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DoD’s Joint Information Environment- Does it have any teeth?

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DISAThe Department of Defense’s Joint Information Environment (JIE) is DISA’s brainchild to  consolidate and converge multiple networks into one common, shared network.  There is no doubt about it:  you could reasonably expect increased operational efficiency and cost savings through reduced infrastructure and manpower if you could achieve this.  In the past year, I’ve noticed that the PowerPoint’s are getting prettier and longer.  But one of my long-term lessons learned from years of working with DoD is that Service Components don’t want to give up control, even if they get more and pay less!    So what makes anyone think that the JIE will develop enough muscle to get anything done?

I’ve seen over and over again examples of “big-DoD” initiatives to consolidate requirements, and they rarely work.  DISA surely will remember the Net Enabled Command and Control System (NECC) that was going to roll up all the service requirements for command and control into one big program.  After four years and hundreds of millions of dollars, the program was terminated and the funding was returned to each of the services.  The end result was a four-year delay in getting operational requirements funded and fielded.

What torpedoed it?  Basically, the service components were unable (unwilling?) to agree on the requirements and implementation details.  It’s worth thinking about why that is so hard, because I think it could play in the success of JIE.

Services are pretty good an enforcing appetite control on their own programs and forcing each other to come up with the compromises that make these hard decisions possible.   After all, every sailor, airman, soldier, and marine knows: you can’t have EVERYTHING.  You have to prioritize.  It’s obvious.

But when these operational programs get bumped up to the Joint level, it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet and no one is in charge of appetite suppression!  Everything looks good and you want to have it all.  This is a simplistic analogy, but bear with me.  The buffet line makes money for the restaurant ONLY because they get everyone who comes into the door to pre-pay a set amount. But that’s not how DISA operates.  They are strictly “pay-as-you-go”.   So who is in charge of appetite suppression in a scenario like that?  Who can force the sailors to give and take with the soldiers on operational requirements that are core to their mission?  Who gets to prioritize these requirements in a fair and equitable way?

I’m an eternal optimist, and here are a few thoughts on some things that might actually give JIE some breathing room.

  • The current fiscal environment will have some clarifying effects on Service requirements.  If DISA offers the Army, for example, an acceptable “off-ramp” for some of their very expensive IT functions, they might just grab the lifeline and jump.
  • RADM Dave Simpson, Deputy DISA, recently addressed a group of 1000 folks in Charleston, SC where he was asked, “Does JIE have teeth?”   He answered that the Joint Chiefs have endorsed it, and so has Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who remains laser-focused on belt-tightening measures.  Additionally, he stated he has the support of Ms. Teri Takai, who continues to be a strong supporter.  Applying this pressure down to the Service Components will be hard, but with enough pressure, it’s possible.
  • In the Navy, OPNAV N2N6 published in August their IDEAs (Information Dominance Engagement Area) for JIE and clearly stated that they will adopt the JIE standards and will use “capabilities required across DoD to enable information sharing, collaboration and interoperability….” Although it also maintains that Navy will require their own IT infrastructure (not ALL will be shared), it states they will take their direction from DoD CIO (Ms. Takai) and U.S. Cyber Command.
  • DISA continues to make small strides, like the EUCOM test pilot.  There have been some serious discussions about wrapping Navy’s expensive OCONUS ONE-NET under JIE, which would signal some needed Service Component support and trust.

We can monitor the success of JIE by its actual output.  Cracking the tough nuts like identity and access management would be a good start.  As Enterprise Services are rolled out to the Army, the other services are watching to gage the customer satisfaction.  The cost is right.   Stand by for some upcoming pilots (classified and unclassified) from DISA early next year as they try to get this right.  It’s always been the “right idea”.  Is now the “right time”?

 

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com

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