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DLA starts to answer the deeper value questions of cloud services

The Defense Logistics Agency intends to move more applications to software as a service and has established a governance framework to help it answer critical qu...

With almost 91% of all applications in the cloud, the Defense Logistics Agency is ready to move into the next phase of its modernization journey.

And as part of that, DLA has set up three governance councils to drive digital transformation across the mission areas and through the procurement process.

“Our move to the cloud is really centered around dissecting the current business models that we operate in within DLA and identifying the business problems or needs that could benefit from different technology within the cloud, like artificial intelligence, some data management methods and other technologies,” said Adarryl Roberts, Defense Logistics Agency program executive officer, on the discussion Managing Cloud Services, Measuring their Value.

Roberts said that there’s a traditional measurement of IT business value that DLA uses for the cloud. “When you look at the net present value, your return on investment of being in the cloud versus where you were, what’s the payback period for that return? And then, what’s the economic value add and the total cost of ownership?” he said. “Those are all things that we traditionally look at in terms of IT business value that you monitor.”

To find some of the answers to those questions, DLA is turning to its governance councils: the Acquisition Enterprise Innovation council (AIC), the Enterprise Operations Planning Council and the Digital Transformation Board.

He said the Enterprise Operations Planning Council brings together the business and mission areas to balance the needs of the warfighter with supply chain challenges.

Using value-based frameworks to focus DLS transformation

The Digital Transformation Board is led by DLA’s chief information officer, and it focuses on specific initiatives related to moving away from legacy technology.

“In these boards, we ask questions about the status of the initiatives. How many initiatives do we have? What’s our priority for some of these enhancements or development?” he said.

These new boards also interact with and get concurrence on projects through outreach to DLA senior executive board that’s led by the agency’s vice director.

“It’s a very robust, very engaged governance process at DLA in order for us to make this happen,” Roberts said. “Because the one thing that we recognize and acknowledge at DLA is: When you’re doing something this big and this transformative that impacts not just everyone in DLA, but it ultimately impacts our customers, you have to have strong leadership.”

He said the governance boards meet at least weekly and have a direct line to the DLA director too should the need arise.

The governance boards rely on value-based frameworks like Technology Business Management (TBM) and others to ensure DLA is spending money wisely. Through these frameworks, Roberts said, the agency is bringing together budget information, risks and mission goals to understand how a project or program is showing value — or has the potential to do so.

“We have these discussions in depth, but we really try to demystify the language, so that it’s meaningful in these discussions to the functional user,” he said. “We really try to center around the business value of why we’re making these changes, and what it’s going to enable the business to potentially do in these conversations. We have budget discussions in there as well. We’ll talk about the cost of transition, the total cost of ownership, what that means to DLA’s expenses and bottom line from a budget review process because IT is expensive.”

That said, DLA wants its teams to look at more than just cost factors when evaluating IT, Roberts said. “It’s actually a tool in order for the business to transform itself.”

Accelerating DLA’s move to SaaS

This becomes more imperative as DLA puts more workloads in the commercial cloud. Of the 91% of its applications that are in the cloud, 85% are in a government-only commercial cloud and 6% are software as a service.

DLA plans to migrate its secret environment to the cloud by the end of fiscal 2023 and continue to take more advantage of SaaS offerings in all environments, Roberts said.

“We do realize some of our processes are unique, and we have to maintain those capabilities. But in doing so, we’re going to put that in a single platform with a single sign-on capability,” he said. “That’s going to benefit the user and our customers so that as you’re doing business with DLA, you only have to log into the platform once. Then, you can conduct your business wherever you have to conduct that business with DLA.”

A big challenge in the agency’s digital transformation journey will be moving to a pay-as-you-go model for cloud services. Roberts said understanding and managing the cost of storage, compute and utilization becomes more important.

“We are making adjustments to the levers as we need to. There may be times where we actually need to increase capacity for some mission reason,” he said. “For short period of time, we need to be able to see that. Once we’re able to use some artificial intelligence and machine learning to help anticipate that, then we can make that decision. Then, when it’s time to pull that lever back, we have the ability to pull it back from a management perspective. We’re working on that.”

Changing the DLA cloud payment model

The second part of the pay-as-a-you-go model involves further use of SaaS as a managed service, Roberts said.

That will require ensuring the agency is getting value based upon its billing and support methodology, and that mission areas are paying their fair share and not someone else’s share. That will be a big change, he said.

“We are monitoring it, and it’s different for every application so some of this is based upon the business use of applications. Some of our larger applications, like our internal enterprise resource planning and then our external ERP, we manage for the Fourth Estate. And then we manage a wide-area workflow, which pays all the bills for contractors in the Department of Defense. Those systems have a very high usage rate, have a high content of data, and so you have to evaluate the system based upon, ‘Hey, what’s the anticipated growth based on analysis of the program offices that the data should grow each year?’ ” Roberts said.

“The folks in our cloud hosting center monitor and work with the programs so that if we’re getting close to those limits, we say, ‘Hey, have we deleted all the data that we should have deleted?’ If we have, then we ask, ‘OK, what has possibly spiked this growth?’ Because sometimes it’s growth that may be anticipated and other times it’s not.”

Roberts said DLA eventually would like to put all these metrics and data in an easy-to-use dashboard that provides alerts to mission owners when they are reaching limits or thresholds.

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