DISA reveals strategy for near future directions

The Defense Information Systems Agency 2011-2012 Campaign Plan adds more focus and definition to the agency's near- and long-term directions, including a renewed emphasis on enterprise services and mobile-computing technologies.

The Defense Information Systems Agency had shed new light on its strategic directions for fiscal 2011 and 2012 with its 2011-2012 Campaign Plan, released June 20.

The plan provides greater definition to the agency’s near- and long-term directions, including a renewed emphasis on enterprise services and mobile-computing technologies.

This is the second time the agency has published a campaign plan. In 2010, DISA issued an initial plan defining its strategic objectives, setting priorities and establishing initiatives to better align resources and budgeting.

This year’s campaign plan addresses head-on the warfighter requirement to have the latest information for both garrisoned users and those at the “edge,” who require access to information anywhere and anytime, allowing them to make informed decisions.

“The 2011-2012 Campaign Plan really starts better defining some the areas that we need to focus on in terms of technology and architecture to further enable those edge capabilities,” said Paige Atkins, DISA’s director of Strategic Planning and Information. “It’s a refinement and additional focus in that area. Everything we do we have to keep in mind the edge, whether the tactical edge or the mobile user.”

“Operationally, we must enable services for the edge; any user, any device, anywhere – to include mobile users,” states DISA Director Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett in the opening section of campaign plan.

Central to this effort is DISA’s enterprise infrastructure, a converged platform consisting of the Defense Department’s core communications, computing and enterprise services that allows the warfighter to connect to the information resources they need from any device, anywhere in the world.

Pollett said in the plan that DISA is “continuing to make progress” on providing an efficient, secure and integrated enterprise infrastructure. The agency makes the case that an integrated information enterprise must support new service-oriented implementations, including cloud computing and server virtualization.

“Cloud computing is widely recognized as a fundamental shift in the way IT is managed,” states DISA’s campaign plan. “The agency will focus on the maturation and migration to cloud service models.”

DISA is the logical organization within the Defense Department to meet the need for a defense cloud, providing infrastructure, software- and platform-as-a-service for the enterprise standardized across the department, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

“It’s a more disciplined approach that is the direction that DOD is going to have to take,” Suss said.

Enterprise email is a high-priority initiative in the partnerships section of the campaign plan, a reference to the Army’s enterprise e-mail migration to the private DISA cloud. The Army enterprise e-mail solution is hosted at nine of DISA’s Defense Enterprise Computing Centers (DECCs).

“DISA has done a great job in many ways of establishing a robust, mature, high-bandwidth infrastructure to serve DOD,” said Suss. “The next challenge for them is to build on this infrastructure and to move to providing enterprise services. They’ve taken some important first steps in that direction, most notably in working with the Army to put their e-mail in the DECCs.”

The continuing challenge for DISA and the DECCs will be to suppress the appetite for service-unique, one-off solutions and to encourage the use of standardized defense-wide services, he said.

Going mobile

DOD’s increasing use of smart phones and tablet computers has made information sharing an expectation among warfighters that require new capabilities, particularly in the edge or tactical environments that have limited availability to robust connectivity. “Advances in mobile-computing technologies offer significant and unprecedented opportunities for seamless information sharing to end users,” states the technology forecast section of the campaign plan.

To date, however, DOD has not kept up with technology in the area of mobile computing, according to DISA’s Atkins.

“We see young folks on the civilian or military side coming in [to the department] and they are used to using smart phones and other devices, and they don’t have the same kinds of capabilities when they are trying to perform their mission,” she said. “We are very focused on enhancing those capabilities, leveraging the mobile technology, adapting it to our environment and ensuring that as we move forward we have a good strategy in place to be able to take advantage of those technologies.”

According to the campaign plan, DISA is hoping to drive DOD’s implementation of mobile-computing devices by providing:

  • Mobile applications that include capabilities for visualizing mission information on mobile devices.
  • Application storefronts for delivery of applications, updates and device configurations.
  • Server infrastructure required to support rich mobile applications.
  • Mobile-device services as a virtual network provider.
  • Enterprise security configuration standards.

In May, DISA issued a request for information from industry seeking advice on how the agency might become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator to manage more than a million smart phones and other devices. According to the RFI, DISA is trying to learn from Mobile Network Operators and Mobile Virtual Network Enablers the steps, resources and lead time required to support more than a million mobile subscribers.

Resource constraints

DISA’s 2011-2012 Campaign Plan was developed with the sobering reality that DOD’s budget has assumed an overall downward trend.

“We must deliver these operational capabilities in a resource-constrained world and while budgets continue to decline,” states Pollett in the plan. “We must optimize and consolidate – tough choices lie ahead.”

However, Suss believes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ initiative to reduce redundancy, improve cost effectiveness and efficiency of operations across DOD is going to play to DISA’s strengths.

“What you will see in the future are fewer large programs of record and more standardized enterprise services similar to the enterprise e-mail initiative which will be put in place using existing capabilities within DISA’s DECCs,” he said. “Cost is going to be such an important driver, and there is going to be more pressure toward standardization.”

Declining budgets and fiscal constraints aren’t the only challenges facing DISA. DOD’s pace of military operations around the globe has been a drain on the agency’s resources. According to the campaign plan, over a four-month period in fiscal 2011, DISA supported an unprecedented six simultaneous operations.

“Although successful in responding to global operations and crises, lessons learned from recent operations have pointed to a major gap – the need for an integrated strategic approach for information sharing that can rapidly support the range of operational needs across the department,” according to the campaign plan.

“We identified some themes and gaps in these operations over the last few months, and we’ve leveraged those lessons learned to provide more focus and definition to our overall intent,” said Atkins. “One of the powerful elements of the campaign plan is that it ultimately allows us to synchronize our outcomes and deliverables with our resources. Everything in the campaign plan is not fully funded. But, it helps us to guide our POM activities, helps us prioritize and helps us focus."

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