For DOD enterprise progress, challenges both familiar and new

Culture, budgets and information-sharing create a tug-of-war at DOD

As the Defense Information Systems Agency pushes forward with a number of initiatives in enterprise services, the agency is admittedly encountering a number of obstacles along the way – some typical of the Defense Department, others cropping up in conjunction with new technologies and widespread change.

“We have an imperative to change and get ahead of the IT curve ... not just technology but processes, standardization and the convergence of elements. We have new players, a new playing field and new processes,” said Paige Atkins, DISA director of strategic planning and information. Atkins spoke as part of a panel of DISA officials at the agency’s Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore Aug. 17.

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That new playing field is rife with challenges old and new, including culture, coordination across the many DOD components, competing priorities and rapidly evolving security requirements.

“When we think about gaps [in capabilities], we can’t just focus on technology – it’s also about the operational side of things, like our tactics, techniques and procedures,” Atkins said.

Undoubtedly, the technology piece is significant as DISA takes on major efforts to collapse redundant capabilities into a single, enterprise-wide platform of services available to all of DOD.

According to Richard Hale, DISA chief information assurance executive, improving security and dependability are top concerns, as well as streamlining the many policies and improving network agility for better freedom of action decision-making.

“DOD has to work and [protect] critical infrastructure in the face of a threat; we need a realistic operational environment. Security hasn’t been tasked with the dependability program very well,” Hale said. “We have to make the platform dependable – that includes computing, the network, core enterprise services and cybersecurity.”

And while coalition operations have become the norm, IT systems haven’t necessarily caught up.

“We already fight jointly. We already work in a coalition. The business of improving agility is the problem. [For example,] we still need to be able to keep a secret even within an environment of information sharing,” Hale said.

As one solution to deal with the issue, DISA is working on improving identity-based access controls, Hale said. “We’re trying to drive out the way we currently do access control at DOD and replace it with something less inhibitive and less expensive.”

Dave Mihelcic, DISA CTO, pointed out that culture remains a major problem, but some of the challenges DOD is facing may actually help that issue.

“Our biggest obstacles in aggressive gains have to do with culture. But changes in the external environment, like funding, afford opportunities for changes in culture,” Mihelcic said.

And while funding has always been a point of contention, that challenge takes on renewed urgency with DOD’s impending, drastic budget cuts.

“In order to improve, we need to invest, but investment funds will be scarce,” said Tony Montemarano, DISA's component acquisition executive. He also said that IT acquisition reform is integral to dealing with financial struggles. “IT acquisition reform is about cutting back on big programs and growing incrementally.”

According to Mihelcic, achieving better efficiencies – including through IT strategies – will be crucial for investment in innovation.

Still, the DISA officials remain confident in the agency’s ability to thrive in spite of the many challenges.

Hale pointed out that the shift of services to the enterprise has freed up manpower to be dedicated to solving other problems, while Montemarano noted that commitment to the cause is one key to success.

“We are within reach of bringing this enterprise infrastructure together. The time is right. But people have to get religion and know that we can bring this all together,” Montemarano said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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