What DOD's Joint Information Environment Needs To Succeed - InformationWeek
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Warren Suss
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What DOD's Joint Information Environment Needs To Succeed

The Defense Department's massive bet on an enterprise-wide information environment depends on whether DOD and industry can align their investment roadmaps. Here's how else industry can help.

Defense Department leaders responsible for delivering the Joint Information Environment face a huge undertaking. Their task requires achieving three challenging and potentially contradictory objectives -- reduce costs, support improved operational effectiveness, and enhance cyber security -- by essentially moving the Defense Department's various information technology investments across its branches up to a single enterprise level.

The strategy driving the JIE, a shared secure virtual space where commanders can collaborate, is premised on a few key assumptions. First, by moving IT investments to the enterprise level, JIE will help reduce costs by eliminating inefficient duplication and overlap of the DoD's IT infrastructure, services, and capabilities. 

[Want more on the JIE? Read DOD Pushes Toward Joint Information Environment.]

Second, the move to the enterprise will help enhance operations through an architecture that enables greater interoperability and allows for better communication and information-sharing between front-line forces and military services, as well as between Defense Department entities and coalition partners. That's a tall order, given the need to support military missions and also peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Third, by rationalizing our IT architectures at the enterprise level, DoD will improve its ability to ensure the cybersecurity of the department's operations. 

The big question for those working in government and industry: How to help support these lofty objectives?

Start with acquisition
One critical place to start is in designing acquisition strategies for JIE that will take advantage of the resources and creativity of the competitive marketplace. In short, if the government leadership can design the JIE to channel industry's competitive energies effectively, DoD and the US government will win, and the JIE will be a success. If not, they'll lose, and the JIE will end up as another acronym that delivered more promises than results.

(Image: US Army CIO/G-6)
(Image: US Army CIO/G-6)

The current budgetary environment, however, imposes severe restraints on the government's ability to get targeted results from industry. It's tougher than ever for the government to invest today for results tomorrow.

Budget pressures are forcing the government to shift away from capital investments -- even those that would yield high returns -- and to turn instead to operating expense strategies, where the government pays by the drink regardless of the return on investment. In place of the government buying, installing, and operating its own IT assets, acquisition officials are purchasing capacity services and cloud computing services. Although the economic argument is hard to argue, the effect shifts the burdens and risks of up-front capital investments to industry, the outcome of which is hard to calculate fully.

Combined with an improving economy, the government's budget constraints also make it difficult for the agencies to compete with industry for the management and engineering talent needed to achieve the transformations required to make JIE a success. At the same time, budget pressures make it more difficult for the government to get support from industry through staff augmentation contracting.

What's worse, the government's push to have acquisition officials use low-price-technically-acceptable (LPTA) and related purchasing strategies are making contracts less economical for experienced government contractors. The situation is also degrading the quality of the industry talent pool under contract to support programs like JIE and its need for design, engineering, operations, and management support.

Given the magnitude of JIE's goals and the challenges in paying competitive rates for contractor support, what practical options are available to get meaningful results from JIE?

The importance of alignment
One way to get from here to there is to improve the way we align JIE strategies and tactics with the IT industry's roadmap for investing in next-generation offerings in order to compete more effectively for corporate America's business. Industry is spending billions on competitive next-generation cloud, IP, and wireless offerings. Do a good job of aligning government JIE IP

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Warren Suss is President of Suss Consulting, Inc., and a nationally-recognized expert and author specializing in strategic information technology and communications issues for the federal government, the defense sector, and the government contracting community. Suss ... View Full Bio
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David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 4:21:20 PM
Who is doing this right?
Have you seen a good example of aligning DOD procurement with the kind of products vendors want to create anyway for their commercial customers? Is it possible to be demanding, in terms of what the military needs, and get a good deal for the taxpayer, while still leaving industry room to profit off its work?
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