DISA Strategic Plan Seeks to Eliminate Ambiguities

September 12, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Defense customers are driving change; this effort tries to map the future.

The new Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) strategic plan lines up many of the diverse information technology thrusts that are whirring throughout the Defense Department, according to an agency official. Tony Montemarano, director for strategic planning and information at DISA, states that the plan’s main goal is to codify where DISA is headed. This direction is fueled by demand signals from the Defense Department, particularly in high-mileage areas such as the Joint Information Environment, mobility initiatives and cloud services.

“This is where we’re going,” Montemarano says. “You know that saying, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, anywhere will get you there.’” DISA sees this plan as necessary in light of a reduced funding outlook, which he admits is a likelihood for all but the most critical elements. “We are going to have to focus our limited resources on exactly what is necessary to achieve our goals.

“So, we have to be more specific in our direction. We also have to be more flexible,” he declares.

Mobility may be the most pressing issue behind this plan, Montemarano continues. The department is becoming more serious about exploiting smartphone technology, and related technologies such as touch screens may generate the next demand surge.

Despite the rapid change that defines information technologies, Montemarano believes that the new strategic plan takes change into account and will not be rendered obsolete by technology developments. He notes that a campaign plan issued three years ago anticipated many of the capabilities now being requested by defense customers.

The new strategic plan lists four goals: evolve the Joint Information Environment; provide joint command and control and leadership support; operate and assure the enterprise; and optimize department investments.

Cyber operations constitute a major part of the new plan. Among this thrust, Montemarano states that DISA is becoming “very aggressive” about cyber training. Describing the cyber schoolhouses of the services as fairly unique, he says that the agency will operate closely with the U.S. Cyber Command to expand cyber training so that service personnel are fully qualified at their bases. DISA is working with the Cyber Command on the Cyber Security Inspection Program, which evaluates operational readiness, as well as on other efforts.

“The synergies between the two commands—including the NSA [National Security Agency]—have just been elevating,” Montemarano states. “It’s not that we’re changing missions; it’s that our synchronization is much improved.” The result has been an increase in the pace of the interaction between the commands, he observes.

Acquisition of new information technologies will be more effective and more rapid as the agency increasingly turns to the commercial sector. As part of its efforts to further a common operational environment, DISA is exploiting commercial tools. “We’re not going to build it locally, we’re going to buy it,” he says. “Most of what we are doing is taking what is commercially available and adapting it to military utility.”

He emphasizes the need to change the mindset of, “‘we need something done, so I’ll go right to code.’ No, you don’t go right to code, because industry has solved a lot of these problems, so let’s go with what they have.” This includes efforts in enterprise services, he adds.

The strategic plan specifically calls for greater use of Forge.mil service, which enables collaborative development and use of open source and defense community source software. Montemarano emphasizes that, while Forge.mil is “a piece of the pie, it is a small piece of the pie.”

The recent reestablishment of the J-6 office in the Joint Staff did not have any significant effect on the development of the DISA strategic plan, Montemarano offers.

The next step for DISA will be to issue a campaign plan that focuses on the “hows” of the strategic plan’s “whats.” This plan, which should come out in the October-November time frame, will be more specific about achieving the agency’s goals. It in turn will be followed by an internal implementation plan that involves individual program elements.

“The bottom line is information sharing,” Montemarano states. “We have to enable information sharing at a joint level—not for the individual services. We are in a joint battlespace.”


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I must commend DISA leadership on one of the best strategic plans coming out of DOD in years. Tony has it right with regard to changing a focus from developing IT to one of acquiring IT capabilities. This is a huge shift that DoD has struggled with since the signing of the Clinger Cohen Act in 96. Commercial IT is a $3.8 trillion dollar market, with DoD representing less than 2%. This means that DISA will need to find better ways of reaching into the commercial innovators who are outside the reach of the Defense Industrial Base of suppliers. DISA will also need to help Frank Kendall embrace Agile Acquisition which was directed in the 2010 NDAA Section 804. Clearly, both Congress and the DSB sought to end years of modifications to JCIDS, DODAF and DOD5000. Hopefully it is clear that no matter how many times to you try to modify a horse, it will never be a car as Henry Ford suggested.

I believe more agencies will embrace DISA's future roll as THE enterprise solution provider once it proves it has embraced Acquisition Agility and Decision Transparency, including the willingness to embrace Open Systems vs a vendor monopoly.

DISA has the right leadership to drive economies of scale once some of these barriers are removed.

Good luck General Hawkins.... You got your work cut out for you.

I believe General Hawkins is really...going to need lots of luck as the Enterprise he runs is not monolithically a cloud based web environment with low availability expectations. C4ISR activities in remote locations involving time critical activities are not well served by this architecture and networks are today not available and reliable out to the last mile. As for Open Systems, my experience has been that in general the software is undocumented, written in several coding styles with no architectural integrity and no legal entity owns or supports it on demand. Committees rarely produce quality designs and military needs don't mix well with the "get it to market first" based testing strategy of "let the customer test it".

Commercial companies have no reason to build in features that increase availability of their solution or that are Military Unique Features since DoD is a minor customer. Economy of scale will get you good prices at the expense of solutions that actually meet real end customer needs.

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