By Cindi Stuebner, Defense Director and Industry Principal, Pegasystems
The Defense Department has an opportunity right now to make real unprecedented progress to support the mission through back-end business process automation, but the current window won’t last forever. In the 2018 National Defense Strategy, Secretary Jim Mattis concluded with a call to the Defense Department to “pursue urgent change at significant scale” in order to regain a competitive advantage over near-peer adversaries who have reemerged as the primary concern on the global threat landscape. This mandate to disrupt and radically improve upon the status quo coupled with an increased defense budget could be a recipe for significant change in the department—with the opportunity to considerably impact mission support, as well as taxpayer dollars. But DoD must have the will to see business process automation through, and the wisdom to recognize the best path to the outcomes it seeks.
That means rethinking the traditional approach to development and deployment of new business systems. No-code application development is quickly emerging and getting results through faster application delivery. This allows business users to collaborate with IT to create customized processes that meet the needs of the end-user—in a fraction of the time.
The Defense Department also needs technology that can scale, addressing a major flaw in current business systems. Legacy systems weren’t designed to handle today’s workloads, and have often taken a back seat to mission-critical systems, leaving the mission under-resourced. This also has arrested system development when they should have been evolving alongside the mission. As a result, operational visibility and internal controls are inadequate. Modern systems should be robust enough to sustain millions of users, while flexible enough to allow development teams to work in parallel and support new ways of doing business.
As is often the case in government, this will require a cultural shift. DoD has been making efforts to increase the agility and flexibility of its acquisition processes; it should expect no less from its vendors’ approaches to system development. An innovative method for system design should allow for easy collaboration between users and IT on process design, and the use of simulations to gauge the effect of a new process before hard-coding occurs.
Another aspect of this cultural change is realizing that there’s less daylight between DoD and industry than the department tends to think. That means adopting commercial best practices should be easier and should translate more directly to the department; customization is costly and delays initiatives when DoD should be looking for tangible, rapid results from the adoption of business process automation technology.
The department should also rethink the way it performs IT modernization. DoD and all its service components currently spend at least 70 percent of their IT modernization funds on maintaining legacy systems. This is applicable to all systems in its portfolio: from large scale, operational weapons to financial management and HR systems. Instead, it should implement more flexible, sustainable solutions. Rather than continuing with the system rip-and-replace dynamic it currently employs, DoD should consider future-proofing its IT modernization: wrapping new capabilities around their legacy systems in order to renew them piece by piece and enable the systems to support change at a pace users can accept—and without impact to the mission. This offers quicker, more tangible results while bridging silos and achieving outcomes.
The standard commercial, off-the-shelf dynamic is another area that is mired in the status quo. It locks the department into specific vendors and their requirements instead of providing an avenue for DoD to pursue functionality based on readiness. Even open source software requires knowledge of code, which shuts the average user out of the development process. Instead, open architecture and web services allow DoD to integrate with multiple vendors through standard protocols, enabling choice and security while maintaining access to legacy data. This would allow the department to make decisions about cloud migration based on program readiness rather than vendor-imposed restrictions.
Finally, DoD needs technology that can maintain a baseline of processes across operating environments that can function in different parts of the world where DoD maintains a presence. The DoD, which operates in more than 70 countries, requires a platform of common features — processes, business rules, and user experience — as a foundation to reuse its common core business systems without needing redundant development or maintenance. Customized applications can then be layered on top of that foundation to address the more individual requirements of varying environments. This allows faster system-wide updates, changes, and scale to support existing programs and new missions as they arise.
In fact, research has shown this kind of system enables significant development cost savings, up to 75 percent, while reducing time to market by up to 50 percent. It has also been shown to boost user productivity by up to 75 percent, and can deliver a return on investment of over 300 percent.
DoD has always been a mission-first organization. Business process modernization has long been a secondary concern when allocating resources and manpower. Ironically, this has led to outdated systems requiring more time, labor, and resources to function than if they had evolved alongside the mission. The department’s goal should be more visibility and efficiency in its business processes to better support the mission, and right now there is a perfect storm of money from Congress, leadership with the will to effect change through IT modernization, and the flexibility to expedite acquisitions. DoD’s window for business process automation is open; it cannot afford to let it close without capitalizing on the opportunity. How is your agency capitalizing on the perfect storm?