DISA aims for smooth operations across business lines
Interview with Bobbie Stempfley, Defense Information Systems Agency CIO
With John Garing's elevation from Defense Information Systems Agency chief information officer to director of strategic planning, Bobbie Stempfley has stepped into the CIO role. While Garing focuses on long-term strategy and developing program objectives within DISA's budget, Stempfley has taken on what she calls the more finely defined role of managing the agency's ongoing information technology operations. Defense Systems contributing editor Sean Gallagher spoke with Stempfley about her role at DISA and the top challenges she faces.
DS: How has the CIO role at DISA changed since you took over for Mr. Garing?
Stempfley: He's been given a great opportunity to be an even more significant part of the agency's leadership team. Influencing strategies for how to help in this time of receding budgets and increasing mission demand — it's a really a great opportunity for a service provider. And John Garing has to be a part of helping us do that. So the role of the CIO is just more finely defined now than it was before. The strategic planning and the out year [program objective memorandum] development activity are where Mr. Garing is focusing, and are things he'll be able to do. I'll be focused on how the information and the technology support those activities. We still work very closely together, and we will continue to work closely together. But you can never lose sight of either problem.
DS: What are your top priorities going into the next fiscal year?
Stempfley: My first priority is to help our operations environment be much more efficient, much more integrated both in cost of capabilities we provide and in cost of the capabilities to other organizations we provide services to.
For some of the products and capabilities DISA provides, we're a service provider. So we're providing that to someone else who's then adding another step of work, and then it reaches the end-user. Other capabilities we provide are direct to our end-users. So we have this very complex relationship with our customers because our customers are different at different levels. But we must be able to be flexible with our customers and our users, so that when I'm providing a capability to an end-user, I'm giving them the data at their service level in a meaningful way. And when I'm providing the capability to another provider, to a mil service for example...it's that end user experience that's most important.
We have to be able to provide the level of data on services so that that end-user experience is predictable. So we have to look at all of the different ways we operate these environments. We have operations centers with all of the combatant commanders and other places in the world with computing operations centers and network operations centers. We have capabilities management environments. And how we bring that together is the first priority of the CIO organization: giving them the data and the technological foundations to be more effective in our operations and supporting management activities.
We can't do that without paying attention to the business. So my second priority is really transforming the business management environment. Because 80 percent of our operating revenue comes from our customers in a cost recovery kind of model, we have to have a transparent and effective business structure. So we're undertaking the same sort of thing that the services have over the past couple of years, and that's an enterprise resource [management] program in order to help transform that environment.… I also worry about our human resources systems as a part of moving forward because we're relocating our headquarters. There are 4,400 people moving from Virginia to Maryland. There's a fair amount of infrastructure processing that has to happen — as we recruit new people to replace people that we might lose, as we do all of the work to process the personnel actions to relocate folks — so that's part of that business environment cap so that human resources functions.
And then, of course, [there's] the Base Realignment and Closure [process]. A new building doesn't just appear overnight, David Bullock [DISA BRAC Executive] has done a wonderful job of making sure everything is in place for us, but this is an opportunity for us to relook at things and do things smartly, and so we need to make sure that when we move into the new building everything works — that a guy's computer gets turned on and it works, and the back office functions.
And then there's the last thing — though it's never last, in terms of being the least important thing — and that is security and cybersecurity. It's an environment I've spent a lot of my career in, and it's profoundly important today. And I believe [it will only] be more important into the future. I need to make sure that both the information and the information technology, which are both mutually supportive, can be protected in an appropriate manner and are able to survive in this contested environment.
DS: How does cloud computing change the DISA environment and, in particular, your relationship with vendors?
Stempfley: Cloud [computing] is one of a number of ways where we have more of a partnership with our vendors than we had before. For years, it's been, "Here's what we need. Go and buy it." But partnerships and management of that relationship is so important, and cloud [computing] just brings that to the forefront because now you've got the integration responsibilities and the service provisioning responsibilities, and you need a long-term relationship to provide a capability to our customer. And so we really look at those opportunities in order to partner together.
And it's proven to be successful — in our capacity services, in the computing services environment where we set a contract to use. It has given us a foundation to build the [Rapid Access Computing Environment], which is an operational capability today, and has allowed us to build on the initiatives of our chief technology officers' organization.
My job is to take all of those pieces and put them together for the agency in a way that helps us transform our processes. Both to take advantage of the capability and to drive future requirements for the capability. We can't do that unless we're very tight partners with the vendors that provide us the individual capabilities.
Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.