Protect and serve
- By George I. Seffers
- Apr 16, 2001
Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr. knows what's wrong with the Defense Information Systems Agency. And he believes he has a way to fix it. DISA provides the Defense Department with networking services anywhere on the planet, during times of peace or war, but lately it has found itself facing disgruntled customers in the military services who are choosing commercial vendors over DISA to meet their networking needs.
Now the charismatic Raduege, who assumed command last June, has mapped out a 500-day plan to transform the once customer-unfriendly agency into one that is responsive and competitive. The agency's new, unofficial motto is to "protect and serve," and Raduege hopes to deliver on it by bringing about the same transformation that has occurred at other agencies: putting customers first. That means improved services, faster delivery and better customer relations.
Raduege (pronounced RA-di-gee) admits that turning DISA around will not be easy. The latest challenge to the agency came from the emerging Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract, which many saw as a direct threat to one of DISA's primary functions: providing the military with nonclassified and classified networks, known collectively as the Defense Information System Network.
Supporting military networks has not been easy either. DOD's nonclassified networks have seen a 400 percent growth in data traffic since 1996, and the classified networks have seen a 600 percent increase. DOD has been unable to cope with that explosive growth.
In addition, DOD policy mandates that anyone within the department looking for network services must go to DISA. The mandate is in the form of two policy memos, one signed in 1997, the other in 2000. The memos require that DISA be the manager and sole provider of long-haul telecommunications systems and services for DOD and that the Defense Information System Network be the means for wide-area and municipal-area networks.
In years past, the agency's attitude toward customers reflected its monopoly status.
"We're not happy until you're not happy," joked Air Force Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch. He's the principal director for network services, a new position Raduege created to provide one point of contact for network services support.
Skoch admitted that the agency's arrogant attitude was misguided. "I may have been born on a Wednesday, but I wasn't born last Wednesday, and I know when you provide customers mandates like that, they're going to find ways around it."
The threat of losing customers to commercial contracts came to a head when the $6.9 billion NMCI contract was under negotiation. If the Navy stayed onboard with the Defense Information System Network, that would drive down costs for other DISA customers. Last August, key players within the Navy, DISA and DOD locked themselves into a hot, sweaty Pentagon office and hammered out a plan that gives DISA the "right of first refusal" to meet the Navy's networking needs. Only if DISA is unable to meet the Navy's requirements will the service be able to seek a commercial vendor.
In addition to adapting to a new technical, business and political environment, DISA has had to cope with internal problems. Pockets of networking expertise have developed throughout the agency — with provisioning experts in the procurement and logistics section, network engineers in engineering and interoperability, network managers and maintenance personnel in operations, and so on — leaving customers without a clear path for support from the DISA bureaucracy. The perception among DISA customers, Skoch admits, is that DISA is overbearing and difficult to work with.
"I would be less than honest if I didn't tell you customer perceptions are driving what we're about to do in the agency," Skoch said.
With customers hungry for more bandwidth and better technology, and the government more willing to outsource services, DISA has found itself struggling to compete with the commercial sector.
Now, Raduege and his two deputies — Skoch and Army Maj. Gen. James Bryan, DISA's vice director — are set to transform the DISA culture.
DISA's New Image
Raduege, who also oversees the National Communications System, envisions a new and improved DISA where customers are treated like kings. To get there, Raduege is reorganizing DISA to better meet customers' needs. Some of the priorities include:
n Faster delivery. In the past, internal processing delays meant it took six months or longer for customers to get their services.
n Improved services. These include more bandwidth for the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network, improved network monitoring and faster network repairs. NIPRNET carries traffic vital to what top commanders call "network-centric warfare," which relies on IT systems to fight battles and supply U.S. forces around the world. The network also hosts the military's thousands of Web sites, delivers e-mail messages and personnel data, provides some weather information and offers access to the Defense Travel System.
n Better customer relations. In addition to improving customer service, plans call for the agency to do a better job of tracking orders and collecting customer feedback.
It may sound ambitious, but by last December, the agency was already on its way. In addition to revamping some internal business practices, DISA began assigning customers an advocate within the agency, giving them just one person to call for help. "We have assigned each of these [customers] specifically to someone in our organization," Raduege said. "We are committing to them, and we're going to deliver to our customers."
The general and top agency officials are selling the "New DISA" image in speeches, hoping to convince customers that DISA offers the best value for their money.
"If anyone can reorganize the way DISA does business, it's Lt. Gen. Raduege," said Paul Brubaker, who recently left his post as Defense Department deputy chief information officer for a private-sector job. "I am very high on Raduege."
