Is DoD an Information Intensive Organization?

IT BudgetUnlike banks, security brokers, insurance companies and other information intensive organizations (IIOs), the military is not generally considered to be an IIO. Information intensive organizations routinely spend 20% of annual budget on IT products and support. In 2014 the U.S. DoD will spend $39.5 billion or 7.5% of its annual budget on IT. Although a considerable amount it numerically confirms that the DoD does not allocate budget as an information intensive organization.

I started thinking about the DoD IT budget while listening to senior DoD leaders speaking at a conference a few months ago. As a culture, most military leaders would agree that IT is critical to supporting modern military operations, but few would consider IT to be as important as military personnel and the platforms and weapons that support them. Therefore, most would agree that at 7.5% of the DoD budget, the IT spend is consuming a precious amount of annual budget. In that context DoD leadership is generally focused upon improving the efficiency of IT in order that the savings may be applied to additional or improved platforms and weapon system. This, of course, assumes that DoD military personnel and weapons systems will perform as effectively as training activities demonstrate.

However, because the DoD is in the dangerous and life threatening business of National Security, it is critical that DoD platforms and systems deliver both deterrence and military effects when called upon. The more important question then becomes, will the current IT budget deliver effective current and future DoD military capability?

The value of IT for IIOs can be measured in terms of the strategic, transformational, informational, and transactional added value. This simply means that in an IIO business the IT drives strategic opportunities, can create new ways of improving business, supports employee and customer information access, and it can improve normal process efficiency. Using these same IIO criteria within the DoD, it is easy to see that IT adds value within the DoD in each of the same four areas. Precision warfare, the foundation of current military capability would not be possible were it not for IT.

cyber war crime1.jpg 1000×667cyber war crime1.jpg 1000×667cyber warfareUnlike traditional IIOs, however, within the DoD IT is its own area of cyber operations and/or cyber warfare. Like air warfare, cyber warfare requires that each of the military services effectively defend against modern cyber attacks while participating in the delivery of cyber operations against an enemy if required. This difference is so significant that in the article Time for a U.S. Cyber Force, January 2014 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, retired Admiral James Stavridis and David Weinstein argue for an independent branch of the armed services to be dedicated to cyberspace:

“Cyberspace, like airspace, constitutes a vital operational venue for the U.S. military. Accordingly, it warrants what the sea, air, and land each have—an independent branch of the armed services.”

If and when the United States decides to stand up a fifth branch of the military dedicated to cyberspace, the defense budget will be stretched to accommodate the needs of the new military branch. Unless the budget grows considerably, such a change would dictate less budget to sustain the current four military branches implying less military service members and less weapons systems in each. The high level politics of military service reductions almost certainly mean that a U.S. Cyber Force is not likely to happen anytime soon.

However, it is not too soon for the military culture of big forces and big weapons to realize that the DoD is a IIO with even more profound IT implications than traditional IIOs. As such, the notion that IT should be more efficient in order to provide additional funds to military platforms and weapons is short sighted. Without effective cyber defenses, DoD weapons may not represent the intended deterrence value, nor deliver the intended destructive effects when called upon.

For certain the DoD should continue to save money by improving IT efficiency, but in the context of an IIO the DoD spends almost 12.5% less than traditional banking, security brokers, and insurance companies. In today’s rampant cyber threat world, the DoD must be certain it is a deterrence and when called upon will deliver military destruction. That can not be accomplished on the funds being applied to IT in the department today. It is time that DoD recognize the information intensive organization implications of not pacing leading edge IT capabilities in support of both traditional operations and ongoing cyber warfare.

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12 Responses to Is DoD an Information Intensive Organization?

  1. You have expressed it very well. I have watched the continued growth of the use of the Internet and satellite communications with interest, and concluded that if there is a weak point, this is the area. What if all of our electronic communications are attacked? The same issue is occurring in the economic world with focused attacks on the economic world (think Target and others).

    The continued construction of very expensive units (USS Ford, for example) which are potentially vulnerable in an attack from a distributed, coordinated enemy should give one pause to reflect about our investment process.

    Safe, secure communications, and IT capabilities are, for at least the foreseeable future, what will be required for modern warfare. This means that there should be a separate organization within DoD that does R&D for all the existing military departments and provide appropriate support.

  2. Marv Langston says:

    I misquoted the budget numbers because I used the entire Federal IT budget of $82B vice the $39.5B DoD IT budget. Using the right number puts the DoD IT budget at 7.5% of the total budget. It can be argued that the $39.5B does not contain all of the embedded IT contained in weapon systems but those numbers are difficult to break out.

