Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.
But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.
Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.
My Recent Content:Alternative Acquisition Approach Offers Promise
Small businesses often lead the pack in innovation and agility, but cumbersome acquisition processes can stall the way forward when working with government agencies. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) hopes to grease the skids between ingenuity and warfighters by offering a streamlined method for carrying out prototype projects and transitioning successes into follow-on production.
The Other Transaction Authority (OTA) methodology offers an alternative to the traditional rules outlined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) process. Congress officially implemented the OTA in 1994 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Congress doubled the dollar thresholds of OTAs that required approvals. In addition, the definition of prototype was broadened to include an analysis, process improvement, hardware and software.
Scott Stewart, technical director, Procurement Services Directorate, DISA, understands that today's innovators in revolutionary and disruptive technologies come from a sector of the economy that faces fewer restrictions in procurement regulations than those the federal government poses. As a result, DISA executes and enters into OTA agreements to leverage leading-edge technologies, while appreciating and accommodating the limitations of these market leaders, he explains.
OTAs offer a streamlined method for carrying out prototype projects and transitioning successes into follow-on production. A prototype project must be directly relevant to enhancing the mission effectiveness of military personnel and the supporting platforms, systems, components or materials DISA may acquire or develop, Stewart explains.
“These prototype projects serve as a preliminary pilot, test, evaluation, demonstration or agile development activity to ‘prove' a technology before entering into a full-scale development effort,” he adds. A prototype project may involve a proof of concept, a pilot, a novel application of a commercial technology or a combination of all of these.
If the prototyping effort is successful, the agency can then move to the production phase, which may or may not be another OTA or the agency might decide to go with a FAR-based contract, whichever is most appropriate.
OTAs can provide greater flexibility and the opportunity to enter into contractual arrangements that more closely resemble commercial agreements; however, they should not be viewed as a panacea of contract perfection. “Traditional contracting, while often seen as cumbersome, has many built-in features that protect the government's rights. For example, data rights and intellectual property [IP] remain with the government if the developed data or IP was government funded,” Stewart notes. Although the government doesn’t give up its rights under an OTA arrangement, its negotiation teams must conduct more due diligence to ensure the government's rights are protected.
Agencies also may be challenged in using a sole-source OTA for requirements more appropriately procured through FAR-based, competitive procedures, Stewart points out. “For this reason, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure the requirement fits the true definition of a prototype and to prevent use of this authority as a way to circumvent fair market competition,” he states.
DISA has a number of ongoing OTAs for projects such as assured identity, mobile endpoint security and continuous authentication. “While these projects are promising, they remain in the prototype environment. It is too early to tell if they will transition into a production phase,” he shares.
Despite his cautiousness about these projects, Stewart is guardedly optimistic about what OTAs ultimately can bring to warfighting. “Tapping into today's leading technologies will ensure the Department of Defense remains the world's strongest fighting force. However, this technology is advancing so fast that traditional contracting methods cannot always keep pace.
“If the agency is successful in implementing a quick, repeatable process for entering into contractual arrangements with market leaders, then we will be able to leverage that same speed to bring advanced, trusted capabilities to the warfighter,” he states.
OTA will be one of the topics discussed at the AFCEA Small Business Innovation Summit on July 26 in Vienna, Virginia. John Nunziato, vice president, SOSSEC Consortium, and Erik Olbeter, advisory board member, National Security Technology Accelerator, will describe how they are being used to obligate fiscal year 2018 funds by September 30 as well as how companies can position themselves for fiscal year 2019 opportunities.
As the tentacles of technology reach further and deeper into mainstream uses, their influence on the job market, man-machine interactions, government agencies and the military will grow exponentially. Capabilities once thought of as fodder for science fiction have become science fact at such unpredictable speeds organizations will need to understand the implications quickly if they hope to take advantage of the benefits they offer and not fall behind the curve.
Among the top technologies most likely to affect the public and private sectors are advanced manufacturing techniques, cloud computing, big data analytics, advanced cybersecurity, quantum computing, mobile communications and computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain.
A recently released overview of these technologies enumerates some of the ways organizations will experience change because of evolving capabilities in the near, mid and long terms. “Technology Vectors” is a quick but in-depth look at the importance, implications and challenges they will bring.
Members of AFCEA International’s Technology Committee create the Technology Vectors presentation annually; however, the material is designed to be updated throughout the year as technologies evolve.
In one section of the presentation, committee members explain how advanced manufacturing will enable organizations to carry out missions more efficiently and effectively. The techniques, which include additive manufacturing, 3D printing and printed electronics, will deeply impact a variety of businesses, from construction to computers. For example, 3D printing and modular units already reduce costs and allow for the improved design of parts, homes, cars and military equipment.
Although these methods only account for about 10 percent of manufacturing today, TechCast Global, which assisted with the report, predicts that high-tech modular units made via 3D printing will make up 30 percent of new construction by the mid 2020s.
