Disruptive by Design: If You Build It, They May Not Come

April 1, 2019
By Maj. Ryan Kenny, USA

Benefits associated with agility, scalability, ease of management and increased security justify the Defense Department’s investments in a transition to cloud services. As each military service rolls out new cloud capabilities, however, they may find that simply building these solutions will not attract organizations to use them. A misalignment of various motivations and an array of complex factors will impose costs that limit leaders’ freedom of movement in deploying any universal cloud solution. Getting the people and processes right matters just as much as the right technology.

Server Farm to Tabled Agreements

Locally grown and fed information service support structures still dominate many installations. Each of the military services has a slightly different approach to how local garrisons provide enterprise support. However, most installation IT support services have evolved from local needs. For example, a decade ago, if organizations wanted a website hosted or an internal application server managed, they approached their local enterprise service provider. Variations of locally grown, locally serviced support agreements arose, entangling both customer and provider. Tabling those agreements and defining new approaches to management and cost sharing will be needed with any transition to cloud services. Disentangling these arrangements must make sense before leaders invest their time, money and personnel.

Authority to Operate vs. Responsibility to Deliver Mission Command

Commercially owned and operated cloud services providers answer to shareholders, but military IT service providers answer to combat leaders. Combat leaders ultimately delegate authorities to operate and maintain IT services, but the responsibility to maintain mission command will forever remain near and dear to commanders. No leader wants to be told to call a help desk thousands of miles away. If the enterprise complicates the subordinate commanders’ abilities to direct work and resources, these commanders will be less willing to relinquish control over IT services.

Legacy applications will always exist. Those managing them will have to be brought into the fold. Likewise, any failure by an enterprise cloud service to deliver reliable performance results will cause subordinate commands to return to investing in their home-grown solutions. They will justify these investments based on demonstrated shortcomings of enterprise cloud services to deliver assured solutions.

Mismatched Worker Incentives

The same workforce that today provides local enterprise solutions will be called upon to plan for the transition to off-site cloud options. The network and server administrators that currently have full control of their systems may have their administrative credentials removed or limited and their livelihoods threatened whenever their application servers move to the cloud. This disconnect in incentives can lead to a form of cognitive dissonance that will inhibit full organizational buy-in for these projects.

Likewise, local enterprise service organizations are often the frontline for subscriber engagement and messaging. They provide expert judgment, technical acumen and understanding of mission requirements based on years of working with local organizations. The transition to cloud solutions will require engagement with local organizations to gain buy-in. Furthermore, leaders should set conditions to bring in new skill sets and shape cloud service delivery models.

Final Thoughts

As daunting as it may appear to overcome the challenges of local data service idiosyncrasies, misaligned authorities and organizational structures, the rewards are worth it. Both subscribers and information technology managers recognize the benefits of cloud services. They also desire increased standardization and optimization efforts. With well-researched and -planned efforts, those responsible for rolling out the future of cloud services succeed. However, there is no guarantee that if they build it others will come. Enterprise cloud services require real buy-in from all stakeholders.

Maj. Ryan Kenny, USA, created an online forum to foster discussions on emerging technologies at www.militarycommunicators.org. The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent the views and opinions of the U.S. Defense Department,
U.S. Army or other organizations with which he has had an affiliation.

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