Bowman: Leading DOD across the enterprise finish line

Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman

Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, CIO at the Joint Staff, believes that IT can change the way DOD carries out its work. (Photo: DOD)

The Defense Department is changing. From the outside, the reasons might seem obvious: wars are winding down, budgets are being cut and national security policies are changing. And to varying degrees, all those things are indeed shaping the next-generation DOD.

But on the inside, there is a slightly different view. While budgets and geopolitics are driving some contraction, the department is also becoming leaner because its leaders want to build a better connected, more agile organization. IT is playing a key role in bringing together the services to share information, services, platforms and costs. And behind the scenes, Army Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman is quietly helping to drive that change.

Bowman, who in March was tapped to be director of command, control, communications and computers and CIO at the Joint Staff, is resurrecting that briefly shuttered function, known as J6. And, flanked by an accomplished team of defense IT professionals, he is breaking down the walls that have long hindered sharing.

A believer in communications, the network and the technologies that advance them, Bowman consistently stresses that IT can change the way DOD does business. He readily acknowledges the hurdles before him, but multiple supporters said Bowman knows, firsthand, what this kind of evolution can herald.

Perhaps equally important, Bowman is a believer in the enterprise concept and what it can do for the military.

“We have a fiscal environment that’s now going to be different than it has in the past,” Bowman said in an interview with FCW. “We’ve had 10 years of war and lots of money coming in and lots of upgrades on the forward edge that we’ve adopted back here [at home]. We’re not going to have that money. We’re going to have to capitalize on what the other guy’s got and share costs instead of doing it all ourselves.”

The logistics behind becoming an enterprise

Change is not easy for any agency, but historically it has been particularly difficult at DOD. Although rich in military tradition, the divisions that have long separated the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can make it hard to share critical information in an era of coalition warfare and networks that are unconstrained by conventional boundaries.

Bowman recognizes that challenge, but said he is determined to overcome the resistance to change that reinforces such divisions.

His strategy? “It’s 100 percent leadership. It’s talking to people and getting them to realize that Wayne Gretzky didn’t get to be the greatest hockey player in the world because he played the puck where it was or where he wanted it to be. He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the strongest, but he knew to skate where the puck was going to be,” Bowman said. “What we need to convince people is that change isn’t bad. Change is necessary. This is a way to do it. Now let’s be part of the solution as opposed to [being] expert problem identifiers.”

That faith in the power of leadership, however, does not translate into an overly top-down approach. “The way I play it is it’s much less about me and much more about the team. I’m just a happy member of the team,” Bowman said. “This is a team sport. We’re all in this together, and we all need to be pulling for enterprise solutions together.”

Those who have worked with Bowman paint him as a strong leader whose approach to his new role — he was confirmed in late September — is exactly what is needed to usher in the evolution necessary to achieve an enterprise-focused DOD.

“Gen. Bowman is a senior leader who gets things over the finish line,” said Col. John Schrader, chief of staff at the Army National Cemeteries Program. “He doesn’t like wasting time — his, his people’s or his bosses’.” Schrader worked with Bowman in the 1990s and again more recently at the Army CIO’s office. He said for Bowman it is all about getting warfighters what they need. “That’s his gift — focusing large organizations on what really matters,” Schrader said. “It’s never about him. It’s always about the unit, the organization, the Army, the Defense Department.”

These days, much of Bowman’s focus is on some of the core components of his enterprise vision, including the Joint Information Environment. The comprehensive, coalition-aimed program is designed to provide a seamless, holistic operational view to troops everywhere, improving the speed and ability to share data and intelligence regardless of location or mission.

“The desire for coalition partners to share classified information [and] mission information among each other is huge and can never be understated,” Bowman said. “With JIE, we can have a network that’s operational for any type of mission — combat, disaster relief, homeland. Having something like a hurricane or a tsunami causes people to have to work together.… If we have an environment like that, where we can go anywhere we need to and share at any classification throughout the operation, we’ll get much better results.”

A key part of JIE is the Future Mission Network, a follow-on to the ad hoc Afghanistan Mission Network that evolved from the need to communicate across coalition forces in that country. Bowman has been heavily involved in both efforts and said he will continue to be as the Future Mission Network evolves into an even broader mission partner environment.

The coalition communication programs have proved invaluable in battle zones, and they are a cornerstone of JIE and a prime example of the department’s enterprise efforts, Bowman said. He is helping direct the initiative’s ongoing development, including meeting biweekly with other executive-level DOD officials to closely monitor progress and chart the way ahead.

“We have to make sure we don’t lose momentum. The JIE’s a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t have irreversible momentum behind it yet,” he said. “If it were left alone, it would go right back to where it was — everyone doing their own thing — and we can’t afford that, operationally or financially.”

It is that kind of focus that makes those who know Bowman say the program could not be in more capable hands.

“Mark brings an incredible mix of tactical and operational signal experience, plus an extraordinary understanding of joint operations,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, former Army CIO and now a partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney. “Simply stated, he’s the right guy at the right time in the right place. He will help drive the JIE to reality.”

Staying open to new ideas

The Joint Staff position is not Bowman’s first run as a leader or as a CIO, but it is the first time anyone has been both C4 director and CIO at the Joint Staff. For him it makes sense: When J6 was disestablished two years ago as part of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ efficiency measures, it left a gap in network connectedness for the military.

“With the increased dependence on the network, the increased threats to the network and the fiscal environment we’re in, it just makes sense to have it all together so we can be mutually supportive and push it forward,” Bowman said. “The environment is just perfect for success today.… We’re dealing with that reality, and we can do better than we have in the past.”

Part of doing things better is starting from within the organization, said Bowman, who sees his directorate as a prime place for testing new capabilities before fielding them more broadly. Examples include enterprise e-mail, thin-client technology and efforts to reduce costs by cutting down on printing.

“We’re open to new ideas. What we’re going to do here at J6 is always try it out ourselves first,” he said. “We identify issues and get it fixed, then we start working with other directorates and activities to put them on as pilot users.”

Those experiments serve to identify potential savings and push DOD toward its enterprise vision. By getting new capabilities right at J6 first, it makes makes the transition easier and helps overcome the cultural barriers while also proving the viability of shared resources and services, bringing the forces together, and improving defense.

“Everything is a learning process, and we have to learn as we go,” Bowman said. “We need to adapt with the times. Our adversaries are using commercial off-the-shelf technology; they’re adapting. It would be irresponsible of us not to change.”

The lessons have helped shape the leadership role he has taken on, garnered from his experience in helping guide budgeting, strategy and oversight of $5 billion in Army defense IT, leading data center consolidation efforts, modernizing the Army through the Base Realignment and Closure program, and redesigning the Signal Regiment. Bowman characteristically shares the credit for those accomplishments with his colleagues.

“You take all the things you’ve worked with in the past, and quite frankly, they’re not all my ideas,” he said. “It’s obvious things were done in the past that we could do better and more securely in the future if we work together as an enterprise approach. There is no room for cultural differences.… It’s about working together and sharing the view of the network together. If I were asked if I have a quest, that’s it: for everybody to be one radius away from what’s going on.”


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