Warren Suss


How to make DOD enterprise initiatives work

Governance tools can help address problems that arise

We all understand the importance and potential payoff from Defense Department enterprise initiatives. From a technical perspective, we need to invest in an enterprise infrastructure and enterprise services and capabilities to allow us to deliver on the promise of the Global Information Grid (GIG) and the evolving DOD cloud.

Likewise, our ability to do more with less — to achieve the objectives of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ initiative to cut DOD spending by $400 billion over 10 years by improving efficiency and reducing redundancy, and to deliver administrative and support functions with severely restricted budgets — will depend on the design and operational efficiency of our enterprise infrastructure and services.

But as important as they are, the thing about enterprise-level initiatives is that organizational components usually hate them. There’s an inevitable organizational tension between headquarters and the components that report to headquarters. “You say you’re from headquarters and you’re here to help? Well, thanks but no thanks. We’re doing just fine on our own, thank you very much.”

The techniques for resisting enterprisewide initiatives are legendary. There’s outright resistance, there’s sandbagging, there’s foot-dragging, there’s malicious compliance. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In some cases, this resistance to enterprise initiatives is justified. Headquarters organizations are famous for coming up with projects that fail to recognize the unique mission requirements and operational environments of component organizations. But even where there’s a willingness to get beyond yesterday’s problems, organizational components have a legitimate interest in self-protection — in staying vigilant to ensure that the enterprise initiatives help more than they hurt.

So how can we address this age-old tension between headquarters and components to support the success of critical DOD enterprise initiatives? The key is improved governance. We can apply organizational-level agreements and other types of governance structures: integrated project teams, formal and ad hoc committees, and specially tailored processes and procedures to deal with the inevitable twists and turns that enterprise initiatives take.

We also need to add discipline, rigor and measurement to the governance process. Without effective metrics applied in clever ways, we won’t know when we’re off track in terms of enterprise initiative technical, schedule and cost objectives. We need to focus the metrics on the mission-related operational benefits that really matter to critical organizational components.

Although we’re taking many functions away from component control and moving them to the enterprise, we need to put in place measures to ensure that the new initiatives are actually meeting the needs of the components because the components are responsible for delivering mission results. In return for yielding to headquarters the authority, responsibility and control for certain enterprise-level functions, the components should be empowered to set and monitor enterprise initiative performance requirements. They also should be fully engaged in the continuing process needed to fine-tune performance measurements and performance-monitoring tools and reports all along the way from the initial conception to the final implementation and ongoing operation of each initiative.

You might ask whether applying this governance framework will be enough to ensure that enterprise initiatives succeed. Of course not. The real bottom-line question here is whether we can walk the walk that’s needed to make things happen when we talk the talk about the importance of DOD’s networks and the emerging defense cloud.

The DOD analog to today’s enterprise IT initiatives is joint warfighting. Think about the headquarters/component issues in the interactions between the military services and departments and the combatant commands. We’ve seen the components yielding power and authority to the combatant commands. We’ve seen them working hard to make joint military operations a reality, not a slogan. And we’re seeing the benefits in terms of operational excellence on the battlefield.

If we make the same commitment to the establishment of robust DOD enterprise infrastructure and services that we have made to joint military planning and operations, I have no doubt that we can succeed despite the inevitable uncertainties, risks and organizational growing pains.

About the Author

Warren Suss is president of Suss Consulting, a federal IT consulting firm headquartered in Jenkintown, Pa.

Defense Systems Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.