The new techniques will certainly bring advantages. For example, more rapid building also means quicker rebuilding, speeding disaster management. For this reason, FEMA is a major proponent of modular building. Hurricane Katrina displaced 1.5 million people and destroyed 200,000 homes in the New Orleans area. 3D printing seems perfect for building emergency shelters after this kind of natural disaster.
Advanced cybersecurity is another highlighted technology. The evaluation surmises that a “Cyber Armageddon” is less likely than a continuing wave of small assaults that wear away at infrastructure and morale. Experts agree that more powerful cybersecurity tools are being developed and will reach the 30 percent adoption level by about 2023.
In examining the future of mobile technology, committee members point out that connectivity challenges remain but predict seamless roaming will occur in the long term.
For more extensive use of wireless technologies within the U.S. Defense Department workforce, overall foundation work needs to be done to reduce the burden on mission owners who must justify mobile expenditures to realize a mobile-first vision. A high-level but comprehensive business case analysis will identify cost areas within the department’s mobile implementation. This must be addressed to allow the benefits of mobility to justify more applications and use cases. However, this work can become the model for deploying virtually all future nonweapon systems new technologies, the report states.
Additional committee members insights into the paths other leading technologies are likely to take in the near, mid and far terms are available online.
The U.S. Air Force is exploring innovative ways to put technology to work and address both warfighter fitness maintenance issues and access to troop fitness readiness data. With the help of AF CyberWorx, a public-private design center, innovators will tackle one of two challenges during a daylong hackathon.
Although usually associated with cybersecurity, this hackathon follows the more general definition of the term: to create usable software. Teams are invited to take part in one of two challenges during the July 11-13 event. The first is to design a wearable fitness application, which is the first step toward creating a “smart” physical training program. The second is to develop an autonomous query tool to help Air Force users and leadership overcome limited access to data by making fitness information available and tailorable through an open application programming interface.
“We’re using this event to fast-track technological innovation to improve the warfighter experience with maintaining and tracking physical fitness and readiness,” says Lt. Col. Cynthia Brothers, USAF, director of strategic engagement, AF CyberWorx.
In conjunction with the hackathon, the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization is offering a $1,000 participation incentive for each team. In addition, and at its sole discretion, the center is authorized to select two hackathon teams to receive a total maximum collaboration incentive of $20,000.
According to Ryan Winstead, partnership manager, CyberWorx, the goal of the wearable device challenge is to help unit fitness program managers (UFPMs) monitor and coach airmen as well as alert key health partners of health issues. “This technology should offer the opportunity for personalized guidance to members who lack motivation or have health concerns,” Winstead explains.
The solution also should feature a database of gathered fitness information. This capability would enable service members to create their own fitness profile and determine goals they want to attain in a specific time frame. It should also allow their data to be monitored in real time by UFPMs so the managers can keep users motivated as well as understand how the whole unit is measuring up to fitness requirements.
The call for the autonomous query tool came from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower, Personnel and Services, which identified the capability as an immediate need. One goal of the second challenge is to develop a tool for the various information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use the information that has been exchanged to answer the query, Winstead explains.
Innovators interested in participating in the hackathon can apply as a team or individuals until June 29. Eligible teams and individuals will be interviewed, and selected participants will be notified by July 3. Approximately eight teams are expected to take part in the hackathon.
The hackathon will begin with a kick-off dinner and introduction on July 11. Participants will then have two days to develop and present a prototype that meets the needs of one of the design challenges. Each team will present its solution to Air Force stakeholders; the solutions will be evaluated based on innovation, quality and technical feasibility, use of data and presentation. Air Force users will be present to provide direct feedback to teams as they work through iterations of their prototype solutions.
The hackathon is attracting interest from people with a variety of different backgrounds, including developers, designers, coders, project managers and business developers, Winstead says.
Previous design sprints AF CyberWorx conducted sparked the interest for this hackathon. These sprints delved into integrating the Internet of Things and smart technologies into the day-to-day life of airmen and Air Force cadets. Participants homed in on making smarter technologies a part of the physical training and testing program for airmen.
AF CyberWorx is the Air Force’s cyber design and innovation center. It educates airmen and cadets while partnering with industry to solve cyber problems the United States faces. Information about AF CyberWorx is available online.
NATO’s power will grow as partnerships between governments and industry combine their strengths to increase security and bring about progress. The challenges nations face are as much about culture and people as they are about finding the right technologies and efficiently introducing them into the networking ecosystem.
More than 600 senior public and private sector leaders met at NITEC18 to learn about emerging capabilities, discuss digital transformation and collaborate to address the challenges NATO is facing today. The event took place in Berlin and was organized by AFCEA International in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Defence.
