Budget worries loom large for DOD IT future

The transition in the defense sector will center on a single, painful factor: budget cuts. And that could be good news for IT. With Defense Department spending certain to take a major hit in the ongoing budget-cutting efforts, defense IT will become an increasingly prominent enabler because it can allow organizations to continue their operations at lower cost.

“We all know what’s happening in our economic environment and in government,” said Steven Boutelle, formerly the Army's CIO and now vice president of Cisco’s Global Government Solutions Group. "The big question is, how do we manage all of these complexities, drive efficiency and drive costs down? That’s what we have to focus on across the government. We have to invest in the right places and leverage the massive market of connected devices.”

In 1989, $700 billion was taken from the defense budget, and Army forces went from 800,000 to 484,000 soldiers, Boutelle said. The current active-duty Army stands at 562,000, so the service can't make those sorts of cuts now, he added. “We’re much smaller in manpower. It’s going to come out of infrastructure. What we need is massive reductions to total cost [of] ownership.”

For the Army to meet both its operational and financial obligations, it will need to take full advantage of the marketwide explosion in connected devices. That explosion equals an average of roughly 140 devices per person, Boutelle said, and those devices range from the obvious tablet PCs and smart phones to the less obvious refrigerators and insulin pumps.

Dave Mihelcic, chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said we can expect mobile technology to continue to skyrocket.

“In the future, DOD will have devices for all classification levels,” he said. “I’ll go even further: We’ll have devices that will span classified, secret and top secret [networks], and based on geolocation and sensors that determine the environment you’re working in, [they] will allow you to switch between those environments so that you can process data at those classification levels.”

For security, Mihelcic predicted that the devices will be embedded with public-key infrastructure certificates and will automatically detect the user’s identity using biological measures such as heart rate, respiration and even smell.

Unfortunately, DOD's current network might not be able to support such a rapid buildup in mobile IT — a problem complicated by budget reductions that could prevent adequate investment, Boutelle said.

That is where reducing the total cost of ownership will come into play, starting with smart buildings, the smart electrical grid and DOD’s current efforts to consolidate data centers, he said.

“The only way to do it is to start at the local level, with infrastructure, and become less dependent on energy sources,” Boutelle said. “The only thing harder than getting an old idea out is getting a new idea in. But the market transition will wait for no one.”

Read more of Federal IT's next act or return to the 2011 Federal List.

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