• Col. Chris Autrey, USAF, chief, Defense Enclave Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, speaking at the AFCEA TechNet Cyber conference on Tuesday, reports that the Fourth Estate Network Optimization Program will increase interoperability across defense agencies and field activities, as DISA migrates to a single network to support them.
     Col. Chris Autrey, USAF, chief, Defense Enclave Services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, speaking at the AFCEA TechNet Cyber conference on Tuesday, reports that the Fourth Estate Network Optimization Program will increase interoperability across defense agencies and field activities, as DISA migrates to a single network to support them.

The Basics of Fourth Estate Network Optimization

December 1, 2020
By Kimberly Underwood
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DISA’s Defense Enclave Services Directorate advances on its five-year effort to aid network use of defense agencies.


The Defense Information Systems Agency’s, or DISA’s, one year-old Fourth Estate Network Optimization Program is progressing. The multiyear, comprehensive, information technology advancement effort, which runs through fiscal year 2025, will bring improved network capabilities, connectivity, cybersecurity and user assistance, leaders claim.

A year ago, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist designated DISA to lead the effort to optimize networks and services as part of the Defense Department’s (DOD’s) larger information technology (IT) reform activities. Within DISA, the Defense Enclave Services Directorate is implementing the optimization program.

“The DOD was faced with a number of challenges across the information technology space including stove-piped data, and massive redundancy in networks, data centers and applications,” said Col. Chris Autrey, USAF, chief, Defense Enclave Services Office, speaking December 1 with other representatives from his group at the AFCEA TechNet Cyber conference, being held virtually through December 3. “The DOD chief information officer rightly recognized that this needed to change and began working the information technology (IT) reform. All of these activities are designed to create a leaner and more efficient use of IT and allow the warfighter to concentrate on their mission.”

The main effort of DISA’s Fourth Estate Network Optimization Program is to consolidate the various commodity or common IT networks of the 14 defense agencies and field activities—commonly known as the Fourth Estate—under a single service provider, which is DISA. The project evolves the existing DISANet into the developing DODNet 2.0 network. Along with consolidating 13 Fourth Estate networks and optimizing 27 networks, the directorate also is merging 30 help desks into a single service, providing a better user experience, greater efficiency and gains in economies of scale.

“As the new single service provider for these agencies, DISA will stand down the existing SIPRNet [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network] and NIPRNet [non-classified Internet Protocol network] of the defense agencies and field activities and take over all their commodity IT services,” Col. Autrey explained. “The agencies will maintain responsibility for their mission applications and equipment along with DISA, who is providing the transport layer along with the common IT services.”

The effort will strengthen the cybersecurity of the networks and enable the agencies to focus on their core competencies, the colonel noted.

As far as the improvement of DISA’s Global Service Desk, the agency is changing how it responds to help desk users, explained Rich Forsht, chief of the Global Service Desk and chair of the Service Support Environment, DISA. They are tailoring the way they reach out to the different generations in the workforce.

“One of the things that we've noticed is that how the different generations prefer to be contacted actually changes,” he shared. “Basically, we are having to adapt our support models to that.”

The agency also is deploying the so-called ServiceNow capability, which among other things, enables self-service in the help desk’s chat function. “Customers will be able to submit tickets and see the latest status of their tickets, request next steps and they can also ask to be passed on to a live agent,” Forsht stated.  

For Miguel Cerritos-Aracen, chief, IT Service Division, Operations Center, at DISA, who oversees the operation of the DODNet across the enterprise, the focus is to be as consumer-centric as possible. “Our service is the foundational underpinning to each person's daily work life so that they can be successful,” he shared. “Our full service includes the network back end, server infrastructure and endpoint management, and for that optimization and efficiency is a must.”

Their operational infrastructure has to balance the future growth in users, their additional locations and the increasing number of endpoints, all of which requires agility and capacity planning to ensure that the infrastructure can deliver, Cerritos-Aracen noted. Moreover, any industry IT solutions that DISA will offer to customers need to scale globally.

Laura Herbertson, deputy program manager of the Fourth Estate Network Optimization effort, argued for innovation to be a component of the program, even if it is difficult. “In our case, optimization is the driving factor for innovation,” she noted. “And innovation is really anything that improves efficiency or service, or anything that helps us achieve our goals of optimization. It can be an improved process, a tool or a capability. Sometimes it's the idea to simply stop doing something that doesn't add value. Because we're an optimization program, we need to make tradeoffs to offer the best service we can at an affordable cost. But it can be challenging to insert innovations into established network and deep-seated processes.”

For the Fourth Estate Network Optimization program, DISA is employing an acquisition strategy with advanced contracting methods, said Chris Miller, chief of the Programmatic Consolidation Branch for program.

“In the past two years, my team and I have developed novel ways to work with our partners in industry and have successfully established cost-conscious acquisitions that achieve the goals of the Fourth Estate Network Optimization program,” Miller stated. “Whether it's performance-based service contracts or procurements for hardware and software, every action we take considers the fiduciary responsibilities we have to the department. This has necessitated unique contracting strategies to support our complex requirements.”

All contract methods, he said, must be flexible enough to adapt to the changing requirements of the program, and must address technical refresh, service operations and disparate, incumbent technologies.

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