Interview with Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson

Army’s CIO assesses the service’s progress toward net-centricity

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson was confirmed as the Army’s chief information officer in November 2007. During his 20-plus years in military information technology acquisition, he has directed numerous science and technology integration programs for the Army. Previously, he was deputy for acquisition and systems management at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology.

He spoke with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about some of the challenges he’s tackling.

Q: Army Knowledge Online was given a new mission in June. How does AKO fit into the CIO’s 500-day plan, and what impact does the Defense Information Systems Agency’s decision to shift Defense Knowledge Online to the AKO platform have on the portal’s development?

SORENSON: First of all, from a standpoint of some of the changes, we have begun to break non-Army individuals into what is known as AKO but has now morphed into DKO. We have opportunities for the Navy, the Air Force and the Joint Staff to participate in the AKO portal that we’ve been operating for some time. We are also about to renegotiate the AKO contract.

From where we stand right now, we’re to the point of having maxed out the number of users on AKO, which was built to support about 2 million users, which is where we are now. We are in the process of building out over the next couple of years to accommodate up to 2 1⁄2 million users to 3 1⁄2 million and ultimately as high as 5 to 7 million users when you begin to count the active components, the reserve components, the civilian components and, in some cases, the [retiree] components.

Q: How will you accommodate that growth?

SORENSON: The biggest problem we will have to address is [how] to provide the same quality of service we do now for the Army, including the ability to choose the e-mail [client] and the kinds of services you get. What we have structured into the Army DKO has been a complete package, much like if you go to Verizon and get a package for your Internet, TV and mobile telephone. Some users have asked for the menu to be broken down — say they just want the Internet. We have to restructure the contract and give it the ability to become more federated.

Q: What is the time frame for that restructuring?

SORENSON: AKO is still on schedule to release a request for proposals in the second quarter of fiscal 2009, with an anticipated award date in the third quarter of fiscal 2009.

Q: Give yourself a grade for how you’ve done so far in attaining the strategic goals and objectives in the current 500-day plan. Which ones have you attained? Which ones have you not attained yet and why?

SORENSON: If I had to give ourselves a grade, it would probably be a C-plus or a B-minus. The plan was completed at the LandWarNet Conference last year. Since I took over as CIO, my point to them was that we need to get to a more program-management perspective of managing expectations and accounting for delivery of capability as we have described in the 500-day plan.

Q: As opposed to what?

SORENSON: As opposed to [saying,] “Here’s a 500-day plan. Everybody go off and do your own thing.” And then a year later, everybody sits down and writes another plan. I’ve begun to realign it so we think strategically about where we want to be not 500 days down the road but three years, four years down the road. We’ve put into play 180-day performance reviews of the entire plan to monitor progress and report to the senior leadership where we are and how we’re doing.

The second focus that I’ve drawn in the 500-day plan has been cyber operations. If you read through the plan, cyber doesn’t really jump out at you, but it is nested if you read between the lines. What we’re really after is improving our ability to not only defend the network but, at some point in time, conduct cyber operations from the standpoint of exploitation and attack.

We’ve done some work in trying to improve the training, the quality and the types of capabilities we have with our 1,600 folks working in cybersecurity who are now deployed on a global basis at the theater network operations centers or as part of the computer emergency response teams. And we’ve worked with the 1st Information Operations Command out of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, which is now starting up a new battalion at Fort Meade to essentially conduct cyber operations. We’ve got a task force put together per the direction of our chief of staff to go back and look at how we can make cyber a career field for the Army.

The third piece is the notion of establishing a better governance structure for our data. We are in the process of establishing a data czar; I call it the Army chief data officer. We’ve got Army Brig. Gen. Steven Smith, [deputy CIO and chief integration officer,] coming into this organization. And we’re working with the Naval Sea Logistics Center out of Fairfield, Calif., which, in my opinion, has done an incredible job of putting together a data strategy by which they can manage and monitor the quality, accuracy and fidelity of our data.

Q: Where do you see DISA’s efforts on Net-Enabled Command Capability and enterprise collaboration services fitting into your strategic vision for the Army’s networks?

