Incoming: As We Pivot Into the Future

December 1, 2019
By Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

Well, 2019 has flown right by, and so my monthly column for SIGNAL Magazine comes to a close. It has truly been a privilege to present these columns to the AFCEA community. I hope they sparked some fresh thinking about the many changes and innovations we see all around us. The U.S. military community is at an inflection point, and it is critical that we continue these important discussions into the future.

If I were to sum up the central premise of my columns, it would be this: Dramatic and game-changing information technology innovations are now upon us. The only successful way forward is for the U.S. military and its extended community of stakeholders to participate in proactively harnessing innovation to reshape and reposition the military for success.

U.S. Defense Department leaders are pivoting to modernize the processes used to equip soldiers and integrate technology to advance future defense capabilities. As they do, they will need to bring fresh thinking and new approaches to leverage the latest technologies for maximum impact. As difficult as change can be—especially for such deeply cultured organizations as those that make up the Defense Department—it is imperative that the men and women of our military community thrive in environments characterized by continuous change and measured risk.

My columns have focused on some of the innovations that will increasingly reinvent military capabilities—things like cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality and adopting agile methodologies. Incorporating these technologies into military practice on a purely technical level is crucial. To make sure they work effectively, we must take on the far more challenging task of adapting to new ways of conducting business and executing missions.

For example, cloud computing eventually will usher in an everything-as-a-service paradigm. That shift will be a significant departure from many long-held Defense Department practices. AI and machine learning will overhaul decision-making and job descriptions as we know them. Virtual and augmented reality technologies will revolutionize how our military trains and fights in the future.

Other emerging technologies—such as blockchain, miniaturization, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, smart medicine and biotech, and quantum computing—will similarly overhaul Defense Department operations and methods as we know them today.

Yet, as amazing as these technologies are, we must always keep in mind the single most important ingredient for success: the people we will rely upon to incorporate and use them. As I mentioned in an earlier column, the Defense Department workforce must continue to be adaptable, resilient and change-ready. That means its leaders will need to re-examine the cultures, mindsets, skill sets, career paths, human resources practices, incentives and bureaucratic structures that currently define their organizations to make sure they are optimized for successful outcomes.

While I’m on the topic of adapting innovation, a helpful guidepost for these discussions is the evolving concept of multidomain operations (MDO), which is expected to become the military’s new warfighting doctrine for the future. As I discussed in my last column (SIGNAL Magazine, November, page 56) , the use of MDO envisions future wars being executed extraordinarily fast; incorporating a great deal of automation; and being networked to connect sensors, warfighters, and weapons platforms across all domains of warfare (land, air, sea, space and cyber). MDO is a work in progress, but keep an eye on it, because it will ultimately define the desired end state for military leaders and point to the future state of defense.

Finally, I want to underscore an important point about cybersecurity. It is not realistic to expect every organization across the Defense Department’s extended stakeholder community to have the resources, expertise and capabilities needed to withstand the rapidly evolving threats we face today and tomorrow. We need common solutions that serve the broader defense community. One approach, for example, would be to develop cloud-based, government-furnished secure enclaves for small and medium-sized contractors to generate software. Another would entail turning to managed cybersecurity services that can help resource-constrained organizations improve their cybersecurity posture.

Over my 40-year military career, and now as an industry technology leader, I have gained much appreciation for the challenges that today’s Defense Department leaders and managers face. I’m proud to be working with a firm that helps to solve the most vexing challenges for defense organizations. Together, as a community, we can find success as we continue to share ideas and keep the conversation moving forward.

This column is in good hands as Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.), begins writing for SIGNAL in January. Gen. Napper and I both served as commanding generals at the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army). Her talent and expertise are unparalleled, and I’m so delighted that this great audience will have the benefits of her brilliant insights over the next year.

Thank you again for this opportunity and my best wishes for happy holidays and a great new year.

Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, USA (Ret.), is managing director for the Armed Forces Sector, Accenture Federal Services. She previously served as the CIO/G-6 for the U.S. Army as well as the commanding general for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM).

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