DoD prioritizes IT user experience

The Pentagon’s CIO’s office wants to better quantify its IT user experience problems and find solutions.

For all of the Defense Department’s cutting edge technology, user experience continues to vex its IT users. The department’s chief information officer called the issue a top priority saying outdated technology handicaps the nation in dealing with adversaries as it continues to create morale problems.

Defense Department CIO John Sherman said changes need to come in the form of both software and hardware, as well as from software development. He said those priorities will be reflected in the upcoming 2024 DoD IT budget.

“Down at Tinker Air Force Base or Fort Stewart or out at Pacific Air Forces you can go down a whole list … we’ve got to have a better user experience where people aren’t watching the spinny wheel go round and round. Where they’re able to get their jobs done,” Sherman said at the TechNet Cyber conference in Baltimore Wednesday.

While the Pentagon has yet to release overall numbers for what it wants to spend on user experience, the Army budget request includes $394 million for upgrades, including the bring your own device program, virtual desktop infrastructure and buying new equipment to replace aging hardware.

For several years, the services have tried to address complaints from IT systems users that included extended times to sign on, slow computing and frequently getting kicked out of programs. A report from the Defense Business Board in February showed 80% of respondents rating their user experience as average or below, with 48% rating it as “worst.”

Sherman said before the problem can be solved, the department needs to find a way to quantify the issues.

“We need to measure how the user experiences going. And that’s one thing  [Deputy CIO Lily Zeleke] is leading right now, or the metrics and building off what the Air Force and others have already done under Colt Whittall, the chief experience officer there, and the other services, making the necessary investments to make sure we have the very best capabilities,” Sherman said.  Zeleke said she welcomes hearing the feedback, because the department needs better communication with users to understand exactly where they run into roadblocks. She said her office then needs to find a way to turn that feedback into data that can be analyzed and measured.

“One of really the critical things that we believe strongly is that we need to come up with the proper metrics, we need to come up with monitoring, we need to come up with it in a way that we automate and monitor our systems, where we can really see the trends,” Zeleke told Federal News Network in a March interview.

Fixing the “technical debt,” the term for replacing aging hardware and software, is another priority for the CIO’s office, and one that will require funding to solve.

“From a user experience perspective, as well as the technical debt – which really plays a part of it when we have old technologies or are not refreshing as quickly as we need to – or the performance of some of our networks, all of these things play a factor into the user’s ability to optimize and get quick service, or quick sign-on, or whatever it may be,” Zelecke said.

In keeping with Zeleke plans, an Air Force initiative has started providing measurable feedback. Chief Experience Officer Colt Whittall designed a program that attaches a tool to individual computers to provide metrics. The tool tracks how long it takes to start computers and log in,  and then observe every application that is used on the device. By the end of 2022, the devices had been deployed at 65 bases, with plans for expansion this year.

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