Incoming: The Constant of Change Requires Action to Back Up Words

October 1, 2020
By Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.)

“We’ve always done it this way.”

When statements like this become commonplace within teams, they can corrode even the best of organizations. Innovation is stifled, work becomes routine and experts disengage and move on.

Yet in many organizations, the resistance to change is an enduring part of its culture—to the delight of adversaries and competitors.

A cultural shift occurred about 10 years ago when the U.S. Defense Department announced the scheduled rollout of its enterprise email system. Instead of each major command, base or fort running email systems for their personnel, the Defense Information Systems Agency provided an enterprise-wide email system. It was designed to be more efficient and cost-effective while enforcing security standards such as two-part authentication. It also assigned standardized email addresses connected to common access cards (CACs) and eliminated multiple domains based on unit names.

Initial resistance to this change was fairly strong. System administrators thought their jobs were being eliminated, and warfighters were disappointed that their unit names were no longer part of their email address.

After several years of communicating the benefits of the change—the same email address for life, an extensive global address list even across service boundaries, better career opportunities like cybersecurity for server managers—there is acceptance, even enthusiasm, for enterprise email. The Defense Department culture shifted and embraced these changes because leaders made it relevant to users.

The department faces another cultural reckoning with the creation of the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system. Envisioned to establish a battlefield advantage, JADC2 will deliver sensor data from all services across all domains to field commanders. The system’s use of artificial intelligence will help filter information and lead to better situational awareness and faster targeting decisions. Most importantly, it is intended to incorporate and integrate the lethal and nonlethal capabilities across all domains.

A technology-first approach to the JADC2 is necessary because architecture, integration and data flows must be determined down to the tactical edge. However, development and execution will involve large-scale collaboration among service branches, which will require a new way of thinking on two levels.

First, warfighters have to consider the impact of new domains, such as cyber and advanced electronic warfare (EW), after spending years or decades training in a traditional one. Individuals will need a deeper understanding of how these new domains can make the traditional ones vulnerable and how they can be integrated to create an advantage for the United States. Training must reinforce this understanding.

Second, the JADC2 will necessitate organizational cooperation. Bringing together service branches with a history of competitiveness and ingrained loyalties will take top-down direction and bottom-up participation. Every sailor, soldier, marine and airman will need to know they are moving in the same direction toward the outcome of an interdependent information platform that will make them all better at their jobs. Similarly, each warfighter will need to step up and embrace the JADC2 structure so they can contribute to multidomain operations (MDO).

MDO have already been put in place by others. For example, numerous articles have been written on how Russia used EW and/or cyber effects to neutralize artillery radars when its forces went into the Crimean Peninsula, which shows the fast and deadly impact of MDO. This clearly illustrates the importance of expediting JADC2 development and deployment.

Culture is one of the hardest institutions for organizations to adjust because it involves behavioral change. But just as new, standards-based technology and equipment allow for greater accomplishments and threat mitigation, behavior must change to match their pace of improvement. That’s what keeps organizations healthy, moving forward and not susceptible to obsolete thinking.

Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.), is a vice president in Perspecta Inc.’s defense group. She previously served as director of cybersecurity plans and policy for the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Command, and she led the U.S. Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM). 

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