Supporting the theme of “NATO’s Digital Endeavour: Expanding the Ecosystem,” representatives from the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency), Bundeswehr Cyber Innovation Hub and numerous technology firms discussed the importance of encouraging innovation to truly expand information sharing. The alliance currently is undergoing what leaders have called the single largest technology modernization since the end of the Cold War. Consequently, they are depending on the private sector to understand the goals of the transformation.
During the next 18 months, NATO will be calling for bids on contracts worth more than €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion). The investments will be in areas such as integrated air and missile defense, advanced software for troops and logistics, and information and knowledge management.
Gartner Inc., a company with offices worldwide, was brought in to help NATO create an ecosystem for a successful digital transformation. The company predicts that by 2020, five of the top seven digital giants will willfully “self destruct” to create their next leadership opportunity. Gartner’s study also found that by 2021, 75 percent of digital leaders will dominate a disruptive market segment that did not exist prior to their ascendance. In addition, the company’s research determined that by 2022, platform business models will create new market leaders in 50 percent of all industries.
Encouraging the leadership needed to address these near-term changes, Marcel "Otto" Yon, CEO, Bundeswehr Cyber Innovation Hub, said, “We have too many lawyers and not enough innovators ... too many engineers and not enough scientists ... too many business administrators and not enough entrepreneurs. ... The CEO needs to initiate innovation.”
Dr. Julia Glidden, general manager, global government industry, IBM, echoed this call for inventive thinking. “We have to think about IT infrastructure as becoming a commodity. The limitation is in our mind. Think about the user experience, people, process and culture change. Imagine if we [provide] immediate situational awareness to our warfighters,” she said.
Brig. Gen Jens-Olaf Koltermann, chief of division cyber/IT governance, Federal Ministry of Defence, Germany, also agreed that technology transformation must go beyond tools, techniques and tactics. “Digital transformation is a culture change, not just for a company, but the nation. The IT budget was always the first to be cut. Not anymore,” he stated.
To highlight ingenuity at the event, NITEC18 featured the third annual Defence Innovation Challenge. The competition aimed at accelerating revolutionary state-of-the-art technologies from small businesses and academia that support NATO command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber capabilities. The top ten winners showcased their solutions at the event.
Among the presenters was CybExer Technologies from Estonia. The company described its data visualization tool called Integrated Scoring and Awareness, which conducts complex real-time visualization, comparing data gathered during military exercises. The solution is based on eight years of research and experience in conducting cybersecurity exercises, including NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence’s Locked Shields and Crossed Swords.
InnoVet Europe, supported by the Defence Innovation Greenhouse, presented a solution to meet the public sector’s requirements, including those found in military environments. The Managed Response open-source suite consists of a cloud-native backend for extra resilience and elasticity that enables iOS and Android mobile apps and a mobile web implementation communicate in a secure environment.
Roger Krone, chairman and CEO, Leidos, reported the information technology transformation of NATO’s newest building is 70 percent complete. He credited the success of the project to unfettered access to leadership and seamless cooperation between NATO and its industry partners. Leidos is leading a team of more than two dozen contractors working on the project.
Companies interested in working with NATO should focus its efforts in several areas, the organization’s acquisition experts agreed. They should follow NCIAAcquisition on Twitter but also should understand that the NCI Agency works its own procurements as well as serves as a contracted procurement agency for other NATO countries. In addition, they should have NATO security clearances in place by the bid closing date. Finally, for each opportunity they bid on, prime contractors as well as subcontractors must be deemed eligible by their country's NATO Expert, or NATEX.
A bug bounty program worth a total of $10 million aims at acquiring and developing active cyber-defense capabilities for some of the most popular software programs for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. The public program is offering payouts focusing on quality over quantity to identify and address some of the toughest problems.
Crowdfense Limited, a vulnerability research hub, is sponsoring the program. Payouts for full-chain, previously unreported, exclusive capabilities range from $500,000 to $3 million per successful submission. Partial chains will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and rewarded proportionally. The company will only evaluate fully functional zero-day exploits affecting specific platforms and products, including Windows Chrome remote code execution, Sandbox Escape; and MacOS Safari remote code execution, Sandbox Escape.
The first researcher who submits indisputable proof of a fully working chain within the scope of the bounty program will receive a 10 percent bonus of the designated payout. Researchers also are invited to submit their original work about other products’ working vulnerabilities, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
"We work only with the best vulnerability researchers, focusing on very select capabilities with a highly structured and scientific approach," states Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni, director, Crowdfense. "Now that this originally underground practice has become a strategic high-tech industry, it is necessary to implement good business processes, checks and guarantees for all the parties involved. That is why we built Crowdfense: The market needed a neutral, reliable, law-abiding, process-driven partner to deliver top-quality active cyber-defense capabilities."
A global team of cybersecurity experts, researchers and lawyers developed the company in 2017 to work on some of the largest cyber defense challenges organizations and countries face today. The company plans to offer private challenges to selected researchers through its vulnerability research platform, which will be available later this year.