CIO: DOD IT reform requires cultural changes

DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said transitioning to a cloud-based Joint Information Environment is about more than technology.

Terry Halvorsen

CIO Terry Halvorsen said the Defense Department must rethink the way it uses technology.

As the Defense Department transitions to the Joint Information Environment, it cannot simply upgrade its technology. Instead, it must rethink the way it uses technology, CIO Terry Halvorsen said.

Although legacy systems, servers and software are in desperate need of replacement, he added that the biggest risk in the transformation process is changing the culture -- for DOD and its global partners.

"This is more about...getting people to think differently and accept that they have to think differently than [it is about] any of the technology pieces," Halvorsen said.

In presenting a new guiding document, "Way Forward to Tomorrow's Strategic Landscape," Halvorsen said change must come to everything from how people design and use documents to how they access networks to how allies coordinate with one another.

And it's going to require greater agility on DOD's part, he added.

After DOD officials outlined some of the initial plans for JIE, they discovered that their approach to the mission and partner environment was outdated.

"In the initial planning of that, we were going to take new technology, but new technology that was new to kind of the old ways of doing it," he said. "So we would have ended up with a series of point-to-point networks with allies that had some capability to share."

DOD was going to provide all the hardware to allies to create that connected network. But in the past 12 months, officials realized that a standardized international cloud would allow for quicker and more effective sharing. And it would let allies use the hardware they prefer.

"The technology really leapfrogged what we were thinking," Halvorsen said.

Allies such as the U.K. were already ahead of DOD in transitioning to a cloud-based environment.

"'Distributed compute,' that's maybe a better name for cloud," Halvorsen said. "That's where everybody is headed, and I wanted to clearly say DOD is going there, too."

In the future, DOD will collaborate with allies earlier in the policy formation process to better integrate technology and promote faster and more efficient communication, he added.

As DOD transitions to the JIE, it is eliminating old and redundant hardware and software platforms that have been patched together over the years.

"We are behind in not just closing but in getting the best value out of our data center environment," Halvorsen said, which includes not getting the best value from commercial data centers.

DOD is in the process of trimming thousands of data centers down to hundreds. The plan is to deploy a team in the first quarter of fiscal 2017 to evaluate DOD data centers and recommend which ones should be closed and where to move the data. The effort was the subject of a critical oversight report in March that asserted that DOD's closure and consolidation of data centers was lagging.

Along the way, DOD is also consolidating operating systems to a single platform: Microsoft Windows 10.

"I think up until maybe last year, we were running every version of Microsoft that had ever been invented," Halvorsen said. "That's a complexity that you don't need and frankly creates weaknesses in your system."

Despite the JIE reforms, he said he doesn't expect DOD to be able to relax on the cybersecurity front.

"The vigilance may have to change in the sense that what today is considered a secure practice, tomorrow -- and it literally could be tomorrow -- might not be secure," he said.

That means changing the attitude toward cybersecurity at DOD. First, everyone must understand that cybersecurity isn't the sole responsibility of the IT staff -- every individual has a role to play, he said. The second part is recognizing that the challenge will only grow.

"The rate of change in this environment is faster than anything anyone has ever seen before," Halvorsen said.

He added that the new strategic document represents the current thinking on how to achieve the goals of the JIE, but it must be a living document that adapts to changes in technology.

"The exact vision in this document, if it's still the same in a year, we've screwed up," he said.

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