Maximizing DoD IT to serve the Mission: an interview with JIEDDO CIO James Craft

Q:Thanks for taking the time to speak with us James.  Maybe you can start by telling our readersabout the important mission of JIEDDO?

A: Absolutely.JIEDDO was created in 2006 in response to the rapidly spreading use ofimprovised explosive devices (IEDs) used in theaters of battle in Iraq andAfghanistan. Our mission is to attack the network, defeat the devices, andtrain the force.  So we’re focused onpreventing the creation of new IEDs, in addition to destroying existing IEDsbefore they harm, our fighting forces, our allies or civilians. 

Q:What role does IT play in helping JIEDDO meet its mission goals?

A:Technology is absolutely essential to our mission - from big data analyticsthat help us gather critical information vital to disrupting the IED productionnetwork, to communications and collaboration tools that help our personnelshare threat information in real-time while on the battlefield. To keep up withthe evolving tactics of our enemies, we have to be agile, collaborative, andsecure. We have to learn faster than our enemies, and constantly be on the lookout for technologies that can provide us with an informational advantage.  Then we need to deliver these emergingcapabilities to our personnel quickly enough to be effective. In IT, our mantrais ABC: adopt, buy, and create if there are no other options. To execute thisstrategy, we’ve taken a hard look at IT procurement and deployment bestpractices and that weaves into the whole fabric of operations aimed atdelivering value. We’re in a challenging budget environment, and we’re seeking costeffective ways to access the latest innovations, while working to consolidateour IT infrastructure, improve security, and expand collaborationopportunities. For example, on the innovation front, we’re exploring toolkitsto both enhance the realism of our training and simulation solutions and toaccess low cost robotics capabilities all at a significantly reduced cost withcapabilities already familiar to our young servicemen and women.

Q:What’s worked well, in terms of ensuring JIEDDO is getting the most for it’s ITdollar?    

A:You can’t get to where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been, so as soonas I arrived as the new CIO, we started by evaluating what we had in placeusing proven techniques from other organizations.  As a team working with our customers, we askedsome key questions.  Where were wespending our money? What solutions were helping us achieve our mission? Whatsolutions were siloed and unsupportive of cross-organizationalcollaboration?  We wanted to move towardsolving IT challenges holistically, at the highest levels of the organization.   Opportunities to increase the ROI and havethe biggest impact on life-saving operations were the compasses to tell uswhere to start first.

Weneeded to collect high-quality IT business intelligence quickly.  To understand exactly where we were, weworked with our vendors on an IT licensing profile taking into accountthe past and present status of our networks which helped us discoveropportunities for consolidation. That initial analysis gave us aclearer view into the full range of capabilities that were present within ourexisting infrastructure, enabling us to bring those solutions to bear oncurrent challenges and maximize their value. This really opened our eyes on theprocurement front as well – pointing to needed improvements that would haveenterprise-wide impact. As moved our IT strategy forward, we started byevaluating what we currently own, to ensure we weren’t bringing in duplicativetechnologies. This enabled us to be better managers of our desktops and our mobiledevices, while breaking down siloes, improving information sharing across theorganization, increasing security, and giving us better visibility into ITasset management.  More importantly itallowed us to bring continual improvement to the foundational enterpriseinfrastructure that other IT investments depended on. 

Q:What advice would you give other CIOs that are tackling these same challenges?

A:First and foremost, I would point to the advice of Sun Tzu to know yourenemies, or challenges, yourself and your environment.  Many organizations are not willing tohave a candid and complete assessment of their operations, an assessment thatshows flaws as well as strengths. We started with a comprehensive set oftechnical and business analytical processes. These assessments are ongoing. This continual learning process allows us to make facts-based decisionson investments and cost reduction.  

Second,I recommend that CIOs continually hone the collaboration mechanisms andrelationships with all the players in their environment, to include internaland external stakeholders, contractors, Federally Funded Research andDevelopment Corporations (FFRDCs), and even non-profit professional andindustry associations.  This may requirechanging some paradigms.  Our problemsare too complex to be solved by a small set of intellects.  For example, I have begun to actively usesocial media, such as Linked In and Twitter to connect with a wider set ofprofessionals in addition to a structured approach to conferences and otherwidely attended public forums.

ITleaders are all looking to become more efficient through the use of technology,and from my experience, that process must include an understanding what you alreadyown. IT leaders must also give equal or greater attention to the human capitalthey will need to harness to use that technology to maximum effect.  Technology exists to empower people.  Once you have a full picture into currentcapabilities cyber and organic, it’s easier to eliminate waste and evolveprocurement processes and other business activities to support theorganization’s vision. In our case, our personnel now have access to a range ofnew technologies, we feel more secure and efficient, and we’re saving money atthe same time. 

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Gary Danoff
Microsoft DoD Account Executive