New solutions sought for emerging IT threats

In U.S. national security and intelligence, dramatic changes on the horizon require new approaches to the use of IT. U.S. military, intelligence and homeland security leaders -- and the private sector companies that support them -- face unprecedented internal and external challenges.

External threats against U.S. security are becoming more numerous and diverse. When I started out in the military in the 1970s, we worried about having enough tanks, planes and people to stop our adversary from rolling across Europe. Controlling your communications lines and exploiting intelligence information was critically important, just as it is today, but the threats were more defined.

Today, the communications technologies that make life easier and more fun are creating threats we don’t fully understand, and we must worry about our ability to sustain command-and-control networks with smaller, more agile units in far-flung, remote regions. Today’s opponents are also likely to be transnational, non-government organizations using information and communications networks to carry out hostile acts.

Meanwhile, the debt crises in the United States and many other nations are causing fierce debates over national priorities and creating pressures to cut spending, reduce or consolidate operations, and provide greater transparency and predictability in budgeting.

Technology can be the key factor in enabling faster, better decision making, as well as higher performance, and meaningful efficiencies and cost savings in a budget-constrained environment.

But the technology and business models of even the recent past are less responsive in addressing today’s challenges. Slow-moving, slow-producing IT programs are a hindrance to national security. Government and industry must deliver solutions rapidly and collaboratively, and leverage evolving commercial capabilities to include cloud and big data analytics.

At a recent conference on IT and national security, Grant Schneider, the CIO for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he and his counterparts across the government are looking for new technology solutions and business models that overcome the frustrations of the past. Specifically, he said new solutions must meet five main criteria.

First, Schneider said, new solutions must be agile and flexible in terms of both deployment and use. Hardware and software must be capable of being implemented in a few weeks or months, not years. Government and industry must find ways to co-innovate and deliver results more rapidly. The resulting solutions must enable troops’ agility and flexibility in their missions, including the use of secure mobile devices in the field and instant, real-time analysis information from many sources.

Second, new IT solutions must be simpler, with reduced requirements for new hardware and software, and have user friendly, intuitive, graphical interfaces that meet the standards of users raised on sophisticated video games.

Third, new IT solutions for national security must be easy to integrate with all other platforms, applications, databases and devices – past, present and future -- in a large, global ecosystem. In an era when the U.S. military often partners with other security forces -- foreign and domestic -- technology systems must be able to assimilate and analyze data from many sources – much of it unstructured and dynamic – and produce actionable information in real time.

Fourth, government buyers are looking for secure products and services, developed by companies that take a vigilant, multi-layered approach to security throughout their supply chains. They need solutions that can ensure secure communications and information sharing around the globe and across a variety of domains and devices.

Fifth, and of growing importance, government customers need affordable solutions with predictable costs over the life of the solution. The era of long-term, expensive projects with ever-changing objectives and escalating costs is over. Government IT buyers are looking for contracts with significant cost savings and alternative approaches that make it faster and easier to innovate and save money. The government must examine its own practices and collaborate with industry to explore more rapid alternatives to historical contracting approaches.

The convergence of these mega-trends in national security – big data from diverse sources, and the need for faster analysis of it, plus demands to shrink spending -- will put pressure on IT vendors to do business in ways we haven’t done before. Those that can help government customers pull together, integrate and manage data rapidly and turn it into actionable information at lower cost are going to be the successful players. I am confident that industry and government will rise to meet these challenges and keep the United Sates in a pre-eminent national security posture – but we have a lot of innovating to do.

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