A Roadmap for Reforming the DoD’s Acquisition of Information Technology


Posted: March 14, 2016 | By: John M. Gilligan

Point 3:  Mandate all programs/projects use established standards platforms

As with DoD weapon systems, current IT acquisition processes require that each program have its own set requirements, its own funding, and a separate acquisition program office.  As such, each IT program is viewed as largely autonomous.  This independent structure and the strong culture that has grown up around this structural convention discourages IT programs from being dependent on capabilities outside of the program office’s control.  In the past, this gave rise to each program delivering unique, largely redundant and tremendously costly network and computing infrastructures.  While separate networks are largely a thing of the past, most large programs still provide their own unique computing hardware, system software including so-called middleware, and user interface capabilities.  DoD cannot afford to continue this practice.  It is expensive and not effective for meeting DoD user’s needs.

The negative result of each program developing and deploying unique computing hardware and software platforms is truly massive costing DoD hundreds of millions of dollars each year.  Most ironic is the fact that these unique platform configurations are each composed of commercially-available off the shelf (COTS) products, albeit uniquely configured for a particular acquisition program.  Analyzing, configuring, testing, certifying, and deploying a unique platform for a specific program takes a lot of time, often a year or more.  During this time, the program is not delivering the mission capabilities that the program has been charged to deliver.  The time and cost of building a unique platform is a total waste of taxpayer money.  Moreover, once a unique platform is fielded, this unique configuration significantly drives up life cycle support costs.  It simply costs a lot more to support a variety of configurations due to lack of economies of scale in purchasing hardware and software, suboptimal utilization of the platform resources, and the need for additional staff to main the unique platform.

A few years ago, I convened three DoD IT acquisition program offices and their contractor support teams to investigate why they were each developing unique hardware and software platforms.  In this case, all three contractor teams were from the same company.  Each program team was developing a unique “services oriented architecture (SOA)” for their program.   Perhaps not surprisingly, each program team was very proud of what they had accomplished and had plans to complete their SOA platform over the next 12 to 24 months.    When asked why all three programs could not use a common SOA platform, the chief architect for one program quickly boasted that “my program is a real-time space application”, thereby implying that the other program platforms would not be capable of supporting the space application.  After further examination, it became clear that none of the COTS components selected for the “space SOA” were selected specifically because of the (near) real time nature of the application.  At the end of the discussion, it became painfully clear to the government and the contractors assembled that the only reason that this one company was spending many millions of dollars and years developing multiple platforms was that the government program offices had asked for a unique program platform as a contract requirement.  This was truly a sad observation.  Even sadder, however, is that the practice persists today.

The bottom line is that there is no need for unique platforms for 99.9% of DoD IT applications.  Unfortunately, the structure and culture of DoD’s acquisition community encourages unique platforms.  This must stop.  The current model is driving up IT development and support costs and significantly delaying delivery of capabilities to DoD users.  What is needed is ruthless standardization of IT infrastructure and mandatory use of standard platforms by all IT programs.  DoD already has a number of platforms from which to choose as initial standard platforms.  The challenge is not a technical one, it is a cultural one.  It is recommended that DOD quickly establish a set of standard platforms and mandate migration to this supported set of standard platforms.

The desire for use of standard platforms aligns well with the desire to take advantage of IT capabilities being provided as a service through what is called a “cloud” model.  A cloud is simply a collection of IT resources that can be used on an as-needed basis.  Cloud services can include platform services (PaaS) and software service (SaaS) in addition to hardware or data, or applications as a service.  For DoD, it makes sense to move to a cloud environment which can reduce the cost of unique services as well as to improve standardization and interoperability. Fortunately, each of the military services, DISA, and many of the other DoD agencies are large enough that they can offer their own cloud capabilities provided either in DoD facilities or in commercial facilities and achieve world class economic results.  It is recommended that DoD mandate use of appropriately secured cloud environments (i.e., a ‘cloud first’ policy).

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