Air Force CIO Outlines $1.2 Billion Savings Plan

CIO William Lord said the Air Force can save money through network optimization, data center consolidation, identity access management, enterprise email, and other efforts.

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The Air Force expects to save $1.2 billion through IT spending cuts and efficiencies over the next five years as part of a broader Department of Defense initiative, called Defense Efficiencies, that is expected to save $100 billion over that same period.

Air Force CIO William Lord said in an interview with InformationWeek the bulk of the savings will come from seven areas: network optimization, data center consolidation, identity access management, enterprise email, telephone switchboard operations, bandwidth consolidation, and lower personnel costs tied to the efficiency push. The Air Force's fiscal 2011 IT budget is $7.18 billion.

The Air Force operates about a half dozen data centers, which isn't a lot compared to some other federal agencies, but Lord said there's room for savings. The service will look to consolidate data center operations by making increased use of the Defense Information Systems Agency's facilities, and it may look to the commercial sector, as well. Some of the possibilities for transition to cloud computing or hosted services include non-combat IT services such as enterprise email, certain types of financial transactions, and payroll systems, Lord said.

The Air Force's manually operated telephone switchboards are also targets for cost cutting. "There's no reason every Air Force base has to have its own switchboard," Lord said. Switchboard consolidation will be part of a broader shift to converged IP services. The move from older TDM switches to IP networking alone could save $185 million, Lord estimated.

The Air Force is looking to get more bang for its buck by joining with other military branches for tech purchasing. "Today we do consolidated IT purchasing, lumping together orders for laptops, servers, switches, and hubs," Lord said. "We've gotten much more efficient in doing that, but when we combine our purchasing power with other services, we have a bigger voting block to go to [equipment makers] to get deeper discounts. We need to do more of that."

Lord thinks the efficiency initiatives will result in more collaborative and effective IT operations across DOD. "IT efficiencies provide a great target for the [military branches] to come together and provide better services at a lower cost," he said.

In a strategy briefing last November, Lord identified IT efficiency as a major thrust for his office, along with a handful of tech initiatives, including bolstering cybersecurity and deploying new communications tools.

Only about a quarter of the Air Force's IT spending goes to computer systems; the rest goes toward IT that's embedded in weapons systems, which tends to be managed through program offices for each weapons platform or aircraft type, such as the F-22 or Predator. That approach has resulted in a mishmash of data links and interoperability issues. In response, the Air Force has drawn up an aerial networking strategy to enable aircraft--including carrier-launched planes, helicopters, and intelligence aircraft--to better communicate.

In addition, hundreds of users--Lord included--are testing Apple iPhones and iPads and Android devices. The Air Force has just completed a six-month mobility study as it develops an enterprise-wide strategy that could eventually put mobile devices into the hands of many of its employees.

"We'd build a network that's agnostic of the device," Lord said. "We think we could issue airmen a mobile device when they enter the service that they can keep for as long as they're in and even when they get out."

Security remains the biggest hurdle to that plan. "We need better cross-application security," Lord said. "How do I do identity management so that you don't need to log on to different apps individually?" Encryption and remote-wipe capabilities are other capabilities that must be developed to save, secure mobile computing.