DISA seeks a faster track

Officials explore better ways to deploy new technologies

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpls. Sarah Furrer and Gordan Rehdantz test a computer attached to a PRC-119 F radio at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. Defense Information Systems Agency officials want to get new technologies into the field more quickly.

Master Sgt. Paul D. Bishop/U.S. MARINE CORPs

Defense Information Systems Agency leaders are looking for new approaches to increase the speed with which they can get new information technology products into the field.

As the agency responsible for the operation, maintenance and protection of the Defense Department's IT systems and networks ' and DOD's lead procurement agency for computing systems and network services ' DISA puts a lot of emphasis on how quickly it delivers services and technologies.

The agency will turn to readily available products whenever it can, DISA officials said late last month, borrowing and adapting capabilities from other government agencies or buying commercial products.

'What we're trying to do is to take a more strategic and horizontal view' of what products and services DOD needs and the various types of suppliers capable of meeting DOD's needs, said John Garing, DISA's chief information officer and director of its strategic planning and information directorate. He spoke at DISA's Forecast to Industry in Arlington, Va. 'We also are going to turn more and more to managed services as commodities.'

Capability broker

The agency wants to emulate the private sector's ability to respond almost instantly to new technology trends and the fast pace at which private companies are able to identify new technologies they want, buy them and deliver them to the workforce. Garing said he has a faster broadband connection at home than most DOD workers get at work and added that he found it repugnant that he can't make comparable broadband network connections available throughout DOD.

One way DISA leaders think they could help is to establish an independent technology capability broker to help agency officials match DOD's needs with the universe of possible sources for solutions.

The concept, Garing explained, is to help DISA more systematically identify best-of-class technologies and services outside the defense sector that could have potential military IT applications. Agency officials said a decision on whether to proceed with the idea is imminent.

Garing cited the need to keep abreast of private-sector technologies that DISA might consider adapting but don't routinely come to the agency's attention. He pointed to General Motors' OnStar system, which can retrieve vehicle diagnostic information, as an example of the kind of IT tool that could offer widespread benefits for military vehicle fleet managers.

Agency leaders want to 'look for technologies that aren't necessarily known to the defense industry,' said David Bennett, deputy director of command and control capabilities at DISA.

DISA officials recently described how they believe the concept of capability brokers would operate and asked for the public's feedback on the idea in a request for information. DISA will decide whether to formally pursue the concept once the responses are analyzed, Bennett said.

If DISA officials decide to move forward with the concept, he said, the agency likely would issue a request for proposals soon, in the first quarter of fiscal 2008.

The agency also is considering whether that role would be filled by an internal position or team or by an outside group. If it went to an outside entity, 'it would require there is no conflict of interest,' Bennett said.

A central aspect of the concept of a capability broker is to reduce the time it takes to identify how technologies are being applied outside the defense industry and test their applicability for DISA customers, Lt. Gen. Charles Croom Jr., DISA's director, told GCN.

About the Authors

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.


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