Navy moves forward on business and technology improvements

Terry Halvorsen has been the Department of the Navy CIO since November 2010. A member of the Senior Executive Service since July 2004, his prior position was deputy commander of Navy Cyber Forces and deputy commander of the Naval Network Warfare Command.

He spoke to Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about business IT efficiency, cloud computing and enterprise e-mail.

Hed: Navy moves aggressively to improve business and technology operations

DS: With support of the warfighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

Halvorsen: The budget, and to be more specific, I would say that what we are really trying to do now is make sure that we keep those mission-critical warfighting support functions funded at the right level, and continue to look at every opportunity to reduce the cost of the business mission while continuing to meet that mission…frankly, to take a little more risk with the business mission and push that envelope a little more.

DS: What does “pushing the envelope” mean when it comes to business systems?

Halvorsen: I think that means being a little more aggressive with, say, data-center closures. I want to be careful; not in any way would we move something that we hadn’t tested, but I want to be testing a little faster. Maybe instead of testing 100 percent, testing 75 percent on some of those systems where if we make a mistake [we don’t think we would, but if we did] and, say, the system went down for a day, the downside, while negative, is worth the potential savings we can gain by moving quicker. That’s the kind of analysis we want.

Now that’s hard analysis to do, and we are working on that daily. I have more of my teams working on [those types of] efficiencies and budget analysis than I had in the past. This is our Number 1 priority.

We are also looking at some new things. We are looking at a major change in the whole culture around printing. It’s not just about saving paper; it’s about reducing the number of print devices going to multi-function devices, centralizing printing on the primary network, looking at when to print in color, and, frankly, really focusing on what [we need to] print. When can we present something on a screen, so we don’t need to print copies?

That’s an area where I think we are really looking to take risk because the downside is pretty benign if we don’t end up printing a business diagram or something like that. But when we really get this [initiative] going, there is a potential to save a lot of money.

We are also looking at what IT does to the process. We do not want IT, in general, to drive our business process. IT should be in support. When we look across an organization as big as the Department of the Navy, what we find is an IT system in place that could support, say, 80 percent of the current processes used by our big user population. And we have developed other systems to handle the rest of the process.

With that kind of situation what we want to look at is: does it make economic sense, once we selected an IT system that meets a high percentage of the process and also meets it for a high percentage of the population, to have a discussion about changing the processes of what I call the “outlying users” so that they can be supported by the enterprise IT system?

DS: So it’s worth the money to change the 20 percent of outliers?

Halvorsen: Sometimes it is. In general, our philosophy has been that you don’t let IT drive the process. You build the best process, and then you have IT support it. But I think when we’re talking about big bureaucracies, in general, what happens is that multiple IT systems do similar processes. So if two or three of those IT systems will support 80 percent or better of the process and 80 percent or better of the users, then [we need to] force the 20 percent or less of the process and that 20 percent or less of the user base to change their process and IT systems so that we end up eliminating some of the smaller IT systems. I think that’s going to be another way forward for us.

DS: You commented recently that data-center consolidation might seem slow at the moment, but soon you will be in a position to close many centers all at once. Please explain.

Halvorsen: Data center closure is like a step-function activity. Obviously, we have systems that might be located right now in multiple data centers. So when you cleanse those by system, you don’t end up closing down a single data center. You have got to wait until you have mass at a data center, and then clean up what I call “all the little pieces” of that data center, and then close it. It’s going to be a step function.

We have closed about 100 systems and 3 data centers. I think what you’ll see by the end of this fiscal year [that number will be] around 9 or 10 data centers and maybe 200 systems. But we are right on track with data center closures, but one of the things we are looking at is what can we do to accelerate that process. Ideally, what we would like to do is get ahead of schedule because every year that we can pull the money out earlier gives us a higher level of savings, and that’s certainly what we are after right now.

DS: Most existing military cloud initiatives are related to public-facing data. Is the public-facing data most suited to the cloud because of security considerations, as opposed to operational data?

Halvorsen: “The cloud” is an interesting word. So we will use cloud, but I will also define cloud as meaning distributed data. It is basically accessible via the Internet or a web. It’s not data that’s stored on your laptop; that’s really what the cloud comes down to. So when you ask whether public-facing data is more suited to the cloud, maybe a better way to ask it is: can I host public-facing data and make it available via, say, a commercial cloud and leverage commercial investments? We think the answer is yes, and we are doing some aggressive pilots on that.

Now I want to be clear that we are not lowering the security standards on the data. They still have to meet all the same security standards, but I think people feel that any time we don’t own the data or it’s not one of our sites, then there is risk.

DS: There is also risk when there are outages in the commercial clouds, but maybe that’s as not as much of a concern when you’re talking about public-facing data.

Halvorsen: Right, but I will tell you that most times the reliability factor—and this is something I think we truly have to understand—in many of the commercial sites meet or exceed our own standards. Think about it, when Amazon goes down, Amazon knows down to the penny just how much money it lost. They have a direct bottom-line incentive in not letting that happen.

So I think you will see more of our public-facing and less-sensitive data in some commercial sites as we look to save cost. We will be very careful and probably move on that pretty slowly. And then, as we put other types of data into the cloud, I think you will see us use what I call a “private commercial cloud,” where a commercial provider has—because of the size of our data requirement and because we want to have more control and not have it intermingle with other data—a Navy-only or a Marines-only commercial cloud. That still lets us leverage some of the productions that are available in the commercial world, yet still maintain better control.

That doesn’t always necessarily mean it will be a Department of Navy entity. Certainly we are looking hard at where does it make sense to, say, use an Air Force location, or an Army location. We already, in some places, use a Defense Information Systems Agency location where that makes sense.

DS: We have had a chance to watch the enterprise e-mail/mail.mil initiative over the last year, and I wonder about your thoughts on that now, as opposed to a year ago, when it was brand new and you felt the Navy was served well by the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) and the under-development Next Generation Enterprise Network.

Halvorsen: I think I still have the same thoughts right now. The Department of Navy has the largest enterprise service network. We have enterprise e-mail. We will shortly have a completely aligned global address list for the Marine Corps and the Navy.

It will be a pricing factor. Right now, the pricing numbers I see show that we are still more effective at meeting the mission for the price we are getting today. We will continue to monitor the whole e-mail situation, and at a certain point, if it gets to be the right financial solution to meet mission, we’ll change.

This is an area where size matters. I look at how the issues that we have scaling to around a million users today on an NMCI causes its own set of complications. I am not sure that, given today’s technology and required investments to change some of that, that we are in a position this year or next year… to go much more than a million and still keep all the other services that we have. And that’s the other thing to remember, it is not just about e-mail, it is about shared files…all of those things that we have today.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Comment:
Please type the letters/numbers you see above