There is a terrific article in ComputerWorld, 17 July 2008, called “Pentagon’s IT unit seeks to borrow tech ideas from Google, Amazon, other companies.”
Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) provides IT solutions to the Department of Defense. So what DISA does has to be state-of-the- art and best practice 24x7x365. Their mission depends on it!
To keep ahead of the curve, John Garing, DISA’s CIO and a retired Air Force colonel has been visiting with top tier private sector companies like Google, Amazon, UPS, Sabre, and FedEx to identify their best practices and incorporate them.
What has DISA learned from the private sector?
1. Cloud Computing
According to Garing, cloud computing is “going to be the way—it has to be. We have to get to this standard environment that is provisionable and scalable.”
To this end, “DISA has begin deploying a system [Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE)] that is similar architecturally to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) technology, a web-based computing service that enables users to quickly scale up their processing capabilities.”
Using RACE, a soldier in the field will be able to use a client device (like a PDA) with web support and “dynamically access a wide range of information sources and meld together data,” such as blue force tracking, mapping of combatant locations, identification of aid stations, fuel and ammunition supplies, and so forth.
2. Elastic and flexible
DISA has to be prepared to handle the unexpected and this means they need to be able to flexible to meet a mission need or fight a war or two. Garing has found that companies like Amazon and Sabre have built their IT infrastructures to enable “elasticity and flexibility.”
3. Competing for business
Like the private sector that competes for market share, DISA sees itself and operates “like a business and produce[s] an attractive offering of IT services at a competitive price. They recognize that they “compete for the business it gets from other military agencies, which in some cases have options to use private-sector IT service providers.”
4. Process-driven and Speedy
Like enterprise architecture, which looks at both business processes and technology enablement, Garing is “interested in the processes that companies use to deploy technology, not just their technology itself.” DISA wants to learn how to speed an idea to a service in just a few months as opposed to the years it often takes in DoD.
DISA is learning that cloud computing will enable increased standardization through a “standard suite of operating platforms” as well as increased “deployment speed and agility.”
By being open to learning from the private sector, Garing is leading an enterprise architecture that is making for a better and more capable DoD.
Job well done DISA and a shining example for the rest of the federal space!
Finally, learning is not a one-way street and surely the interchange between the public and private sector can lead to improvements for all.