DISA’s ‘one belly button’ approach to IT services

Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, director, DISA

wfedstaff | April 18, 2015 12:35 am

The Defense Information Services Agency is undergoing a radical transformation in how it serves its customers. The end goal is better collaboration and coordination internally and across the military services and agencies.

The reorganization, announced Jan. 11, has been in the works for the better part of a year. DISA kicked off 2015 by outlining the radically different path it’s heading down.

Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, DISA’s director, said the new structure will focus on five core tenets:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Cloud
  • Collaboration
  • Command
  • Control

“One of the things that I’ve constantly heard, both on the outside when I was there as well as when I was vice director and director that it’s hard to get a hold of people within the agency,” Hawkins said during a recent luncheon panel sponsored by the Washington chapter of AFCEA. “And more importantly, some of the things I’ve heard is that DISA ‘costs too much’ and DISA is ‘too slow in delivering speed to market.’ Those are the things we’ve been working on.”

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Hawkins said the reorganization is trying to address both of those criticisms.

“Probably the two biggest things that we’ve done that are important with this reorganization is putting accountability on all the capabilities that we provide. So now you have belly button responsible for development. Any capability that we provide that meets [Gen. Hawkins’] tenets, the five core areas that he wants to focus on you have a belly button you has that responsibility to provide that capability. So from a lifecycle perspective, I’ve got that responsibility,” said Alfred Rivera, the director of DISA’s development and business center—one of the new offices. “The second thing is understanding the requirements and how they come in to. One belly button for receiving requirements from our mission partners so that you can review the requirements, ensure we have the right business case behind them and look at the resources we have in the agency and how we can support them.”

Rivera will work hand-in-hand with the new implementation and sustainment center run by Dave Bennett, DISA’s former chief information officer. The development and business center will work with the military service or agency customer to create the system or software needed to meet their mission. The implementation and sustainment center then will take over the running of the new system or software once it’s in full production. “Let me tell you what I don’t do, I don’t develop,” Bennett said. “One of the big changes that’s going on in the organization is to single up the roles and responsibilities so we and others don’t have to try and figure out where they have to go to get something done.”

Bennett said his priorities is getting out the technology quickly and efficiently so they can reduce their costs.

“I will implement and sustain everything within the agency’s service catalog,” he said. “If the agency is putting it out there, I have the responsibility of making sure it gets out to the field, it’s sustained throughout its lifecycle and then tech refreshing that capability. What does that do for us from an efficiency perspective and to reduce the cost perspective, I know basically control the entire working capital budget of the agency with the exception of the procurement side of the organization, the contracts. So within one organization you now have one person who has the ability to make decisions from a cost perspective relative to anything we put out from a circuit, what we do within the decks as well as the implementation piece.” Rivera said with the reorganization DISA will create a new kind of coordination and collaboration in how they deliver products and services. Part of that will be identifying and offering leading-edge technologies.

Dave Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer, is one of the few agency executives who retained his title, but his role expanded.

“We want to be able to focus these very limited research and development funds DISA has on our strategic priorities, while at the same time making sure our development organizations are leveraging leading edge technologies, and we aren’t missing something,” he said. “Sometimes when you are solving today’s problem, you are missing what tomorrow’s solution will be.”

Mihelcic said he’s moving some of the traditional work around piloting that his organization once did to Rivera’s group. Instead, he said his organization will create a research and development framework to help guide DISA’s long and short term technology efforts.

“The biggest change we will see is in innovation. I think we will have potentially a little bit more funding available to do innovative new solutions, and a better process for transitioning those to operations,” he said.

Mihelcic said DISA will reach out to traditional government contractors, but also non-traditional ones. He said he and DISA’s vice director Army Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn recently visited Silicon Valley in California to recruit small firms and is reaching out to academia for insights.

Mihelcic also recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Activity (DARPA) to transition some of their work to DISA more easily.

The third major change is around cybersecurity.

On Jan. 12, the Joint Task Force-DoD Information Networks (JTF-DoDIN) hit initial operating capability. The new cyber organization will take over the operations or defensive work from the U.S. Cyber Command.

The fourth piece to the reorganization is the creation of a risk management office. Mark Orndorff, who is retiring Jan. 31, is leading the office over the first month.

He said the biggest change is the cybersecurity efforts are going back to the program side so DISA can ensure it’s baked into everything they do. The risk management office will focus on ensuring cybersecurity is implemented in a standard way across the agency.

“We have pulled together and retained in that office what I think are the right set to enable us to do that. We’ll be driving the cybersecurity engineering strategy in conjunction with the CTO to make sure we are looking beyond the current programs and what are the next things we need to be thinking about to stay in front of the threat and be more agile and effective,” he said. “We also will have the standards. We also will be running the cyber procedures for authorizations. Last, and most important in my mind, we will have the cyber workforce leadership role to make sure we bring the entire DISA workforce and in support of the rests of DoD up to the proper level of training and certifications to make sure we are able to operate and defend in cyberspace.”

Orndorff’s office recently issued a new cloud security guidance as part of that new risk management role.


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