Secret-level version of Microsoft 365 rolls out to top Pentagon offices this month

The rollout is one of DoD’s first large-scale forays into cloud computing at the secret level, and will also consolidate and replace an aging patchwork of too...

Thousands of users across the Defense Department’s “fourth estate” will get their first chance to use modern collaboration tools on classified IT networks over the next several weeks as DoD continues its push to deploy Office 365 across the military departments, Defense agencies and field activities.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has been piloting the new service — called DOD365-Secret — since January. But officials are now fully deploying it for users across the 17 components of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), mainly in the Pentagon itself and in the nearby Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

It’s a major shift, not only in that it’s one of DoD’s first large-scale forays into cloud computing at the secret level, but also because it will have the effect of consolidating an aging patchwork of tools senior leaders and their support staff have been using to discuss classified information for years, said Danielle Metz, OSD’s chief information officer.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, those who live on our classified environment to do their mission have had to really figure out how to stitch together some collaboration capabilities using really old-school chat services that aren’t very effective and aren’t well used across the board,” she said during an interview for Federal News Network’s On DoD. “Effectively what this does is it brings everybody together — we’re all on Teams and getting the same collaborative experience where we’re able to do chat, we’re able to do video, we’re able to collaborate on documents all at the same time, we’re able to store it in a cloud-based environment. None of that exists right now on the classified side, but we are at the precipice of having all of this at our fingertips.”

The implementation of DoD365-Secret across those 17 components will be one of the first major accomplishments for Metz’s new office, which marks its first anniversary this month. Prior to that, each of the OSD sub-offices — known as “principal staff assistants” — operated somewhat independently when it came to IT governance and planning. Because of that, the networks they use are still fragmented and complex. Cloud helps solve part of that problem.

“A cloud-based approach allows us to look and feel and act as if we’re on the same environment, because we are — we’re in the cloud,” Metz said. “The networks are still going to be what the networks are, and there are some modernization activities associated with bringing those up to a better standardized and consistent digital experience. But I think we’re showcasing the importance of being able to all be on in the same environment to be able to work more jointly together to collaborate. It reduces the need for the workforce to figure out how to do it themselves — that’s what I don’t want them to do. I want them to use their creativity to actually do their job. Our job is to ensure that they have the right capabilities and tools to do their job better.”

Aside from modernizing and simplifying those networks, other near-term goals for Metz’s new office include updating end-user devices and laying the groundwork for other significant moves to the cloud. In the early days, the focus is on treating the collection of OSD offices as a single IT enterprise and building out common IT services.

“One of the things that we were able to do is to build that governance structure, create an identity, so that we can have a community of practice,” she said. “We’ve also identified a number of PSAs that are the pockets of excellence: forging ahead, failing fast, and pushing the envelope. They’ve been able to figure out what their business processes are to get to the technical makeup of moving to cloud adoption.”

Over the long-term, Metz said OSD will rely heavily on DoD’s new Joint Warfighting Cloud Computing (JWCC) contract — but those task orders will likely be organized along functional lines, once the office is ready to lean in to supporting mission-specific IT needs. For now, the objective is to map out OSD’s cloud requirements and build the support services to help them migrate.

“We want to be able to do something similar to what the Army did with their Enterprise Cloud Management Agency: create a corporate playbook for OSD,” she said. “What I don’t want is for each individual PSA to fail on their own and do it in a vacuum. We want to be able to least standardize what we think the business processes are, to help inform the technical processes to determine which systems and workloads need to be moved to a targeted cloud environment … The other side of the coin that we’ve struggled with for OSD is that we don’t have an authorizing official (AO) for cloud, which makes it extremely difficult to do anything. And so we’re working on testing out and piloting AO as a service. That and some other basic elements need to be in place and available to OSD in order for us to even start moving the needle for cloud adoption.”

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