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Does DoD Have an Adequate IT Strategy?

According to the newly released IT strategy documents, the “Enterprise Computing Centers” (ECC), become the default location for over 60,000 DoD servers in use.  Servers that do not fit into a small number of ECCs will remain in “Area/Regional Processing Centers” and in “Installation Processing Centers” that will be granted exceptions from consolidation. This entire migration should be mostly complete sometime after 2015.

The proposed streamlining of most of DoD’s data center capacity on such a short schedule is unprecedented. The only comparable effort was dictated by DMRD 918 in 1992, but did not get completed until ten years later. Though its original plans projected the folding of 122 data centers into five DISA operated services, the total number of data centers outside of DISA grew enormously as components found it attractive to operate their own computing facilities.

The fundamental flaw in the implementation of DMRD plans was its sole concentration on the consolidation of data center locations, with insufficient regard to the streamlining of related collateral processes, applications and communications. Just consolidating data centers was an inadequate strategy.

To make the ambitious data center consolidations feasible, DoD will have to include in its plans the problems associated with the termination of hundreds of contractors that currently deliver local data centers support services. This includes a significant share of locally managed “set-aside” contractors, which are primarily minority-owned firms. Congressional intervention to keep local contractors employed will inhibit the proposed strategy.

The latest IT strategy has added simultaneous consolidations of network controls as well as the elimination of individual networks. These are essential steps, but introduce an enormous effort to alter existing long-term contract relationships for 15,000 networks. The entire GIG 2.0 connectivity will have to be reconfigured.

The new IT strategy is also adding a replacement program for the multiplicity of existing security programs, network control centers and help desks. Such a substitution will create turmoil among the staffs now operating such services because the existing security arrangement represent a diversified patchwork of local adaptations that offer a large variety of security solutions.

The new IT is changing end-user services at the same time, such a central coordination for all testing, certification and procurement of information technology. This includes a centralized approach to administering a new generation of hardware and software purchases while imposing on contractor operations innovative application development platforms. Whether the existing contractual arrangements can accept such changes on the proposed schedule is doubtful. Software development practices of hundreds of contractors are difficult to alter while maintenance of existing code must continue without a flaw.

The new IT strategy proposes to address the methods used in connecting over seven million desktops that somehow must interact with the new data center configuration of virtual servers that have fail-over capabilities. Shifting millions of computers and smart-phones to become virtual devices requires a redesign in switching and in software, which involves substantially more than just changing hardware
The new IT strategy proposes shifting much of the existing technologies to web-based desktop and smart phone productivity suites. Divestment of existing hardware while keeping customers operating without interruption is going to be difficult on account of the time that will have to be used for retraining.
Implementation schedules will have to be extended unless large support staffs will be available to administer dual operations in the interim.

The new IT also strategy wishes to pursue a parallel approach to systems reconfiguration with integration of voice, video for all types of devices, including mobile computers. How that can be sequenced without disruption is a formidable task that could take more than a decade to complete.

The failure of DMRD 918 was its neglect of applications and data services. Proceeding with data center consolidation without synchronization of interoperable applications is perilous on an accelerated schedule. Any IT plans conceived in isolation, without prior assurance of close cooperation from clerical and administrative bureaucracies, needs examination. An effort to achieve standardization and unification of data definitions across DoD components has been in place since 1993 in DISA, but so far has managed to make only minor progress.

There are also technical issues that need to be considered before accepting the proposed strategy. As yet the Office of the DoD CIO has not published a comprehensive and all-inclusive reference enterprise architecture that would support the proposed overhaul of systems. There are no technical standards in place for a federated enterprise solution that delegates the roles of military services and agencies into a support position. The consequence of uprooting existing commitments, especially for multi-billion programs with multi-year schedules, has not been detailed.

The work that needs to be done in competitive selection of a limited set of development platforms is still waiting completion. From an acquisition standpoint this may consume most of the time available. DoD with its FY12 projected IT budget of $38 billion is more than ten times larger than the IT budgets of the largest commercial organizations. Dictating the adoption of a limited set of open source software development platforms in DoD will create an upheaval among software supplier firms. Congressional interventions will slow down vendor selection for an extended time.

Agreements on how to implement the concept of application development where every function is accepted by all components after getting tested by only one, is still to be worked out. This may be one of most sticky issues for reaching agreements across all components.

The long lingering effort how to assure an enterprise-wide binding acceptance of MetaData should be completed. There are at least 3,000 individual systems now in place. Each has its own separately maintained information stores. Proceeding with a standard DoD enterprise effort is too risky for venturing into a consolidated environment where data stores become a pooled service.

To obtain widespread acceptance of certified code from development platforms such as, should be improved. So far, only a negligible part of DoD programs have benefited from the use of pre-fabricated software code.

The endorsement of digital signatures now requires enterprise-wide implementation. To proceed with shared enterprise-level processing on the current schedule requires DoD-wide agreements about accepting enterprise-level messaging and collaboration applications.

The newly released IT strategy documents are certainly commendable. However, from the standpoint of the speed of implementation the risks are too great. We have counted over twenty risks, each with a capacity to inhibit progress of the entire proposed strategy.

As a rule, individual program managers can always concentrate on delivering results with only a small number of known risks, for projects that have a limited budget. However, in this case, which is the most ambitious proposal for a total reconfiguration of DoD IT ever conceived, the known as well as the unknown risks are just too great to accept the proposed rapid schedule. The history of on-time and on-budget performance of IT projects shows that the larger the scope of any effort, the greater the likelihood that neither schedule nor results will follow the original plans.

As has been always the case before, IT reform depends on the leadership of the key IT executives, on the capabilities of the workforce, on the support of the contractors and on the skills of the technologists to guide DoD into a completely different information environment.

The existing strategic plan has not given sufficient consideration to the prevailing social situations (also called “politics”). It does not include an analysis what the DoD organizations are capable of executing. The strategy is too extensive, trying to solve too many of the existing problems all at once. It is too fast while engaging in multiple simultaneous radical innovations. As proposed, the new strategy needs more work to show how many of the projected results can be delivered in the foreseeable future.

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