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Wennergren: Evolving tech is breaking down silos

Evolving technology is breaking down silos

Approaches to building information technology systems for the Defense Department have varied widely over the years. Dave Wennergren, deputy assistant secretary of Defense Information Management, Integration and Technology, and the deputy chief information officer, believes the information technology community is now positioned to build better systems faster and for less money by using the lessons learned from the past.

Here are some highlights of a talk Wennergren gave at a recent Industry Advisory Council meeting.

How we learn from the past

As I’ve watched things over the last decade or so, I’ve noticed big changes. We produced lots of local-area solutions. So we built local-area networks because it was easy because the scale was something you could manage and could be agile for your customers and you could deliver results.

Two problems emerged. You have the problem where we keep building the same thing over and over again because every local group wanted the same thing. So multiple applications of the same nature happened over and over again, and that cost money.

The second problem was technology helped cement the information stovepipes that we still have today because all of those local networks and local systems contribute to the culture.

How government responded to those problems

The pendulum swung in the other direction. We swung to this world where you don’t need all those local applications, we can build you a single system. And if you build single systems, then you will eliminate the stovepipes.

Single systems tend to be cumbersome and slow to deploy. And they tend to never satisfy anyone because they’re trying to satisfy everyone.

What we can do now

I think the world we’re in now we can have the best of both worlds. The service-oriented [approach] allows you to have the best of the local-only world and the big IT system world.

If you can be a service-oriented enterprise, you can deliver things much more rapidly and make great progress. If you’re a meteorologist, for example, you don’t have to wait for the day that we build a big honking weather system. You can actually call those enterprise services and build yourself a Web services solution, publish it, and people can reuse it.

Local innovation can happen quickly, and because it is a Web-based world it can be reused. So this service-oriented enterprise is changing everything about us.

How this changes things

It is all about the data. It is the heart of the matter for us. It is about moving to a data world where you can make data exposed. So our buzzwords are: visible, accessible, understandable and trusted. If you can do that, you can bring capabilities to bear so fast.

Maritime Domain Awareness Data Sharing, for example, doesn’t replace systems. We wanted to know what’s on commercial vessels coming into our harbors, which is actually an information-sharing problem.

So we said, “Who has data?” We wrapped up the information for the organizations that had it, the Navy, the intelligence community, the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation.

So we had information and we formed a community of interest. We described the data and made it visible. And the next thing you know the system is there.

They avoided the temptation that we would have fallen into in the past, which would have said, "I’ve discovered five legacy systems, we’re going to replace them with an uber system."

Where Web 2.0 fits in

It is not just for home anymore. If you think Second Life is just a game, you’re probably missing the point because many companies are using Second Life for online collaboration in virtual worlds.

If you think Facebook is just a way to get a date or meet up with friends from college, you’re probably missing the point because I have people using all sorts of things like Facebook. Combat commands are using Facebook and Twitter.

This kind of stuff is actually happening in our world. So we can view it as if it is only about other people. It is really the way we will get work done. And if you want to be the employer of choice for the next generation, you better offer that kind of work environment.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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