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

13 June 2013 | Gary Danoff, Microsoft DoD Account Executive

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

A: Absolutely. JIEDDO was created in 2006 in response to the rapidly spreading use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in theaters of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our mission is to attack the network, defeat the devices, and train the force.  So we’re focused on preventing the creation of new IEDs, in addition to destroying existing IEDs before 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 analytics that help us gather critical information vital to disrupting the IED production network, to communications and collaboration tools that help our personnel share threat information in real-time while on the battlefield. To keep up with the evolving tactics of our enemies, we have to be agile, collaborative, and secure. We have to learn faster than our enemies, and constantly be on the look out for technologies that can provide us with an informational advantage.  Then we need to deliver these emerging capabilities to our personnel quickly enough to be effective. In IT, our mantra is ABC: adopt, buy, and create if there are no other options. To execute this strategy, we’ve taken a hard look at IT procurement and deployment best practices and that weaves into the whole fabric of operations aimed at delivering value. We’re in a challenging budget environment, and we’re seeking cost effective ways to access the latest innovations, while working to consolidate our IT infrastructure, improve security, and expand collaboration opportunities. For example, on the innovation front, we’re exploring toolkits to both enhance the realism of our training and simulation solutions and to access low cost robotics capabilities all at a significantly reduced cost with capabilities 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 IT dollar?    

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

We needed to collect high-quality IT business intelligence quickly.  To understand exactly where we were, we worked with our vendors on an IT licensing profile taking into account the past and present status of our networks which helped us discover opportunities for consolidation. That initial analysis gave us a clearer view into the full range of capabilities that were present within our existing infrastructure, enabling us to bring those solutions to bear on current challenges and maximize their value. This really opened our eyes on the procurement front as well – pointing to needed improvements that would have enterprise-wide impact. As moved our IT strategy forward, we started by evaluating what we currently own, to ensure we weren’t bringing in duplicative technologies. This enabled us to be better managers of our desktops and our mobile devices, while breaking down siloes, improving information sharing across the organization, increasing security, and giving us better visibility into IT asset management.  More importantly it allowed us to bring continual improvement to the foundational enterprise infrastructure 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 your enemies, or challenges, yourself and your environment.  Many organizations are not willing to have a candid and complete assessment of their operations, an assessment that shows flaws as well as strengths. We started with a comprehensive set of technical and business analytical processes.  These assessments are ongoing.  This continual learning process allows us to make facts-based decisions on investments and cost reduction.  

Second, I recommend that CIOs continually hone the collaboration mechanisms and relationships with all the players in their environment, to include internal and external stakeholders, contractors, Federally Funded Research and Development Corporations (FFRDCs), and even non-profit professional and industry associations.  This may require changing some paradigms.  Our problems are too complex to be solved by a small set of intellects.  For example, I have begun to actively use social media, such as Linked In and Twitter to connect with a wider set of professionals in addition to a structured approach to conferences and other widely attended public forums.

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

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Gary Danoff
Microsoft DoD Account Executive