Our military Wave 3 information capability is hostage to current Wave 2 bureaucratic processes… …we can’t get there without radical change!
Our DoD Culture does not Understand Technology Adoption
DoD’s attempt to modernize Joint command & control (C2) is once again being rethought following the shut down of the Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) program. After four years, hundreds of meetings, and almost $300M, DoD has thought hard about how C2 can be improved using a services-based architecture, but in the end is leaving behind little more than a stack of documents, some experimental C2 capability, and confusion about what to do next. NECC was about building a Wave 3 services based C2 capability. This acquisition failure is one among many similar situations within the Department. These failures have little or nothing to do with associated senior leaders and well-intentioned acquisition professionals. Rather, it is the result of using an institutionalized Wave 2 “technology adoption” budgeting & acquisition processes while attempting to build Wave 3 capabilities.
What is the Technology Adoption “S” Curve?
Chart 1 shows an “S” curve representing the adoption life-cycle of a synergistic group of technologies working together to create a product or service we purchase to improve our lives and society. Joe M. Bohlen and George M. Beal originally developed the technology adoption lifecycle in 1957. Its purpose was to track the purchase patterns of hybrid seed corn by farmers. It has evolved to represent the adoption of any new technology. The curve tracks the slow initial adoption of new technology, sometimes referred to as the “fermentation period,” followed by a rapid growth “take-off” period as awareness and supporting infrastructure encourage more people to purchase the product. The level of adoption then slows down as the market becomes saturated or the product becomes “stagnant.” “S” curves are often shown in a linked series because new products of similar type follow a new “S” curve as they enter the market. Chart 2 traces the adoption of primary technologies over the history of America. Notice that information based technologies have been adopted more quickly than earlier inventions like the automobile, airplane, and telephone.
Moving into Wave 3 Information Technology
Chart 3 puts the information technology “S” curves in context so that we can understand the dilemma that moving from Wave 2 into Wave 3 presents to the DoD. The first wave represents the invention and adoption of electronic processing equipment. When large business began to purchase main-frame computers to automate business functions such as payroll, accounts payable, inventory, and eventually product design, the era of large data centers took-off, ushering in the age of computers. The first useful computers began to emerge in the early 1950’s and this “S” curve had reached its upper plateau by the 1980’s. We continue to use main-frame computers but they have become a high performance computer format for legacy and computer intensive Wave 2 functions.
By the early 1970’s computer manufacturers were able to take advantage of the technology evolution from transistors to semiconductor chips and began building smaller computers that were more easily purchased and distributed across dispersed Corporate locations. These “mini” computers, the size of home refrigerators, were the beginning of Wave 2. On the heals of the mini computer was the emergence of the first “personal computers” in the late 1970’s. With the combination of mini and personal computers, the client-server architecture was born. These small affordable PCs also facilitated computers into our personal lives for the first time.
Wave 2 was also enabled by the adoption of Ethernet as the data-bus standard of choice. With Ethernet it became possible to eliminate point-to-point system connections in favor of the plug-and-play data-bus. This allowed businesses to place computers in every office using local networks to link information based employees onto client-server business applications. During this period, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) was busy inventing a communication method to tie together large distributed scientific computer centers. This became the first MILNET, supporting early email across selected DoD laboratories. The commercial adoption of MILNET technology led to the birth of the Internet. The Internet explosion was facilitated by the birth of the Mosaic browser written by Mark Andreaessen, which he made freely available to anyone. The cellular telephone invention was also a Wave 2 complementary technology. This device moving through its own “S” curve, allowed the average private and business person to move communications from the home and office to virtually anyplace within large population centers. With Internet connectivity, local networks, browsers, and cell phones, Wave 2 became the transformational driver of the modern information age.
Because most of us have lived a majority of our lives within the Wave 2 information age, it is less obvious that a Wave 3 “S” curve has been underway for almost a decade. Wave 3, which is associated with the Web 2.0 buzz, is enabled by globalization of the Internet, augmented with high-bandwidth Internet service to home users using infrastructure built-out by television cable providers, Internet enabled telephone providers, and satellite television providers.
The real essence of Wave 3 IT is the simplification of IT usage by non-IT savvy business professionals and home computer users. Unlike Wave 2 where every user is a self directed IT administrator (directing our software upgrades, printer driver installations, and communications parameters), Wave 3 is moving toward a ubiquitous IT cloud infrastructure that provides the majority of our applications as software services. As a consultant, my life has already moved into Wave 3 where Google provides my email and office applications on and off line, WordPress facilitates this blog, DropBox stores and synchronizes all of my data across all of my computers, and Apple’s me.com backs up all of my email and files. In this Wave 3 world, my browser of choice is the gateway into all of the applications I might need. In addition, all of my data/information can be viewed, modified, and shared from my iPhone or any computer that has an Internet access.