SORENSON: From a NECC standpoint, we are all about getting at the converged strategy for battle command. Right now, the Army Battle Command System is a conglomeration of different stovepiped [noninteroperable] functional capabilities. We have one for intell, one for fires and another for maneuver combat systems. While they were great functional capabilities, each had their own database, each had their own architecture. When you look at a screen on one versus the other, the coordinates would be displayed, but on one screen, it would be a square, on another screen a circle on another an arrow. So, even between the screens, if you weren’t trained on that particular system, you couldn’t make heads or tails out of what you were looking at. All those functional domains are being built on a serviceoriented architecture foundation. So, as opposed to databases being replicated among functional capabilities, we have a standard database from which we are drawing services and information and a single domain that’s providing data to different operational needs. In concert with that, we’re taking the Army battle command systems and transforming that into a service-oriented architecture foundation so all systems essentially work seamlessly together. We’re going to work out the strategy over the next two years.

Q: With an increasing amount of the Army’s platform development relying on open-source technology — and Linux in particular — what challenges do you face in portfolio management as far as integrating systems based on commercial operating systems?

SORENSON: I think the one that strikes me right off the bat is what I’ve just talked about with respect to Army battle command systems and NECC. Army battle command systems were built with Microsoft as the operating system. [They were] not built on the service-oriented architecture foundation, [they were] built on a functional domain. Do I believe in Linux, do I believe in operating systems and open-source capability? Absolutely.

But I think we’re finding more and more now that we need to use and take advantage of future functional capabilities — for instance, collaboration or any of the Web 2.0 capabilities we’ve seen in the commercial world. These are all being built on open source. The difficulty relates to issues of security and making sure they relate to other proprietary systems, which is going to take a while because that software legacy will be here for some time. Just satisfying some of the certification and accreditation issues is a big dilemma.

Q: How has the concept of LandWarNet evolved since it was established in 2004? Specifically, how have lessons learned in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan changed the way LandWarNet has evolved?

SORENSON: We lay this out in what we call the soldiers’ story. Every time they move today from a network standpoint, they have to change their phone number, they have to change their e-mail, they have to change how they store their data. As they go from their garrison location to training to force projection to their [area of responsibility], it all begins to work, but…there are people in the background running around doing things like reconnecting equipment and reconfiguring computers. It’s quite impressive what they do, but it is not what we would want from an expeditionary army.

So I think what we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq is the enormous demand placed on the network to accommodate the Army’s capability with respect to battle command systems and streaming video. The need is for that network to be responsive to those forces when they get called one day to be deployed and have to be somewhere in an austere environment within a matter of 30 to 60 days with the same type of capability. For example, if you look at the data pipe that was feeding the [area of responsibility] right after [the 2001 terrorist attacks], it was something on the order of 50 megabits/sec.

Today, we’re into approximately 6 gigabits/sec, and the majority of that particular capability is provided by fiber. You just don’t pick up fiber and move it. But with the capabilities that are being demanded by our warfighters, we have to be able to provide that network infrastructure to give them that type of a robust capability regardless of where they’re deployed. It’s the same problem that the Marines have.

Q: Mike Krieger, your new deputy, was principal director for the Defense Department’s deputy CIO. What does he bring to the table in terms of helping you deploy networking capabilities and warfighter applications?

SORENSON: If you know Mike Krieger or have ever talked to him, you know that he is all about data. So, we get back to this discussion we had earlier with respect to the data czar and things of that nature. ... What Mike has done in his work up at [Networks and Information Integration] in terms of interdepartmental effort when he worked with the Navy, the maritime organizations and so forth to bring about an improved, single view of operations in the seas was extraordinary. He brought these disparate organizations together to link their data services together and provide a common operating picture across different departments. Not just Army and Navy, I’m talking about the Defense [Department], the Homeland Security Department and others.

From the standpoint of his work in terms of structuring and use of data, he is going to play an enormous role in helping the Army get a better view of its data needs, how to solve a lot of these disparate databases and use data-delivery services as opposed to relational databases. So that’s No. 1.

No. 2, he’ll play a major role in the Network Service Center. The operative word is service. What we’re trying to do in the Network Service Center is create the same user experience that you have today with your cell phone when you travel anywhere in the United States or overseas. You just pull out that BlackBerry and you can dial a number and call someone with no one in the background reconfiguring that thing for you.

And that is the same experience that we’re trying to create in the Network Service Center for formations in the Army and for brigade teams that have to deploy. Instead of having to figure out where they’re going to get all this connectivity to reach back or push forward in terms of data, it’s going to be there for them.

So from that standpoint — delivery of data, data services, network infrastructure — I think [Krieger] is going to play a major role in helping us satisfy those concerns because he’s strong in terms of governance. I think he’ll play a major role in helping the Army strengthen its network architecture and the governance thereof to include data so that we can get to the point where the Network Service Center is a reality.

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