goals and objectives as well as organizing the initiatives in a published plan is one way to alleviate some of the anxiety that arises in this regard, Gen. Ponder says. Using a systematic approach does not change the culture but rather changes the way personnel view processes and procedures.

Raes asserts that support from senior leadership is the best way to address many of the challenges the 500-Day Plan poses, and Army leaders are certainly coming through. Gen. Boutelle has committed to meeting monthly with senior leadership to review the initiatives, and the staff has responded. “It was really refreshing to see the O-6s—the guys who really are the action officers—in the back of the room during that first review saying, ‘We need to be here every time’ because the interaction between Gen. Boutelle and their [directorate] leaders was invaluable. The time we’re having with the general is golden, and it’s an investment,” Raes says.

And the commitment the general requires from senior leadership personnel is equally important, he notes. “Gen. Boutelle is saying, ‘I don’t want your action officer briefing me. I want you briefing me. And if you can’t be here for a good reason, then your deputy is going to be there. And if you want to bring a subject matter expert with you, that’s OK, but you’ll be there, and I’m going to be looking at you to answer questions.’ That’s really big,” Raes relates.

Industry also has an important role in executing the 500-Day Plan, he adds, because resources are constrained and likely to be reduced. “We’re getting notifications of more and more cuts. We need to have the contractors and industry leaders help us to be more effective and more efficient. Looking at the Army from the outside, they have a very unique perspective and can see things that we get buried in. Gen. Boutelle looks to industry as well as his senior communicators who are retired general officers to help him. He’s looking at industry for those lessons learned, the research they’re doing, and saying, ‘Let’s not have the Army relearn a lesson that’s already been learned somewhere else,’” Raes says.

 

Web Resources
U.S. Army Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 (CIO/G-6): www.army.mil/ciog6
CIO/G-6 500-Day Plan: www.army.mil/ciog6/docs/CIOG6_AUSA05.pdf
Chief Integration Office, CIO/G-6: www.army.mil/ciog6/offices/CXO.html