Leveraging the DoD Data Strategy in 2022

In the year since the Department of Defense Data Strategy was created, the DoD continuously makes strides toward its goal of transforming into a data-centric ag...

In the year since the Department of Defense Data Strategy was created, the DoD continuously makes strides toward its goal of transforming into a data-centric agency. The strategy demonstrates organizational awareness of data’s role as a strategic asset for keeping the warfighter safe at home and abroad.

The implementation of a structured strategy helps enable the DoD to maximize this important asset, allowing it to incorporate artificial intelligence to improve data management processes and better inform everyone from the leadership level to the tactical warfighter. Advancements like automation improve how that data is protected and recovered in a disaster.

As the DoD becomes more data-centric, the strategy’s goals continue to pave a path for success, even a year later. These goals include recruiting and retaining information technology professionals, ensuring the interoperability of data and properly backing up data.

Supporting talent challenges

Recruiting, training and retaining information technology and data professionals is one of four named essential capabilities to help DoD reach the goals of its strategy. With strategic goals like making data visible, accessible and secure, DoD will proactively minimize data-sharing challenges. However, like many government agencies, the DoD faces a shortage of IT professionals in AI, ML and data science. Recommendations of the Government Accountability Office, including creating a digital service academy to help train the next generation of DoD IT professionals, can support talent challenges.

Top IT talent is critical to the overall success of not only the DoD Data Strategy, but DoD overall. The DoD’s mission is fundamentally the protection of the American people. Service within the DoD is therefore a high public calling, an opportunity to be a part of something greater than one’s self. This core sense of service and higher purpose must be emphasized, fostered and inculcated in hiring and retention efforts.

For top tech talent, service within DoD presents the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of technological development as the DoD has also been and continues to be a leading technological innovator. It was the U.S. government that harnessed the power of the atom, that put man on the moon and invented the internet.

Streamlined and expedited hiring authorities, the opportunities for accelerated advancement and promotion for deserving personnel, separate pay scales for the IT workforce, accelerated student loan repayment programs, expense-free, advanced schooling opportunities at leading universities and job placement within cutting edge innovation projects are some of the ways that government can incentivize the recruitment and retention of IT talent.

Transformation to improve recruitment and retainment efforts is important for the DoD to get closer to reaching their data modernization goals as well as furthering their ability to increase data accessibility awareness among warfighters.

Ensuring interoperability, accessibility of data

The interoperability and accessibility of mission-critical data is key in ensuring information can be used strategically and tactically. Once met, these goals will allow data to reach those who need it reliably and automatically.

Data needs to be able to be accessible from a wide array of sources, including on weapons systems and military vehicles, like fighter jets. When that data is accessed, it must be secure to avoid loss due to user error or disasters, regardless of the platform it’s stored on. This means that data protection and backup solutions — crucial to ensuring data is always available — work across all cloud platforms, with Kubernetes and more.

A good, modern example of data interoperability is the Air Force’s use of containers (orchestrated by Kubernetes) for the first time in flight. During a reconnaissance-training mission, on a Lockheed U-2 nicknamed “Dragon Lady,” data from the U2’s legacy computer systems was combined with modern containerized applications. This allowed the aircraft to harness the power of four computers to run machine-learning algorithms and utilize real-time data. This type of data interoperability is exactly what the DoD strategy is designed to foster. However, with the increase of data and its operability comes the need for greater data protection and backup.

Considerations for data protection, backup

Making data secure is one of the most important goals defined by the strategy. DoD data must remain available regardless of cyber-attacks, natural disasters and human errors. As data is recognized and utilized as a strategic asset, maintaining its availability can truly become a matter of life or death. In the event of data loss, active military members and civilians must be able to quickly recover data with zero impact or delay.

Because data modernization is an evolving process, DoD’s data protection and backup plans need to be agile and adaptable. Incorporating best practices, including protecting physical, virtual and cloud data as well as training employees on data protection will help reduce loss and downtime of mission critical data.

As DoD’s data goals move forward, data protection needs will increase exponentially. The amount of staff focused on data, however, does not reflect this; few network administrators or other IT professionals are focused exclusively on, data protection.

To supplement IT staff needs, DoD should implement automated disaster recovery applications. These applications allow a network to pre-define how it will fail over from one site to another, eliminating human error from the equation, and reducing downtime. This makes disaster recovery less complex and easier to accomplish, reducing the need for IT specialists.

Another way to reduce complexity when it comes to data protection and backup is to lessen reliance on hardware-dependent platforms. Hardware-dependent data protection platforms do not allow users to unify as many workloads as possible under one control plane and are inconsistent with a software-defined strategy that many agencies are pursuing. Overall, the DoD should reduce the number of complex tools deployed within a network.

The DoD workforce often consists of generalists with a versatile set of IT skills and roles and backup and data recovery are often a subset of several differing responsibilities. By eliminating complexity and adapting automated disaster recovery, network administrators can perform their roles better and reduce risk to mission continuity.

Modern warfare has made data an asset that adversaries target. The DoD Data Strategy has not only recognized the importance of protecting data and treating it as the strategic asset it is, but also demonstrates DoD’s commitment to sharing information across the defense community. As the defense community looks towards the new year, continuing to see the strategy through will help make the goal of becoming a data-centric agency a reality.

Earl G. Matthews is president of Veeam Government Solutions (VGS).

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