Langston foresees an IT-dependent DOD

A top technology official for the Defense Department last week described the agency as an organization that 10 years from now will operate as a virtual department, with computer systems that are "99 percent" reliable for filling users' needs. But some information technology experts question whether the agency is properly poised to make that vision a reality.

DOD's deputy chief information officer Marv Langston, in a speech to the Washington chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, said the department will make broader use of numerous technologies in the coming decade. DOD will rely on biometrics, such as fingerprint identification systems, to keep computer networks secure; videoconferencing to reduce its travel costs by 25 percent; more security products to reduce the number of successful hacker attacks; and vast amounts of near real-time data to increase efficiency and productivity.

"Obviously, that is a very bright future I am painting," said Langston, whose business card has the slogan "The Future's so Bright We Gotta Wear Shades." Langston delivered his speech as if he was speaking in 2009.

The picture that Langston painted was not too abstract for attendees. "I think that the vision that he presented is not that far from today's reality," said Warren Suss, a telecommunications consultant and a member of AFCEA's board of directors. Suss explained that Asynchronous Transfer Mode equipment for the Defense Information Systems Network, for example, will help DOD systems move information rapidly.Some of Langston's visions may take more than 10 years—or a lot more energy—if they are going to become reality, according to Suss and others.

Langston's vision of the future included an emphasis on outsourcing DOD technology operations, such as outsourcing backbones for telecommunications networks, which Langston said could take place within five years. But Suss said outsourcing, which will require moving entrenched DOD responsibilities and jobs to the private sector, may take longer. "In the area of outsourcing, I think that's going to be a longer road to get there," he said.

Some attendees said new technology and new business policies will not be the linchpin of a more efficient IT operation that should, by Langston's estimation, run with 99 percent reliability.

"I think, quite frankly, it's the human dimension," said Len Pomata, president of PRC Inc., part of Litton/PRC Inc. Pomata also said DOD leaders should look at DOD's organization and how people involved in one technology program might work with people working in another program. "I think the various components of the military really need to look at the true jointness of the programs," he said.

Pomata also cautioned that new technologies will continue to change Langston's 10-year vision. "There will be disruptive technologies that will change all of that," he said.

Langston also told AFCEA attendees that the Year 2000 computer problem helped DOD move toward its 10-year vision by pushing leaders to focus less on individual systems, programs and business processes.Year 2000 consultant David Eddy, based in Babson Park, Mass., said few organizations have organized their systems as efficiently as possible in the wake of the Year 2000 problem. Many organizations still have not created detailed and highly organized inventories of the applications that run on their systems. "It's very easy to claim that Y2K has gotten everybody to get their act together," Eddy said. "I don't see the evidence."


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected