How DIA is cultivating Google-like innovation

The Defense Intelligence Agency is building a garden of innovation in its own backyard, bridging gaps between government agencies, industry, academia – even the inventor in the garage – to accelerate the acquisition of technologies that can help the intelligence community meet the IT demands of a shifting geopolitical landscape.

Instead of bringing innovation to the enterprise, DIA is bringing the enterprise to the innovator, according to Dan Doney, DIA’s chief innovation officer. The intelligence agency hopes to spur collaborative discussions and faster innovation with a greater number of tech developers by using a wiki-style environment known as the Open Innovation Gateway.

“We are targeting the garage inventor, the graduate student and [traditional] industry” players, Doney recently said during an interview at DIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

DIA’s Open Innovation Gateway, slated for an end of the year or early 2014 launch, will give developers access to DIA systems – but not the data – via standard interfaces or Web service endpoints.  They are known as “conformance endpoints,” Doney said, because innovators have to adhere to whatever requirements the interface exposes.  While the program is designed to offer a low barrier of entry to developers, there are assets the agency still needs to protect, so developers and industry will access the gateway via public key credentials.

To a developer outside the agency the process would be similar to tapping into a Google Map application programming interface. Instead of guessing how Google does business, developers have a mechanism to build an app on Google’s core technologies.  “You don’t have to reinvent Maps in order to show how your dog tracking application works,” Doney said.  “You leverage [APIs] and add your little piece on top of that.  It is the same model but now with our enterprise systems to unleash those innovators out there,” Doney said.

The approach is consistent with Federal Acquisition Regulations, but applies new methods to open up channels of communication between the real system users and tech  developers.  Right now, the government  workers only asks for the things they know exist and that limitation seriously reduces the kinds of capabilities government can tap into, Doney said.  Moreover, conventional requests for proposals and information tend to be static acquisition tools that take six to nine months to create, which makes it hard to ask for low-level requirements. But today’s national security pressures call for more dynamic approaches, Doney said, like a wiki-style portal where developers can go and see the specific needs of people within an organization and have their ideas or solutions routed to the right person .

“What [Doney] is doing with the Open Innovation Gateway is creating a garden of innovation in our backyard so we are no longer chasing it,” said Gus Taveras, DIA’s chief technology officer, whose team is helping to build the gateway.  Pointing to the nearly a 10-year lag between technology development in government vs the rate of innovation in academia, industry and the national laboratories, Taveras said, “now we are creating an environment where we can reduce the time to market” – with a target of bringing in capabilities in 30 days instead of months.

Taveras said the innovation project would not be possible without the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), the intelligence community’s cloud that is being developed by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency with help from the DIA and the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency.  ICITE offers a common IT framework for all 17 intelligence agencies with the aim of lowering IT costs and the time it takes to deploy systems. 

Intelligence Commuity CIO Al Tarasiuk announced Sept. 9 that the private cloud portion built by the NSA is now ready to offer hosting and storage, utility storage and analytics as well as an app store that can be accessed by all agencies.   ICITE will scale out even more when the CIA taps a commercial provider to give analysts access to compute resources and the ability to process large data sets.

“ICITE allows us to clean our act up, move to a common framework, [but] still be unique,” Taveras said.  Orion, DIA’s existing cloud environment, is the agency’s transition strategy to ICITE, he noted.

“No matter how many good ideas are in your organization there are always more good ideas outside than inside,” Doney said.  “If you want to be an innovation leader and drive down costs, you must have worldwide mechanism to tap into the best ideas out there,” he said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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