Jeffrey Sorenson | Army's long march to collaboration

GCN Interview: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson discusses consolidation's importance to a mobile, interoperable force

Editor's note: Just after GCN published this article, the Army announced that Sorenson was confirmed by the Senate to the position of Chief Information Officer/Deputy Chief of Staff, G-6 of the U.S. Army, with a rank of Lieutenant General, effective Nov. 16.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson

If improving the Army's information technology posture depends in part on better IT acquisition, then Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army's nominee for staff chief information officer, has the credentials to lead the charge. Sorenson, designated to replace retired Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, is awaiting Senate confirmation. But he's already taking a businesslike approach to the job, applying more than 20 years' experience with military IT acquisition and numerous integration programs. Sorenson talked recently with GCN's Wyatt Kash and John Rendleman.

GCN: What's in the new Army CIO/G-6 500-DAY plan released in August that reflects your vision or imprint over the previous one?

SORENSON: I would say, specifically, setting up the milestones and schedules to accomplish those goals. And in the global sense, tech integration is my greatest concern. It is great for everyone to go off and do their advance in technology, but if it comes with a large logistical train that is not interoperable with anything we have, then it does not really help us because then someone else then has to go and do that work.

GCN: What are you doing to ensure that everything you buy and set up will interoperate?

SORENSON: One example: We used to have 18 different collaboration systems at the division core; now we have honed it down to two. Go on [Defense Knowledge Online] today, and you'll find two buttons for collaboration, one made by Adobe [for] Acrobat and one by IBM. If nothing else, these are the standards and capabilities that we are using. [Industry] has to work with our partners or those that are developing stuff and integrate it into what we are doing, whether it's a crypto piece or a different radio system. Whatever the case, we cannot afford to continue to buy independent systems that don't relate or operate with anything.

GCN: The current certification process often means it can take years to get new technology into place. What are your plans to speed up the cycle of deployment?

SORENSON: We're trying to encourage program managers to incorporate and bring those [people who] certify onto the team early on. Don't wait until the end and then hand it off to someone, saying, 'Please go certify this.' Bring them in at the outset' much like we used to do testing.

GCN: Do you think there will be more effort to change some of the Federal Acquisition Requirements?

SORENSON: I agree [that] we cannot procure IT like we procure a tank, an airplane or anything like that. I believe there are some things that we need to change in terms of the way we are allowed to go out and buy [IT] ' for instance different uses of funding.

Because you are'enhancing a capability, you have to use procurement money when in fact you are not really changing the entire composition, you are just refreshing it. Consequently, maybe [operation and maintenance agreement] funding would be sufficient. I am not sure that we are looking at it correctly.

GCN: Turning to the Army's plans to migrate to area processing centers, are you satisfied with what these centralized data centers can do? And will they have the bandwidth and ability to deliver all the localized applications and information troops will need as they move from base to battlefield?

SORENSON: On the first question, I can tell you unequivocally the answer is no.

My concern here is that we do not have a complete consensus of what these area processing centers ' or these fixed regional hubs ' are and what they are going to do. Operationally, I see these as docking stations. Just as you take your computer out of your office to a hotel and plug it into the wall like you are in your office, you can still have that same connectivity.

At the same time, I think we fundamentally need to define the architecture by which these regional hubs and these area processing centers will leverage [our abilities] jointly with [the Defense Information Systems Agency]. We need to look at the system requirements and begin to lay out the three S's: We begin to limit the amount of people accessing the network, so this is the security aspect; improve the services; and the other part of it is to improve the savings.

By consolidating this, I am not trying to make this ' and certainly would not advocate ' that folks currently in the local stations providing these services would go away. I am suggesting at some point that maybe the facility could go away or the amount of service they have, so people can be more appropriately used in terms of a more-robust help desk ' helping people figure out how to use it as opposed to being back there connecting all the wires.

So there's some work to be done. I can attest to the fact that today we have not put the money into the POM [Program Objective Memorandum] to make complete what we are advocating. To get that done, we have to define the benefit to the combat commanders in terms of what this will be. The good thing is [that] we are testing it out right now in three locations [transfering applications from Rock Island, Ill.; Fort Riley, Kan. and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.].

GCN: What are some of the lessons you've learned so far?

SORENSON: The deployment at Rock Island was delayed because' unfortunately not all the computers were configured correctly. So they had to take a pause and go back to reconfigure the computers, take off some of the software that was not supposed to be on there.

Then we had issues with respect to infrastructure that we hadn't anticipated. So, you know, it's almost like you going back and deciding to upgrade the second floor on a home that was built in 1920 and come to find out the pipes are not right, this and that are not right.

So that is the type of thing we're learning right now. I think the concept makes sense. [The Army] wants to be able to train [soldiers] as they fight. As they deploy, they're going to have the ability to reach back for services, but we have a lot more work.

I go out to Huntington Beach and view what a future combat system looks like, and not only are the screens different, they are configured differently.

So at some point, an entire training process has to take place because we cannot have these soldiers learn one system only to be sent to a unit a year later and be trained again. That's just an example of how much of a transition it's going to be.

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