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11/2/2011
10:14 AM
John Foley
John Foley
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Pentagon CIO's Tech Revamp: 4 Priorities

With a new enterprise IT plan in hand, Teri Takai outlines what's next as the Department of Defense looks to introduce new technologies while strengthening its cyber defenses.

It's been a year since Teri Takai, former CIO of California, took over as CIO of the U.S. Department of Defense, where she oversees what may be the world's largest IT budget, some $38 billion. It was a risky move for her: The DOD was in the middle of overhauling its CIO office, and here was a woman with no military background coming from 2,700 miles outside the Beltway to see it through.

Takai has spent the past year hammering out IT strategy and policy, much of which will become public over the next few months in the form of DOD directives. The plan for reorganizing the CIO office (formally known as the Office of Networks and Information Integration) has been finalized and awaits signoff. It defines more clearly the authority of the CIO, to include oversight of IT spending and implementation, as well as the CIO's relationships with U.S. Cyber Command, the Defense Information Systems Agency, and DOD's office of Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.

Meantime, Takai has been working on an "IT enterprise plan" that aims to move the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines from the branch-specific systems and networks they've used for years to a shared-services model. Cost savings and other efficiencies are the goal, but it will be slow going. The 10-year plan identifies 38 projects, only a handful of which have been started. Those include DOD-wide data center consolidation, the rollout of enterprise email service across the Army, and server virtualization by the Marines. The enterprise plan is "just about ready" to publish, Takai says.

If it seems like 12 months is a long time to get the wheels of change turning at the Pentagon, Takai would agree. The size, scope, structure, and culture of the Pentagon have taken some getting used to. "I'm continually surprised at the steps that need to take place here, but we're making our way through the process," she said in an interview with InformationWeek at the Pentagon.

Now ready to shift from strategy setting to implementation, Takai outlined her top four priorities:

• No. 1 is supporting the front-line warrior, including providing technology--much of it communications infrastructure, and tools--for training, base operations, and the battlefield. Increasingly, the military is moving from proprietary systems to commercial products in these areas, Takai says.

• No. 2 is managing the DOD's huge IT budget. Given the rollercoaster approval process and the prospect that next fiscal year's budget is subject to cuts, this requires her constant attention. The DOD is already looking at $450 billion in budget reductions over the next 10 years, and that could grow to $1 trillion if the Congressional "super committee" (the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) can't reach agreement on government-wide budget cuts.

DOD's fiscal year 2012 IT budget stands at $38.4 billion. It's too early to say whether it will go up or down in fiscal 2013, but there's no question that the Pentagon will have to increase spending in areas such as cybersecurity. Takai and the CIOs of the military branches will have to squeeze costs elsewhere.

• No. 3 is the need for new technologies, including commercial mobile devices. The Pentagon has 50 mobile pilot programs underway, ranging from iPhones for training to iPads for Defense brass. The Army is even looking into the feasibility of providing all soldiers with smartphones. Assuring secure access to unclassified and classified networks is the big challenge, Takai says.

• Which leads us to Takai's fourth, and overarching, priority: IT security. Earlier this year, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn announced that the military would treat cyberspace as an "operational domain", akin to land, sea, air, and space. That's a huge change, and explains why former Defense Secretary Robert Gates weighed in on the DOD CIO's job description before he retired in June. "He wanted to make sure that the role of the CIO was very well defined in our relationship with Cyber Command," the Defense unit that coordinates DOD network defenses, Takai says.

While Cyber Command has day-to-day responsibility for cyber defense, the DOD CIO will provide "civilian oversight" and collaborate with Cyber Command on its tech investments, according to the plan that awaits approval. When might the DOD CIO stick her nose into Cyber Command's business? "It's a fine line," Takai says. She points to the tsunami in Japan in March as an example of when that could happen. That disaster impacted DOD networks, and the U.S. military provided humanitarian assistance.

Surprisingly, cloud computing isn't baked into DOD's IT enterprise plan. Takai is exploring using private clouds and cloud services from DISA, but commercial, public cloud services are further out. "We're a ways from doing an RFI," she says.

The Pentagon is a long way from Sacramento, where Takai spent three years in former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, driving data center consolidation, energy conservation, and IT governance. Before that, she worked as CIO of Michigan and in the private sector for Ford, EDS, and auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul.

That mix of experience should serve Takai well as she directs more of her time and energy toward business execution. The conditions are ripe for change in DOD's IT operations, and the government's fiscal crisis demands it.

John Foley is editor of InformationWeek Government.

To find out more about John Foley, please visit his page.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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