Wave 3 is also about more than a high-performance IT support infrastructure. It is about new functionality at our fingertips when we are willing to pay a usage service fee. As an example, if I felt that a mapping function or a calendar function would add value to this blog site, they can be added as a drag and drop function from Google or many other Wave 3 service providers. In a Wave 2 world, adding such functionality to my blog site would have meant several months and several man-years of computer software development to modify the client-server system supporting this blog. This level of user abstraction is equivalent to the historical technology transformation from small electric generators supporting home or business, into our National electric grid, and from telegraph offices into our National telecommunications grid.
Wave 3 Requires Different Priorities and Different Processes
Like all things convenient, but yet complex below what the user sees, the ease of use comes with a price. That price is the care and feeding required for each element of this complex infrastructure. Each infrastructure has grown from a series of “S” curve evolutions, standards adoption, and rigorous testing and certifications processes to ensure users will disrupt the shared-infrastructure for other users. Such standardization and commonality of operations is only possible through a process of governance or dictatorial controls. Because most technology is born through open collaboration, democratic based governance will continue to be the success model for large global infrastructure interoperability.
I hope this discussion provides good background to support my argument that we cannot develop the desired application and information agility needed to support modern warfare if we continue to apply Wave 2 processes. I mean by Wave 2 process our current JCIDS (Joint Capability Integration and Development System) requirements process, combined with our DODD (Department of Defense Directive) 5000 acquisition process, and funded through our PPBE (Planning Programming Budgeting Execution) process. Each of these have evolved over decades of bureaucratic reforms designed to guard against misapplication of public funds for military capability. Taken as a whole, these interdependent processes have value for the overall purchase of DoD materiel. But when viewed within the specific framework of Wave 3 IT, these processes are detrimental to both warfare IT intensive capability, and to the resources allocated to acquire IT capabilities. To fully appreciate how these processes need to be modified it is instructive to compare Wave 2 DoD process with Wave 3 commercial process.
Wave 2 DoD “as-is” acquisition process:
- Full detailed requirement defined prior to program approval
- Up-front life cycle cost estimates for the program/system
- Every project considered a system not a component of enterprise
- Each system development budgeted within a “hump” curve of budget categories to support system development, implementation, and sustainment
- Rigorous bureaucratic oversight of the system development to “ensure” program success
- Rigorous testing of the system and the interdependencies that it will operate within
- Complete information assurance certification of the system within its operational environment
- Repeat each of these steps for system upgrade cycles as warfare requirements or supporting technologies change
- Apply these same processes for DoD Wave 3 programs such as NECC, CANES, BTI, etc.
- Standards and interoperability governance assumed covered within the rigorous acquisition process
Wave 3 commercial “as-is” best practices:
- Requirements broadly defined to initiate a project and enable initial funding
- Yearly (or periodic) funding cycles based upon previous progress and additional capability need
- Application functions developed as iterative software development activity (generally built with “agile” 30 day development cycles)
- Application functions abstracted from supporting infrastructure projects and funded as separate iterative projects
- Infrastructure projects developed as hardware and software iterations designed to enhance and/or replace existing infrastructure (networks, cloud computing, SOA service middleware software)
- Governance of infrastructure through processes external to infrastructure and application project development
- Governance driven by bottom-up engineering teams and implemented through policy approval and budget control methods
- Testing dominated by interoperability certification with evolving infrastructure
- Information assurance (IA) validated for supporting infrastructure semi-independently from applications functionality
- Governance and certification processes replace Wave 2 oversight processes
Responding to the Dilemma
Until DoD achieves adequate collective understanding of this Wave 3 dilemma, program failures like NECC will remain the norm. Some senior leaders have argued that the DoD mission is not compatible with Wave 3 technologies. If that were to prevail then the Wave 2 processes could remain as they are, but we should then also abandon any attempt to achieve Wave 3 capability. Because DoD has been evolving as a Wave 2 military for decades, we already know the challenges of Joint operations and information agility that are aligned with the Wave 2 client server systems. Alternatively, if DoD remains on the path toward Wave 3 technology we can look forward to significant improvements in:
- Much more effective Joint information and communication interoperability;
- Data & information flexibility, and;
- Rapid application deployment that will better pace warfare need.
In order to achieve these desired end-state goals we must rapidly move from the Wave 2 processes that are diverting valuable IT time and dollar resources and move rapidly adopt Wave 3 processes and budget practices that will:
- Understand the critical nature of infrastructure that must be evolved, protected, and layered for continuity of operations;
- Govern using bottom-up driven standards & design patterns, complimented with top-down policy and budget and budget controls;
- Certify Joint interoperability and information assurance across the infrastructure layers;
- Focus OT&E practices on semi-independent application and infrastructure functionality;
- Align IT budgets to support the semi-independent iterative development of applications riding shared infrastructure.
Although DoD mythology will assume that these significant changes will require Congressional approval, the majority, if not all of these changes are within the existing authority of the Department’s requirements, budgeting, and acquisition senior leaders. In today’s complex defense environment it is time to adopt Wave 3 processes that can rapidly deliver future capability while reducing sustainment costs.