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Defending the Future

Time keeps on slippin’…at least that’s how it feels when you look at how fast technology is advancing. The speed at which the private sector is developing and implementing new technology has left government agencies like the Department of Defense scrambling to keep pace. In the recently released GovLoop guide, “The DoD of Tomorrow,” we detailed some of the ways the Department of Defense is adapting to our ever-changing world.

With an antiquated human resource structure and lagging technology, one can’t help but wonder, what does the DoD of the future look like?

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Listen to the Archive

In this month’s DorobekINSIDER Live, “Cha-Cha-Changes at the DoD,” guest host Steve Ressler spoke with three panelists from both the public and private sector about what some of the real reforms being implemented right now mean for the future of DoD.

The panelists were:

  • Zina Merritt, Director of Defense Capabilities and Management Issues, GAO
  • Yinon Weiss, Entrepreneur and Founder of RallyPoint Networks
  • Hannah Moss, Researcher & Writer, GovLoop

These panelists, alongside GovLoop’s own Steve Ressler, covered an array of topics that boiled down to one essential point: the DoD must become more flexible in order to adopt modern technology, recruit skilled personnel and secure its data.

Hannah Moss opened the program by discussing some of the technological innovations the DoD is implementing right now to reach this goal. “The cloud is definitely on the DoD’s radar,” she said. Using cloud computing, DoD officials are beginning to consolidate their vast quantities of information for more practical use.

Still, the DoD has yet to master the “information explosion” of data that it’s collecting. “I think one of the first hurdles is to get [the data] in an accessible format,” Moss said. Making silos of data more accessible across platforms and through mobile devices would open a number of doors for the DoD in terms of efficacy.

“One of the largest problems the DoD has is personnel data,” said panelist Yinon Weiss. Silos of useful information about military personnel are virtually nontransferable between agencies even within the DoD. Right now, Weiss explained, if a commander needs someone who speaks French to translate an interaction, they have no way of knowing if one of their soldiers has that talent. “There’s a lot of data at the tactical and user level that is lacking,” he said.

As cloud computing becomes more standard, DoD has started to move its technological infrastructure into the cloud, enhancing its Internet-connected devices and sensors. Using the data generated from these components in the “Internet of Things,” DoD has been able to extract causal relationships and parse through massive volumes of data. The newly-established Joint Information Environment, a program to consolidate and standardize technology across branches and missions, is also helping DoD get a grip on the data it collects and open it up for more practical uses.

Mobile devices are also playing a major role in DoD’s technological advancement. The Department has many useful in-field tactical devices designed for unique military jobs. “The military does pretty well in this category,” said Weiss.

Where the DoD lags behind is the day-to-day technology. According to Weiss, “ninety-nine percent of people’s careers” aren’t spent on the front lines; they’re in the office. He argued that outdated security measures are making it difficult for personnel at the DoD to access information that they need from mobile devices. In the near future, the DoD will have to strike a balance between the convenience of mobility and the efficiency of common security measures.

While DoD undoubtedly wants to advance its mobility, there remain concerns about how to secure mobile technology. Zina Merritt said that while we often focus on the external threats to cybersecurity, people rarely consider internal ones. Merritt observed that something as simple as an unmonitored contractor or missing inventories on mobile devices pose a real threat to the Department of Defense.

While DoD needs mobility to “conduct operations more efficiently,” they also need procedures in place to keep track of their mobile device inventory to know who exactly is accessing their info, she said. To prevent future debacles, Merritt contended that the DoD must place more emphasis on recruitment and retention of cyber workers with the skills to address cyberthreats.

To recruit and retain a “cyber workforce,” DoD will have to update its human resources structure and reform its acquisition process. According to Weiss, “Workforce changes have been accelerating.” And the old system of personnel recruitment is no longer enough. Within the next few years, he predicted, “The military is going to be very off in terms of talent management, [compared to the private sector].” Retaining those with cyber skills is only going to become more difficult if the military does not begin offering more self-guided, flexible career opportunities.

DoD will also have to optimize its acquisition process to obtain technology that will attract skilled cyber workers from the private sector. “DoD has to find better mechanisms to work with the private sector,” said Merritt. The Air Force, for example, is already hosting conferences where private sector vendors can come in and pitch their tech-based solutions to problems in the military.

Conferences like these are speeding up the contracting process, but they aren’t enough.“It really does take an act of Congress [to optimize acquisitions]. Some of the laws, frankly, are outdated,” said Merritt. For the military to update its technology at a faster pace, acquisition laws will need to be amended. Senior DoD members are already working with Congress to move the military to an agile acquisition framework.

So what’s next for the DoD? According to Moss, there will be a much bigger focus on cybersecurity than we see today. “Every service member is going to have to get some level of training on cyber hygiene,” she said. Merritt said that human resources reform will lead to more skill-based recruitment. Finally, Weiss theorized that the military will rebalance what skill sets are inherently valued. What were once “peripheral specialties” will soon become the forefront of desired traits in a soldier.

Better technology, a more skilled workforce, and strengthened security – that’s what the DoD of the future looks like.

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