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Embracing Failure: DoD's New Milestone for Digital Modernization

The DoD focuses on talent, infrastructure, AI tools and rapid adoption for modernization.


Accepting and learning from failure is the next corporate milestone the Department of Defense (DoD) has set for itself.

“Managing change here requires transformational leadership,” said Lt. Gen. David Isaacson, director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers, chief information officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Isaacson spoke on Thursday at TechNet Cyber in Baltimore about the importance of technology, human resources, and digital modernization in the DoD. Emphasizing collaboration and innovation, he noted challenges such as scaling and rapid adoption. He also highlighted the significance of artificial intelligence and transformational leadership in adapting to future needs.

“We have grown up in a world where we pursue perfection in hopes to achieve excellence. And as we are getting into experimentation more and more, failing is teaching us much. But failing for a member in uniform certainly is not a term of reference; that, we're used to coming to terms with. And I think that we're getting better at it,” Gen. Isaacson told the audience.

Gen. Isaacson stressed the importance of testing new technologies, even if unsuccessful, facing adversaries’ rapid innovation and adoption of cutting-edge ideas and products.



For Gen. Isaacson, experimentation has three pillars:

  • Data integration.
  • Resilient connectivity.
  • Decision support.

“Experimentation and demonstrations are at the center of everything the joint force is doing as it relates to digital modernization,” Gen. Isaacson explained.

And so far, the lessons learned are applied to global integration, precision fires and ally integration.

On this final point, proper identity and security management should be observed as part of the zero-trust process the DoD has embarked upon.

The department conducts live information superiority experiments crossing areas of responsibility, associating this activity to three missions:

  • Global integration.
  • Long-range precision fires.
  • Integrating allies.

“That's what we are finding, what tools and capabilities and data sources and the assured transport and the challenges,” Gen. Isaacson said.


Lt. Gen. David Isaacson, USA
Managing change here requires transformational leadership.
Lt. Gen. David Isaacson
Chief information officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff


To achieve these ambitious goals, capabilities from industry will meet three criteria:

  • Close a kill chain.
  • Have DevOps; users and developers need to collaborate and iterate improvements.
  • Receive 24 months of investment to sustain continued evolution.

After a recent evaluation, a joint staff data and artificial intelligence (AI) office is under consideration for the future.

Still, the focus going forward will stay on people, acquiring and developing the right talent to sustain technology adoption and implementation. Infrastructure is another, in collaboration with the Defense Information Systems Agency. The third point is “the actual tools and capabilities, the analytics and AI tools, the insights for global information dominance experiments,” Gen. Isaacson said.

His final point was regarding rapid adoption, seeking a cultural change in DoD toward increased speed. This should align the services with new generations.

“The digital natives and the younger generation teammates that are just beginning their journey in the service are thinking about change all the time. They are bred and inculcated into a world where change is the only possibility,” Gen. Isaacson said.


TechNet Cyber is an annual event held in Baltimore, Maryland, organized by AFCEA International. SIGNAL Media is the official media of AFCEA.


Lt. Gen. David Isaacson delivers a keynote address at TechNet Cyber. Credit: Diego Laje, SIGNAL Media.
Lt. Gen. David Isaacson delivers a keynote address at TechNet Cyber. Credit: Diego Laje, SIGNAL Media.