As conflicts become more complex and uncertain in the 21st century, quick pivots to new technologies will become increasingly important. The starting point for this rapid fielding must begin with more frequent, and more relational, lower level warfighter-technologist interaction.
The Defense Department has a spending problem and must be reined in. The solution, however, goes far beyond simplistic budget cutting efforts such as across-the-board sequestration. It involves a fundamental cultural shift from both our appropriators and our subordinate-level commanders.
Uncertainty reigns in warfare, and it is impossible to fully understand the intentions of a capable, thinking adversary in the midst of conflict. Yet, the best counter to this is to have equally adept and creative personnel able to recognize that warfare does not merely consist of armed clashes, but the combination of moral, psychological, economic and political forces.
The next step in the transformation of the U.S. Defense Department systems architecture will be networks defined by software instead of by hardware. Software-based network controls will extend the scope of what currently is limited only to data center operations.
The benefits of virtualization can be extended to thrifty end-users either through public clouds or via private clouds. The time has come to reach out to the millions of user devices that operate in thousands of separately programmable silos that require spending money on labor-intensive overhead. U.S.
Defense Department projects can be brought into a consolidated cloud environment where much lower costs and increased security can deliver immediate benefits.
In last month’s column, I reported that there were 2,904 separately funded fiscal year 2012 information technology budgets. Many of these would be set up to operate their own and incompatible networking, storage, server, operating systems, middleware or control commands.
Among many definitions, the Oxford dictionary defines a silo as a process that operates in isolation. In the U.S. Defense Department, everyone works in separate components. Computer silos have proliferated with the availability of a huge number of customized information technology solutions.
In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) delivered to the House Armed Services Committee a report on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. These ERPs would be replacing legacy systems costing $890 million per year. Replacing such systems would take anywhere from seven to 14 years. However, when the ERPs finally are installed, they would cost up to $207,561 per user and have a payback time frame as high as 168 years.
Any aggregation of computers, software and networks can be viewed as a “cloud.” The U.S. Defense Department is actually a cloud consisting of thousands of networks, tens of thousands of servers and millions of access points. The department’s fiscal year 2012 spending for information technologies is $38.4 billion. This includes the costs of civilian and military payroll as well as most information technology spending on intelligence. The total Defense Department cloud could be more than $50 billion, which is 10 times larger than the budget of the 10 largest commercial firms. So, the question is: How efficient is the Defense Department in making good use of its information technology?
Email is the most attractive application for leading to implementation of a Defense Department enterprise-wide strategy. Email features are generic and functionally identical. It is shared across all components. It is mature. A shared directory of addresses and the security requirements are identical and do not require innovation. Implementing email as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) by an organization such as the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) would offer immediate cost reductions of at least 50 percent. This would serve as a precedent for similar enterprise-wide efforts that could follow.
We now have the U.S. Defense Department information technology enterprise strategy and roadmap. The new direction calls for an overhaul of policies that guide the department’s information systems. Yet, implementation is a challenge, and several issues require the reorientation of how the Defense Department manages information technologies.
The adoption of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) has opened up new opportunities for reducing information technology costs. Now, the U.S. Defense Department must enter this option into its planning.
A smartphone that engages in conversations is the next perturbation that will dictate how the U.S. Defense Department needs to revise its information management practices. The effects of this new technology will reverberate from individual communications protocols all the way to data architectures.
You may remember that old New Orleans house I mentioned in a previous column and its ongoing renovation that so closely matches the process of upgrading legacy federal information technology systems. The house was built in 1890, by true artisans, with thick plaster walls, joists made out of solid red pine or cypress, a slate roof, ornate ironwork, thick wooden floors, nine monstrous fireplaces and all the supporting brickwork that was certainly made for beauty, functionality and durability. However, it was not made for wireless networks, sound systems or any other type of technology innovation.
The word transparency is used in many different places but with different results. Transparency is what we want in Congress, friendships, relationships and processes, as well as in city council meetings, school board decisions, neighborhood association rules and acquisition strategies. However, in today’s world, very few things are opaque—particularly when it comes to the process of government procurement. What should be an extremely transparent process remains one of the most coveted havens of secrecy, power and waste, and we all pay the price.
This is as simple as a tale of two airports.
Last year, as the April 15 tax deadline approached, I realized that I did not have my W-2 statement from the Navy Reserve. I knew it was no problem because all of that information was “easily” available at MY-PAY online. That was simple—“simple” being a very relative term—when I had a Common Access Card (CAC) and reader. However, as a retired 0-6 without a CAC, there was no “simple” button available to make this process work.
We want partners—not vendors.” All of the government-industry days, procurement updates or program reviews offer the constant call for industry to “be our partner, bring us innovation; work with us to enhance the capability for the warfighter or the ultimate end user.” Yet, partnership is a two-way street. Partnership involves communication, open and transparent management of expectations, honest relationships and decisions that allow both sides to manage their requirements. Partnership is not just a word. It takes work to achieve win-win situations—for each side to treat the other with respect and to make good decisions quickly to minimize cost for both sides.
A week ago, I spent three nights in the hospital with my 17-year-old son, who was suffering from severe headaches and uncontrolled nausea. One test after another revealed nothing, and we ended up with a diagnosis of, “Get him some rest, keep something down and hydrate him with IVs [intravenous fluids], and we’ll see.” Needless to say, his dad—a trained submarine nuclear officer and former chief information officer of Navy Medicine—was ready to stand the watch in the hospital. “Get him some rest and fluids…”—a simple assignment—or so it seemed.
With our military stretched among three fronts, our volunteer force is bearing a tremendous burden of OPTEMPO, reduced budgets and political posturing. A recent experience I had with our disabled veterans highlighted the reasons why we do what we do. It may be a good reminder to us all.