Defense IT

DISA's Bennett preaches COTS and consolidation

David Bennett

DISA CIO David Bennett wants to see a cultural shift to standard solutions.

David Bennett, CIO of the Defense Information Systems Agency, has declared war on "box huggers."

Bennett has the job of moving Defense Department customers to enterprise wide services, including the dot-mil email system that currently supports 1.6 million users on an unclassified network and they're also leading the effort to supply cloud services. But in his experience, attachment to physical products is hard to shake.

"Everybody has this perspective that the only way I can get the capability is if I build it myself, if I have the box sitting under my desk and the only way you're going to get that box out from under my desk is to tear it out of my hands when I'm dead," Bennett said at an industry event in Washington, D.C., hosted by FedScoop.

Bennett is on a mission to "shut down all these local mom and pop solutions that are popping up everywhere." Moving to enterprise solutions not only saves money on software, but allows individual business units to allocate IT support staff to other functions.

The big cultural shift, apart from giving up the box, is moving to standard solutions, Bennett said. "We can't afford to do one-off scenarios any more," he said. IT professionals have to resist the idea of "bolting on" features to enterprise solutions to satisfy a few end-user requests. "Standardization is a viable way to give the common environment that everyone should be able to leverage, because the one-off scenarios are what cost you time and money, not only to develop it but also to maintain it," Bennett said.

In words that will give comfort to vendors, Bennett said that in a time of shrinking budgets it is important for end users -- at least on the business side of DOD -- to adapt the way they do business to standards contained in commercial off-the-shelf solutions (COTS).

"The end users will say, 'I can't use that standard because my business processes don't support that. ' My perspective is: get over it," Bennett said. His advice is to see what a commercial solution can do out of the box, without any modification or customization. "That step alone saves huge amounts of time and energy."

Echoing remarks made at a DISA Industry Day, Bennett called for more unified capabilities in commercial solutions that not only supply new features but also replace expensive old requirements. One example is unified communications, which allows users to get rid of their desktop telephone and make voice calls over IP using software. In the same vein, Bennett is looking forward to completing the move to virtual desktop, to achieve cost savings on security and hardware.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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Reader comments

Thu, Aug 28, 2014

Todd Parks recently said, "...But the federal government’s IT mentality is still rooted in caution, as if the digital transformation that has changed our lives is to be regarded with the utmost suspicion. It favors security over experimentation and adherence to bureaucratic procedure over agile problem-solving." And it would appear by the comments made by David Bennett that he is the poster boy for bureaucracy.

Fri, Aug 22, 2014 RonW

Misleading title, most phone and computer services are COTS as far as I can tell. I thought he was talking about the rest of the story, the hardware that is being built with COTS parts. In a three year design project, we (the government) had to redesign/recertify two major parts three times, a common part once, and now that the hardware is 75% deployed, two of the parts are in obsolescence and a third is being talked about obsolescence. Oh, and because it is COTS, and third party at that, we have no data, and there are only five electronic modules/cards inside. How do you support the warfighter with parts (lack of?) that are no longer supported before it is even fully fielded? At least in the non-COTS days, the Government had data, could often build the part they need or redesign for the new missions. much of COTS is, "tough, our way or no way".

Fri, Aug 22, 2014 jpf

While I agree utilizing COTS, vitualizing, etc is a great idea and should be done as much as possible, I have also seen where trying to implement a COTS product has ultimately cost the govt 4 times more than custom code. And for someone to say "get over it", I think is a very poor manager and should be fired. How about a little professionalism here!

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