Tech, innovation key to military survival, Takai says

Creative technology management will be critical in government meeting citizens' needs amid challenging budget cuts, the Defense Department CIO said.

As agencies throughout the federal government prepare for shrinking budgets, technology will be the key component of surviving fiscal lockdown and keeping critical operations running smoothly, according to Defense Department CIO Teri Takai.

But technology alone won’t be enough – behind it there must be serious innovation that solves problems in different ways than in the past, she said.


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“It’s a challenge in any large setting to really get to innovation. Innovation has to make a difference – there has to be a ‘so what’ in terms of enhancing capability or enhancing customer service,” Takai said at the ACT-IAC Excellence.gov awards luncheon in Washington March 13.

The awards recognized government agencies using technology to improve their services, whether it was better interaction with citizens, smoother operations for tasks like renewing driver’s licenses, enhancing cross-agency collaboration or implementing efficiencies that save money.

Takai admitted that her own challenges at DOD tend to be a little different than other government entities, although there are plenty of similarities, she said.

One of her priorities is getting a handle on the sheer volume of technology at DOD – one area in which the department is different from most agencies.

“I’m not pushing technology; I have so much technology that it’s really about, how do you manage that and get control of it? What do you do with it?” she said. “We spend $38 billion a year on technology, which is a staggering number. The challenge for us is how to bring those technologies together, how to make sure we can share information and how to make sure we can meet our increasing cybersecurity threat.”

But more familiar to offices outside the Pentagon are issues in IT consolidation, another high-profile effort that’s also going on at DOD.

“It’s not just a technology challenge or a physical challenge; it’s actually about convincing people to use a service, trust someone else to run [their] stuff and…meet customer demands,” Takai said. “We need to look at ourselves as an enterprise and not 772 data centers.”

Takai stressed that despite the different missions and political dynamics at various organizations, there are some key lessons everyone can use: be persistent; sell ideas by keeping things simple rather than technical and complex; think outside of individual departments; and have a champion for the cause.

For her work at DOD, taking these steps while still adequately funding national defense “means taking as many…kinds of efficiencies that we can take to make us run better, more agile and more technologically competent so we can make sure the warfighter is supported, even in the face of decreasing budgets,” Takai said.

More information on the award winners can be found here.

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