Defending the Nation With Digitization

This post is excerpted from GovLoop’s recent guide, Preparing for the Era of Digital Transformation

An Interview with Defense Department Officials: John Zangardi, Chief Information Officer, Essye Miller, Chief Information Security Officer, Tom Michelli, Acting Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer

The Defense Department is not only the largest agency in the U.S. government, but also a pioneering force when it comes to digital transformation. From cloud access point-as-a-service (CAP) to mobile enterprises, to transforming its travel systems, DoD is going digital with full force.

GovLoop sat down with DoD CIO John Zangardi, Chief Information Security Officer Essye Miller and Principal Acting Deputy CIO Tom Michelli. The three shared their insights on the department’s current digital transformation efforts through IT enterprise and modernization. For some agencies, taking on one digital project at a time is a feat in itself. For other agencies, like DoD, tackling a number of digital projects at the same time means faster digital transformation and increased cost savings and effectiveness.

Digitization for the Defense Department means enabling joint operations on the battlefield; facilitating real-time, reliable information-sharing for military leaders, and enabling soldiers, sailors aviators and marines operating capabilities at bases worldwide. For an agency as large and complex as DoD, going digital must also mean increased cost efficiency and productivity.

“Overall, the goal is to make DoD more effective and efficient,” Zangardi said. “When Secretary of Defense (James) Mattis calls for increasing the lethality of our force, we’re an enabler in IT. We generate the efficiencies and we can deliver the capability to the warfighter.”

To generate these efficiencies, the DoD CIO is looking to consolidate data centers and move more enterprise services to the cloud. “As we move to the cloud in industry, it frees up resources that could be used in other ways,” Zangardi said. “And that helps us meet the expectations from Secretary Mattis to deliver more resources to other needs within the department, whether those are planes, tanks, submarines or ships. It’s part of being a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars.”

As part of these efforts to meet Mattis’ vision and enable a more efficient DoD, Zangardi and his team are overseeing initiatives, including:

  • CAP: Innovating delivery and security approaches to move more data into the commercial cloud.
  • Defense Enterprise Office Solutions: Connecting the workforce through commercial, enterprise office solutions for collaboration and productivity.
  • Defense Travel Reform: Simplifying processes and modernizing security to improve the DoD travel experience while reducing costs.

CAP as a Service

CAP is the security conduit through which DoD is connecting to the commercial cloud. It serves as a demarcation between the DoD Information Network and commercial cloud providers.

“The Cloud Access Point is seen as the boundary protection for the DoD Information Network from commercial cloud instantiations,” Miller said. “We’ve had a series of industry engagements with companies that we consider to be at the top in cloud security. We’re also determining what security requirements can be provided by industry and which ones are inherently governmental.”

CAP ultimately helps to accelerate cloud adoption at DoD by improving the department’s ability to protect and defend its data in the cloud. Additionally, it provides advanced protections for virtual data centers and cloud-hosted network enclaves with integrated cyber incident monitoring and response.

Defense Enterprise Office Solution

The Defense Enterprise Office Solution (DEOS) is an effort led by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to acquire software-as-a-service at a DoD enterprise scale. The goal is to move 4.5 million DoD users to cloud services with preliminary business case analyses and request for proposals completed by 2018.

“What’s especially important to us is that we move to a cloud-like strategy where we use the best practices in industry,” Zangardi said. “We are not looking for an on premise solution that is only driven by DoD.”

DEOS will replace the current Defense Enterprise Email, Defense Enterprise Portal Service and Defense Collaboration Services. The suite of services will provide a path to replace existing disparate legacy systems while using cutting-edge technology to automate daily business functions. The move to this suite is expected to increase productivity and efficiency while offering users new methods of collaboration both with the enterprise and with other federal partners.

“Moving to the future in office collaboration and productivity systems will enhance our ability to do things more efficiently and effectively across the department,” Zangardi said.

Defense Travel Reform

As of the beginning of January 2017, DoD is following the President’s direction to restructure how DoD does travel for its employees. So far, the department has reduced policy guidance that is directly relevant to travel from more than 240 pages to fewer than eight.

“Getting it to eight pages allows us to move to a 100 percent commercial system,” Zangardi said. “Rather than being on a proprietary, higher-cost system, we’re going to use exactly what commercial industry would use for their own system.”

Reducing the complexity of the travel system helps improve convenience for users. “When I would talk to government workers, I would ask their thoughts of the Defense travel system and usually get a negative reply,” Zangardi said. “So we want to use industry to bring in a greater degree of user-friendliness.”

In addition to convenience – and even more important – Defense Travel Reform offers heightened security for traveler data. This is because commercial capabilities offer DoD the opportunity to perform frequent security reviews and audits. DoD and the vendor are launching a pilot test in 2017 to ensure data is well-protected.

“The advantage here is that we’re going to be able to focus our energy and use money appropriately for things that fall in the basic hygiene category, thus improving our overall security,” Zangardi said.

“We’ve been at this for about 25 years now, and it’s been a tremendous effort for us to understand and increase our awareness on cyber hygiene and posture,” Miller said. “The key, though, is that it is all self-reported, so it’s manpower-intensive. The intent is to move to something more automated that’s readily available for leaders and commanders to understand the security posture.”

The digital projects seem complex, but DoD stands to gain benefits in cost savings, efficiency, security and modernization with all the ongoing projects.

Ultimately, digital transformation at DoD relies not only on the power of modernized technology, consolidation and automation, but there is also significance in the people behind the IT.

“Digital transformation relies on our workforce, for the civilian and military, as well as contractors,” Michelli said. “It really is about the workforce side as we transform digitally in DoD.”

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