DISA's Bennett preaches COTS and consolidation

The CIO of the Defense Information Systems Agency is finding that attachment to physical products is hard to shake.

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.

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