  3. Ed Tunstall says:

    Good article. Does the 7.5% include C3I? One could argue that all those computers/displays/and sensors should be included.
    VR, ET

    • Marv Langston says:

      Ed, the problem with really knowing the IT budget is that most mission systems, i.e. C2ISR, Combat Systems and Weapon Systems and not counted in the IT budgets. The challenge is that those are the systems most interesting to potential threats.

  4. Olin Hyde says:

    Excellent article.

    The DoD is challenged to recognize that it is organized around an antiquated view that computers do what they are told. This view leads to the failure to recognize that the DoD is a broken organization simply because it fails to recognize that the law of accelerating return makes it impossible for humans to scale intelligence fast enough to keep pace with the exponential nature of machine-based information. The entire history of warfare has been defined by the access to and exploitation of information. That the US DoD continues to try to organize itself around large scale systems, rather than embrase the agility offered by lean startup methodologies reflects our inability to win future conflicts. See video (7 min) on “AI: Empowering Better Human Decisions.”

  5. Matthew Levy says:

    Great post. I also think that IIOs should be measured along the more organizational lines of interdependence, disembodiment, velocity, and power (Child and McGrath, 2001).

    I also find it troubling as a technocrat and taxpayer that the DoD is considering Cyber as a fourth branch. Creating another fiefdom historically creates unnecessary institutions where the work activities become more focused on the sustainment of the stovepipe and less on the needs of the enterprise. [spoken like a true fief!] Information Technology is inculcated in everything we do. Literally everything. A fourth ‘branch’ potentially isolates these ubiquitous information security needs, rather than proliferating and strengthening it.

  6. Sanjit Singh says:

    Great article. Scary but instructive. I hope that the military realizes all of this sooner than later.

  7. Buddenberg says:


    You only tangentially touch on the BIG part of DoD IT. Look at the number of embedded CPUs in a combat aircraft, for example. Hundreds. But none of them figure in the formal IT budget. Is, GPS, to pick another example, IT? You are correct that all precision guided munitions are IT; it’s also useful to note that they all exhibit complexity in the form of nesting — the PGM’s information system is one of the Act nodes of the platform that carries the weapon.

    The Coast Guard example is in Search & Rescue: with the advent of reliable Loran C, the advent of the VHF-FM coastal radio coverage (and advent of ubiquitous fathometers on boats) we spent a whole lot less time searching relative to rescuing. Is Loran and VHF-FM (old style, analog voice) IT? The federal government’s definition of IT is so bogged up that you couldn’t tell … but that misses the point — the investments in IT usually yield disproportionate returns compared to traditional platforms. This imbalance is gradually coming into balance, but it’s not there for several years.

  8. Great points, Marv. I recently wrote a piece on the vaguely related theme of “If you don’t build it, they’re gonna stay home.“, in which I argue that the gov’t (DoD, really) should invest in more (maybe smaller, maybe riskier) IT projects.

    Also, I think maybe although you updated the numbers in the first paragraph, the incorrect percentage may be still in the second paragraph?

    • Marv Langston says:

      Thanks for the correction Daniel. I like your blog’s notion of smaller IT projects. Faster turn on IT is a good thing.

  9. Johnnie Simpson says:


    Another great article. I was reviewing a youtube video of the AFCEA conference in San Diego last week and Terry Halverson made some comments that I thought were helpful in considering how Navy will execute it’s IT budget in a declining budget environment. Navy will seek efficiencies in it’s Business IT line, but invest more in the Operational IT lines to meet requirements highlighted by VADM Branch. Of note, VADM Branch specifically addressed the ONR NTC effort.

    v/r Johnnie

  10. Eric Gruenloh says:


    Good article. I think in order for these issues to be given priority and effectively resolved in the near-term they need to be viewed in a broader economic context.

    For example, typically one sees a major assertion for the size and budget of the Navy is that 90% of the world’s trade travels by sea (Note 1), the ocean trade injects over $220B into our economy (Note 2), and 30% of our GDP flows through our ports (Note 3). These “physical” sea lines of communication and trade must be protected and given those statistics there is a lot at stake. However, since it is in the physical realm there is an tangible frame of reference for those debating these budgets for platforms,sensors, and weapons that operate in the physical realm.

    However, if one looks at the financial industry in all of its permutations (investment, banking, mortgage, commodities, etc.) retail point-of-sale, real estate, media, utilities management, MRP and JIT inventory systems, health care, and IT hardware and software, how much of the US economy rides on this “digital ocean” in cyberspace? I cannot find that data but intuitively I believe that if significantly damaged, or rendered inoperative, the cumulative effect of its immediate and near-term economic impact will be a lot greater than that of damaging a set of geographically isolated entities existing in the physical world.




    Thanks for giving me something besides utility bills to think about.

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