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DoD Cloud Exchange 2023: Salesforce’s Casey Coleman on making mission apps integrated, flexible

With cloud, agencies can extract data to create a “digital thread” that supports users and processes across disparate systems and improves employee experien...

The U.S. military has extended cloud computing deeper into the tactical, kinetic domain. Therefore, Defense Department back office and warfighter support functions must ensure maximum effectiveness — also in the cloud.

One strategy for doing so is to provide excellent employee experience so people aren’t overburdened with the processes that often accompany archaic systems. That strategy is best carried out as software as a service, said Casey Coleman, senior vice president for global public sector digital transformation at Salesforce, during Federal News Network’s DoD Cloud Exchange 2023.

Coleman cited the fact that numerous surveys, including the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, “all point to more engaged employees being more committed to the work that they’re doing.”

Integrating disparate systems in the cloud can improve engagement, Coleman said. She noted that even today, and especially in the DoD, people still pivot from system to system. With better integration, “they’re able to do the work. And they’re not spending their time on administrative tasks and tools and reentering data from system to system,” Coleman said.

Leaning into human-centered design

Program owners should look beyond simple integrations of applications and systems, with an eye toward human-centered design, she advised. One feature of such modernized systems is that they adapt to individual users and the contexts they’re working in.

“If you think about commercial systems that we all use, there are commonalities that you see over and over again,” Coleman said. “They’re personalized. They know what transactions you’ve had in the past with them. Whether it’s buying something online or shopping or connecting with people on social media, you pick up where you left off last time.”

Coleman said the same retentive quality can also apply to business and mission systems, and that cloud enables this quality.

“If you have an agile system that is cloud-based, that is configured and not coded, you can very rapidly add options in a pull-down list and change the workflow,” she said. An organization can “bring in an integration through an application programming interface to get data from a new system. And you can flex the system and make it work in different ways for different people, but still maintain that common data structure and underlying platform that you can reuse over and over again.”

“The best practice is to have a partnership between the mission, the business, the program and the IT organization.” Coleman said, noting that Salesforce “works with customers for all kinds of government missions — emergency loans, homeless and housing shelter options, small business support” as well as for DoD.

Weaving a digital thread, essentially a data throughline

One way to support internal partnerships is by using what Coleman called “digital threads.”

Digital threads connect functions that traditionally act in a serial or hand-off fashion. Coleman cited design, manufacturing and delivery, sustainment and repair, which often operate with their own supporting systems. The thread forms from data in the disparate systems, giving users up- and down-stream views.

The result? “You can see if something’s breaking or there’s a higher than expected maintenance situation — all the way back to the design environment — and if some design change needs to be factored into production and then into maintenance,” Colman said.

The digital thread approach can apply throughout any process that involves multiple organizations, she said. “No government office works in isolation. Everyone has to collaborate with their peers upstream and downstream.”

Coleman said the cloud provides the ideal environment in which to create digital threads.

“It really only can be done through cloud systems,” she said, “because legacy stovepipe systems don’t have the [required] agility and the flexibility, and ongoing innovation.”

The digital thread and legacy systems integration approach also enables what Coleman called the front-door concept, a way of framing the question of human-centered design. Whether for support functions such as acquisition or finance, or for front-line operations, “the front-door concept is something a lot of agencies are moving to,” she said.

Essentially, the front door abstracts the multiple systems an employee must access in the course of daily work, such that the resources they need are present in a single interface.

“The systems may have been set up years ago, but by putting a front engagement layer on all of those systems and processes so that there is an easy entry point, there’s no wrong door,” Coleman said. “You can come and get the service you need, and the work actually gets delivered.”

How does that look at the tactical edge? If configured right, it could give operators peace of mind by keeping administration of life continually squared away.

“Imagine that you’ve got a mobile device and from that mobile device, you have access to all the services you need at the edge,” Coleman said. That would include human resources services, the ability to check on pay and benefits, even “your ability to make sure that things like your children’s school assignments and spousal and family support environment is being delivered back home.”

To read or watch other sessions on demand, go to our 2023 DoD Cloud Exchange event page.

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