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The Bottom Line: JIE Revolutionizes Transformation

The military’s evolving environment stands on the strong shoulders of the past to reach for the clouds.

The late Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, USN (Ret.), looks over my shoulder as I work in my home office. His picture graced the May 2003 cover of SIGNAL Magazine, highlighting an article Clarence A. Robinson Jr., wrote based on an interview with the admiral. I was lucky enough to escort SIGNAL’s freelance photographer to take the photo of Adm. Cebrowski when he led the charge for change as the director of the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Force Transformation. I received a cover photo plaque that hangs in my home office for my effort, though it really wasn’t necessary. The admiral was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met; I’ll never forget him and I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

Today, “transformation” may be considered a passé word to some. But after reading a 2013 white paper about the Joint Information Environment (JIE) by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s obvious that the concept of transformation isn’t passé at all but rather has been evolving on techno-steroids for 10 years. Adm. Cebrowski led the U.S. military into the 21st century with the concept of network-centric operations; Gen. Dempsey is leading it into the next decade with data-centric operations.

And rightly so. Although a visionary, Adm. Cebrowski could not have foreseen how quickly technical capabilities would flourish and change the military landscape. Gen. Dempsey not only experienced the staggering pace of technology development but also witnessed how the enthusiasm about its endless possibilities has caused the number of military systems to grow exponentially since Adm. Cebrowski, John Garstka and others proclaimed the network-centric message.

Faced with a budget crunch yet understanding that the key to military strength remains in the smart use of technology, Gen. Dempsey decided that it was time to take a step back. “Currently, [U.S.] Defense Department information technology comprises thousands of operational systems, hundreds of globally unconnected data centers, and more than 7 million computer and IT devices. In order to create an IT environment that enables mission command, Joint Force 2020 requires us to adapt how we approach information technology, including the structure and function of our information systems and also how we use them,” Gen. Dempsey says in his white paper.

Recognizing that cutting-edge technologies often start in industry, the general believes moving to the JIE will enable the military to leverage the power and versatility of commercial capabilities fully. The lack of interoperability among systems hinders the military’s ability to do this at the enterprise level currently, Gen. Dempsey says, but the JIE will address this issue by facilitating selective investments in novel data and information exchange processes.

But the of lack of interoperability is not the only age-old problem the general faces as the JIE moves forward. As in the past, the resistance to change is an obstacle that must be overcome. Let’s face it—embracing an overhaul rarely is welcomed with open arms. Executing Gen. Dempsey’s JIE vision is a tall order requiring buy-in from the majority of the troops—from commanders to information technology specialists to warfighters. It’s not unattainable, but it certainly won’t be as easy as shouting an order.

Adm. Cebrowski knew that, and Gen. Dempsey knows that, too. That’s why the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is responsible for the JIE’s technical synchronization, has been reaching out to the services and to industry. “Change management,” as so many call it, is a difficult task. Understanding what the JIE is—and what it will enable—is a matter of communication, not communications technology.

The bottom line is that the JIE is about change, but like Adm. Cebrowski’s vision for network-centric warfare, it is change that is essential to defeating future foes. Gen. Dempsey sees the JIE not as a transformational way to fight but as revolutionary way to use existing capability by assembling a shared and optimized information technology infrastructure. I imagine Adm. Cebrowski is looking over Gen. Dempsey’s shoulder, too … and he’s smiling.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the JIE faces? How do you propose addressing it?