SOCOM tries to ‘lean forward’ on OTA’s, exploring cloud, analytics

The organization that supports SOCOM's warfighters is more conservative than they are, and only just beginning to experiment with the newest business and techno...

U.S. Special Operations Command’s warfighters are usually considered to be on the cutting edge of tactical capabilities. But the organization that supports them moves at a more conservative pace, and is only just beginning to experiment with the newest business and technological capabilities.

Deborah Woods, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications and Computers at SOCOM, said April 20 for the AFCEA 11th Annual Joint & Combat Support Agency IT Day that the organization is trying to lean forward on OTAs (Other Transaction Authority) for prototype projects.

She said they had tried one already, but it was not successful. The schedule got delayed, although she did say that was probably more on account of the vendor than the vehicle.

Companies adjusting to DoD acquisition process

While OTAs are too new at SOCOM to discuss the benefits, Woods did say the organization has an acquisition authority director, and a partnership with an intermediate that is helping reach lots of non-traditional DoD business partners. Now it is just a matter of getting comfortable with the process.

“You have contracting officers who grew up in a very traditional, deliberate approach,” Woods said on Agency in Focus: SOCOM. “Some are going to be more averse to risk than others. It’s just about trying to manage that and it is going to take some culture change.”

That is not to say SOCOM is disconnected from industry. Woods told Federal News Radio’s Scott Maucione that SOCOM regularly publishes request for proposals on FedBizOpps, the General Services Administration’s online portal to connect agencies with vendors. SOCOM also attends an annual industry conference in May, and has a Technical-Industrial Liaison Office (TILO) set up to engage with industry.

“In my opinion, we very much engage and try to over-communicate with industry on our needs,” Woods said.

And SOCOM is one of the best organizations in DoD when it comes to engaging with small businesses. Integration with small businesses is central to SOCOM’s ability to rapidly prototype and innovate.

“We do quite well,” Woods said. “I can’t remember what the percentage is, but as far as small business numbers, we’re leading the department in awards. A lot of times, that may be our first route, as far as seeing is there a small business out there? Sometimes it comes out through these events, the non-traditional defense means.”

Obstacles to cloud

She said several companies with unique ideas exist, but that working with the Department of Defense is not always an appealing offer financially, given the additional reporting and requirements it entails.

Meanwhile, SOCOM is taking a similarly conservative approach with new technological capabilities, like cloud. Woods said SOCOM has not done much with cloud yet, beyond monitoring the progress of MilCloud and a little development work in AWS. She said the business analysis confirmed cloud just does not make sense for SOCOM. Not yet, anyway.

Woods said with the way things are currently developing it will be hard to not eventually get pushed into the cloud. Software vendors change their licensing business models to push customers towards a subscription service while hardware vendors are able to do much more on a smaller platform.

Security is a major concern for SOCOM, although Woods said some vendors are going after the additional security levels DoD requires. But even then, some things will not be suited for a cloud environment.

“I think there’s probably still going to be a need for some on-prem-type data centers, but it remains to be seen,” Woods said.

Data analytics is in a similar limbo. Woods said SOCOM is just not there yet, although the J4 directorate is heading that way and trying to look across the board in an enterprise perspective. She said SOCOM is interested in what can be done with sensors, as there’s probably a great wealth of analytic opportunities.

But that’s the way of technology, Woods said. The biggest challenge is the rapid pace of change and improvement.

“I suspect it will only get worse as everything is more interdependent and technologies converge,” Woods said.

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