DOD targets aggressive mobile timelines

A 30-day approval process is critical to getting new tools into the field, Pentagon official says. But is that realistic?

soldier using tablet pc

A strategy for dramatically slashing the Defense Department's lengthy processes for approving mobile capabilities may represent a fresh approach at the Pentagon. It can take nine months to a year to green-light new mobile devices, applications and operating systems under the current system, a process that all too often renders the technology obsolete by the time it is ready to be deployed. Now, plans are in the works that could eventually slash that amount of time down to 30 days.

"We're trying to find ways to do things faster, more securely, cheaper and jumping the productivity curve," said Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler, DOD deputy CIO for command, control, communications, computers and Information Infrastructure. "Whether it's in Washington, D.C., the edge of the battlefield or onto the battlefield, that's the challenge for us... to access what you need at any point in the world."

Wheeler, speaking April 30 at the Mobile Work Exchange town hall meeting in Washington, said the vision requires DOD leadership to think and make decisions differently about deploying technology, whether it is to troops in the field or civilian personnel across the country. Officials also are partnering with other agencies, including the National Institute for Standards and Technology, to make sure the accelerated process is done correctly, without introducing new risks, amid a race against time that is the frenetic pace of IT development.

"Our objective here is to run it within 30 days. That's going to require us to look at things a little differently and we think we have at least straw man of how we're going to get there," he said. "We're trying to work very quickly with NIST...they understand that if we do not work quickly together as a team, we're going to get behind not only [commercial technology], but we'll end up with all types of problems with security and updating at a cost to DOD."

In the various components of DOD – and within the federal government writ large – the shift toward a fast-tracked approval process would be welcome news as managers struggle to supply workers with up-to-date technology critical to their agency's mission.

"We have said from very beginning that we're taking way too long to get devices onto approved lists, or to get applications or anything like that," said Lt. Col. Anmy Torres, chief of cyber plans, transport, and sustainment at the Air National Guard. "There are so many organizations with apps they've developed to meet needs that all need to be in this [approved] environment. A 30-day process would help us keep up with demand and still be in the window we can use them, since some [technologies] are so short-lived."

The push for accelerated processes fits in with a wider theme at DOD, where the department's mobile device strategy and implementation plan, released last June and in February respectively, emphasize the need to maximize potential benefits of mobility.

According to Wheeler, that emphasis paves the way for DOD eventually to release between one and 10 new mobile devices per year, as well as between one and six new operating system updates per year and 18,000 app approvals per quarter. But for now, he indicated that one of his top priorities is the 30-day approval process.

"It's going to take us a while to get where we need to go, but the bottom line is 30 days," Wheeler said. "We can't afford anything [longer] than 30 days, because this really makes a difference in the field, in taking care of business and in being able to do more with less."

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