Army IT strategy: Cope with cuts, keep an eye on future

Doug Wiltsie became the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems less than six months ago, but with the entire Defense Department in a state of fiscal upheaval, he’s had to hit the ground running. Wiltsie is responsible for more than 60 Army and DOD acquisition programs; a staff of more than 2,650 military, civilian and contractor employees; and a $4 billion budget, so that’s no small feat.

Every component of DOD is facing an uphill battle as the military begins its transformation effort, and PEO-EIS is no different. Early in his tenure, Wiltsie began setting priorities and working to establish a portfolio of Army IT systems, while simultaneously preparing the agency for impending budget cuts.

Wiltsie took a short break from his balancing act to talk with staff writer Amber Corrin about his priorities, his plans for boosting collaboration and his strategy for making sure PEO-EIS rises to meet the financial challenges most government agencies are facing.

FCW: What priorities will you be focusing on in the coming year?

Wiltsie: There are probably four priorities that I’m going to zero in on. The first is to continue to support the warfighter, continuing to bring in the best capabilities that we can.

Second is to look at developing a system-of-systems portfolio-level management structure. The Army Vice Chief of Staff [Gen. Peter Chiarelli] has been very successful with his portfolio reviews and trying to understand the total operational capability that is provided by all the systems working together in a domain, such as precision fires; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and aviation, for example.

With that success, it’s become a priority for me to promote a system-of-systems approach so that we can make decisions at a higher level. This means that we make decisions on products by taking into account the systems-of-systems effect the product has, and we ask if we can meet that capability in a different way by challenging requirements. This requires a higher level of analysis but provides the leadership with a more holistic view. And it helps us find the most efficient way to meet the capability.

The third [priority] is to meet customer needs. We have two customers: the warfighters who use our systems and the taxpayers who foot the bill. We must consider both of our customers and give them our best effort.

[Chiarelli] has challenged the acquisition corps to work with the requirements developers and question those requirements that we believe are going to insert risk into a program, whether it’s cost risk or schedule risk. We need to help the requirements folks find what they need, be able to articulate to the leadership any potential risks and allow them to make a decision.

The fourth priority is focused on acquisition speed. It’s really about honing our core competencies. We have a responsibility to the Army to do the development and production programs as quickly as possible. This means working very closely with the contracting commands and developing procurement packages prior to getting the money.

The contracting command is working very hard to rebuild its bench of experienced contracting officers and specialists. Together we need to build the teams that can develop repeatable, competitive strategies that will shorten the front-end development time and allow us to reduce the overall source-selection timeline. It’s about shortening the end-to-end time.

FCW: The biggest topic out there right now is the budget. How will the cuts affect PEO-EIS?

Wiltsie: The transition and focus of the country have really driven us into where I expect the cuts to be starting in 2012, going into 2013 and 2014. Right now, it’s wait and see. Our job really is to execute what the Army needs and provide them with the information they need: If they cut one program, what’s the effect on overall Army capability?

We have to give them those second- and third-order effects that they may not have considered so they can make the best decision possible. At the end of the day, these are hard decisions, and we need to be part of the team that provides the best information.

Another aspect of the coming budget cuts is that we really need to focus on efficiencies. We’ve got to look inside and figure out how we can improve ourselves.

Using the new initiatives — such as Better Buying Power, efficiencies and “will cost/should cost” [management] — we continue to reduce costs and avoid future costs. We have to look at everything, from production bases to award-fee structures to organizational structure, to make sure we get the best deal for the money that’s provided.

Efficiency is the word of the day. The key is to maintain and improve combat effectiveness but also reduce operating costs and ensure that our programs have a strong business case.

FCW: Beyond the budget, what are your biggest challenges and how are you dealing with them?

Wiltsie: The top challenge is the future — planning on what we do as things start to evolve. We support the current fight but cannot let the day-to-day challenges prevent us from looking down the road.

We have to look to the future, have a forward focus and build long-term capabilities. We are transitioning from Iraq to Afghanistan and to a time where we may not always have as many resources. As funding is cut, we need to be able to articulate to the Army leadership the impacts of any cut. To do this, each program needs to have a road map of capability that can be quantified and scheduled.

My No. 1 challenge is to ensure that we are thinking about the future and framing a vision for the future of all of our programs that enables us to continue to provide capabilities.

FCW: What are your plans for collaborating across the Army and DOD?

Wiltsie: We need to continue to meet with the leadership of what we call the functionals — the Army staff elements that are the proponents for a lot of the capabilities we bring. We need to always be in sync as to what needs to happen today, what we need to do tomorrow and how we can make the necessary trade-offs for efficiencies.

With IT programs, this business changes on a very quick cycle. We need to be able to work together to figure out how what we’ve bought will integrate with the technology of the future.

At a higher level, I need to continue to work with Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Army’s Office of Business Transformation to establish the most rapid oversight and approval process possible. Beyond that, each service has a version of PEO-EIS, and we get together periodically to exchange ideas and compare notes. We especially need to continue this during these dynamic times. Keeping everyone informed of what we are capable of doing and building trust are important.

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 10, 2012 Timothy Coffin

Good article – the budget cuts being implemented now are a key topic of conversation across many organizations. I’m sure all of us agree the importance of reducing costs while continuing to support the warfighter is a priority. An innovative way to approach this is to pay for outputs – measurable outcomes; rather than inputs – activities to get to a deliverable. This reduces the risk for the government, reduces costs – and improves results. We believe this approach supports Mr. Wiltsie’s focus on ‘efficiency as the word of the day’.
Timothy Coffin, Vice President, iGATE Public Sector

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