Q & A: Army CIO Advances Consolidation Effort

Cloud computing and powerful mobile devices are part of Jeffrey Sorenson's plan to centralize Army IT and make it more consistent for soldiers deploying from bases to the battlefield.
Sorenson: Clear and fundamental to the whole capability with respect to cloud is predominantly presence and awareness, making sure that when I log into a system, it recognizes who I am, what information I'm allowed to see, and I can get to that information anywhere in the world. We've got a major effort ongoing to consolidate something like 17 to 19 different Active Directory forests into a single forest for e-mail and a single forest for applications.

InformationWeek: You have a lot of acquisition expertise. What's needed in terms of IT procurement reform?

Sorenson: Acquisition goes through steps where you define the requirement, turn that requirement into a specification, put it out for bid, go through development, then go through testing, then finally get to fielding and sustainment. It's not that those parts don't make sense with IT, but the problem is that with Moore's Law, technology advances so rapidly that by the time we lock in budget and then go to execute it, 18 months have transpired, and things that we are interested in pursuing are difficult because every dollar has been accounted for in another program when that program is now out of date.

We're hoping to get a little bit of budget that is not necessarily focused on particular programs but is focused on the development of IT, some amount of money that gives the department leeway to go out and acquire the latest technology because in 18 months things could change.

Right now we're conducting a study on behalf of the chief and the acquisition secretary to look at how to improve requirement definition for IT, how to better align our acquisition organizations within the Army to procure things. We have to spend some time and effort on end-to-end simulation and testing. We're trying to put that together to validate how we can deliver battle command applications at the distant edge because the distant edge is not in many cases megabits, it's in some cases kilobits or bits.

InformationWeek: What's the future of mobile handheld devices in combat?

Sorenson: This effort looking at the battle command capability is about trying to see how we can advance delivery of current technology to the force. When I was over in Afghanistan this year, the [top IT official] there showed me a chart of battle command capabilities and over 60% was non-program of record, meaning things they had bought off the shelf. He's not unique. We've got to adopt our process to bring in these non-program of records.

Apple, with the iPhone, standardized their operating environment, and we intend to do something similar to that at the levels of the network operations centers and the data centers, the vehicles and the aircraft, and small form factors. How do we standardize those environments so we can put out a software development kit and allow third-party vendors or in some cases even soldiers -- I've seen one reserve soldier develop an application on his iPhone that would be very useful in the combat arena -- can begin to integrate systems into our network capability and in a manner that we don't compromise security?

At the end of the day, it's working on how we separate the data and development to really create more of an iPhone experience. Our adversary is going to be there and we need to be there as well.