The 500-Day Plan
As soon as he arrived at DISA, Raduege's biggest challenge — customer service — was waiting for him. Just weeks after he took office, DISA customers lashed out at the agency in a press report, detailing problems with slow service, unanswered phone calls and inadequate network bandwidth support.
In response, Raduege went beyond simply promising to make DISA better. With his own experience as a 31-year DISA customer, he quickly set about crafting a plan to get the agency back on track.
He fired off messages to key players, such as the CIOs in the military services, the director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the commanders in chief of the nine unified commands with operation control of U.S. combat forces. Raduege asked three key questions:
What does DISA do right? What can we do better? How can we best serve you in the future? He followed those messages with a flurry of trips and meetings to listen to customers sound off about DISA's performance.
That feedback and DISA's solutions have been incorporated into a 500-day plan for improving the agency. The plan includes 140 action items and the timelines for achieving them. According to Raduege and his staff, the idea is to put DISA's goals in writing and make Raduege accountable for meeting them. Some items will take more than 500 days, but once most have been achieved, Raduege intends to follow through with a series of 500-day plans — a tactic that worked well when he was director of command, control, communications and computer systems for U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
"I find that 500 days is a good time to make sure that you are in tune and aligned with most current technologies," Raduege said. "I think there's a risk in this business of trying to design or align yourself or commit specifically to a five- or 10-year plan for information technology. I think you can get going down that path, and before you realize it, you're dangerously off-course."
Raduege would not release a copy of the unclassified DISA plan, at the request of some customers who had two concerns. First, the plan might arm potential adversaries with useful information, such as the timelines for achieving specific goals. Second, contractors might learn what DISA customers are looking for and tailor their wares accordingly. He did, however, discuss the plan in moderate detail, and it is available — to those with access — on the agency's secret network.
Some of the 140 items in the plan have been designated high priority, including the Teleport program, an effort to buy bandwidth from commercial satellite networks in the UHF, Extremely High Frequency, Ka-band, Ku-band and C-band spectrums, as well as the Defense Satellite Communications System's X-band. Raduege described the Teleport project as a "strategic bridge between tactical forces and strategic forces."
"If any deployed force around the world can get to a Teleport site, then that can get them back into the strategic services we provide from a [continental U.S. base]. So that allows us to keep forces and services [continental U.S.]-based and project that forward," Raduege said.
Other high-priority items in the plan include enhancing system security, improving network monitoring, developing solutions for sharing information with coalition forces, enhancing operational test and exercise support, improving collaboration tools, developing a wireless strategy for all of DOD, continuing enhancements to existing systems such as the Global Command and Control System, and upgrading videoconferencing capabilities and network infrastructure.
Although it's still early in his tenure, DISA customers such as Air Force Brig. Gen. Anthony "Bud" Bell, director of command, control, communications and computer systems, Joint Forces Command, have already noticed an improvement. "They're making great progress. They've reduced the time it takes to provide services," he said.
With his ambitious 500-day plan in motion, Raduege says his biggest challenge may be changing DISA's culture. Early in his tenure, he gave agency leaders some homework — to read the popular self-help book "Who Moved My Cheese?"; "Reengineering the Corporation," now in its sixth edition; and "Leading Change" — and invited them to an off-site meeting to discuss the books and major issues. To kick off the discussion, Bryan — who plays guitar — led the group in a spoof of the song "On Wisconsin," with new lyrics about DISA issues such as the Global Information Grid, joint interoperability and providing best value to the customer.
"With the survey of our customers, the reading of the three books and a draft of the 500-day plan, it gave us a powerful base for discussion that was really meaningful," Raduege said. "What's at risk is our ability to perform our mission. If we fail at changing DISA, we risk not performing that mission."
Raduege's enthusiasm has earned him goodwill and respect among the agency's customers and within DISA.
One customer, Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Croom, said Raduege is just the man to turn DISA around. "He will do the necessary refinements and realignments to improve on the way they support the warfighter's needs," said Croom, vice director for command, control, communications and computer systems for the Joint Staff. "I'm a great supporter of [Lt.] Gen. Raduege and DISA. He's not going to be satisfied until everything is good."
That zeal has prompted some of his supporters, including Brig. Gen. Jan Hicks, to dub him "the new sheriff in town."
"The greatest change I've noticed is in the attitude at DISA. This strong customer-service orientation is a new attitude for the corporate DISA," said Hicks, director for command, control, communications and computer systems at the U.S. Pacific Command. "It's been a major change, a welcome change."