DOD deploys high-tech tools to boost intell collaboration
- By Amber Corrin
- May 19, 2011
Like the rest of the government, the Defense Department is looking for ways to trim its budget and work more efficiently. But it cannot ease up on its responsibility for constantly developing and deploying new technologies to warfighters in the field.
Those conditions make the need for a new framework for cross-department cooperation greater than ever. But it is no trivial undertaking because DOD is seeking an enterprise infrastructure that the entire military can share, and each service has its own operational and technological requirements.
Lynn Schnurr is taking on that challenge as the Army intelligence CIO for the deputy chief of staff and director of the Intelligence Community's Information Management Directorate.
She is helping invoke a wholesale change in the way DOD shares information and handles intelligence operations by realigning strategic relationships and pushing to integrate high-tech collaborative tools, such as open-source technology and Web 2.0-style capabilities, into a part of the federal government that has, by nature, long been cloaked in secrecy.
Schnurr recently sat down with staff writer Amber Corrin to talk about the obstacles to sharing intelligence information and an emerging tool that is poised to change DOD’s strategy for sharing data and capabilities: the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E).
DS: How are DOD's intelligence operations changing, and what’s the impetus for all that change?
Schnurr: [DOD intelligence officials] started talking about the need for a common framework almost two years ago. All the services and organizations have very specific requirements and functionalities. There are unique things within each service and program, and then we have the combatant commands with their own unique requirements. Between all of them, there are a lot of different analytical capabilities. We could be sharing those and not duplicating effort so much.
We’re recognizing that we’re in an environment of declining resources, and we need to change. If we can be more attuned to our shared and common services, we could collaborate much more effectively on the efficiencies [that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama have ordered DOD to find to save money].
We also need to re-evaluate our idea of enterprise. People talk “little e” enterprise, but we need to get with the program and talk “big E” enterprise. And that’s DOD- and Intelligence Community-wide.
DS: As the Army official in charge of incorporating the strategy and management of Army intelligence into joint, national and international operations, you’re one of the champions of DI2E. Can you tell us more about it?
Schnurr: DI2E is our framework for continuous improvements in interoperability and expanding data sharing across both DOD and the Intelligence Community. It’s about enterprise engineering and strategic partnerships that help us implement shared and common services and applications.
We’re evolving into an enterprise that supports the services, the theater, combatant commands and Intelligence Community operations. And it’s to create collaboratively defined efficiencies.
It’s about technology, too. Using cloud and open-source technology as a unified data space is how we can bring in and share data, and then enrich and analyze the data. It's also how we can present, share and visualize all that data, with applications like our Ozone Widget Framework. These are primary, key pieces of what we’re trying to do with DI2E.
DS: How are DI2E and DOD in general making use of commercial technologies — such as social media, cloud technology and open-source software — for enterprisewide intelligence operations?
Schnurr: Frankly, we can’t afford to continue with expensive infrastructure, and we can’t afford expensive licensing agreements. Moving to the cloud reduces those costs. It also increases our security posture because the cloud is a more controlled environment with better configuration management.
In terms of using open-source software, when you look at providing an analytical environment, it has to give decision-makers everything they need to know. You need to put a framework together that includes all information from all the different sources to inform the decision — not just intelligence data or operational data.
You need to know where the U.S. and coalition forces are doing development projects in Afghanistan, and you need reports from the ground that can inform about the sentiment of the people there as that work is going on.
You need the whole picture, and that has to come from many different sources. That’s why open-source data is so important. It’s all about the data.
The Web 2.0 side is a big part of the presentation layer. It’s how we visualize all the data and use it for actionable intelligence. Everyone involved in DI2E has agreed to an Ozone Widget Framework. These widgets can provide images that describe density or a time wheel of events or geospatial patterns. They can provide graphs, histograms, maps, matrixes. We need to have apps that enable soldiers to do their jobs.
Soldiers now have been using computers since they were 2 years old. We have to stay relevant and provide continuous technology refresh. That keeps us relevant and reduces costs. And we need to be adapting the industry practices of developing and delivering as fast as we can, like Apple has done with the iPhone and all of its applications. Our soldiers deserve that. Putting out technology that is obsolete is a huge waste of resources and taxpayer dollars.
DS: How are intelligence capabilities developed and used at the enterprise level — beyond, for example, just Army use or just use in Afghanistan?
Schnurr: The key is understanding that it doesn’t have to be invented here [within a certain program or service]. In a time of declining resources, we need to leverage what others have done. For example, here at the Army, we’ve developed a cloud based on technology from the National Security Agency. It’s about being a good steward of resources. As a taxpayer, I can appreciate that.
No one should be getting a pat on the back for developing something on their own. They should get a pat on the back for helping soldiers by getting technology out faster. It’s foolish not to be sharing tools.
Right now, everyone is eager to become more interoperable. We recognize that budget constraints will require us to operate in a different manner, and there’s pressure to quickly field technology before it becomes obsolete. We all want to optimize the opportunity to use the funding we have now to get what we can — and do it in a fiscally responsible manner.
We can all see we’re not going to have the same level of funding we have had in the past. At the same time, we know we need to provide more capabilities. So sharing at the enterprise level is driven by different things: It’s technology-driven, as well as opportunity-driven and budget-driven. The evolution will take time, but this is a full-speed-ahead effort.
Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.