Agile intelligence is the name of the game at DIA

Grant Schneider, deputy director of information management and CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency, discusses IT transformation, security and collaborative intelligence, and cloud computing.

Grant Schneider is deputy director of information management and CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Senior Executive Service and has held his DIA position for about four years. Schneider also is chairman of the Defense Department Intelligence Information System's (DODIIS) Executive Council, and he represents DIA and the DODIIS community in the Director of National Intelligence’s “Big 6” CIO Council and DOD CIO Executive Council.

Schneider spoke recently with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about his top priorities and challenges, IT transformation, DODIIS themes, security and collaborative intelligence, and cloud computing.

DS: What’s at the top of your to-do list?

Schneider: For me, our big focus right now is our ability to get closer to the customer…changing the optic of how we provide IT services to ensure that we are providing IT services from the customer’s perspective as opposed to from the IT perspective.

DS: And what are your customers telling you they want to see you focus on?

Schneider: The customer tells us a couple of things. First and foremost, they want the basic infrastructure stuff to just be there and transparent to them and always be available. Second, they are looking for an application or mission application environment that is flexible and agile enough to meet their evolving mission needs as they change on a weekly, daily basis. Our focus has been on shifting resources from the infrastructure side of the house into the mission customer-facing side of the house. We’re not decreasing the emphasis on the infrastructure pieces because we need to do that, but we are decreasing the cost of that so we can focus on the customer-facing portions.

DS: Is one of those things the development of cloud computing?

Schneider: Absolutely. We’ve got three elements of the cloud architecture or infrastructure for the customer’s mission focus. One is our data layer, which is having our data available and its native authoritative location so we don’t have to keep making copies of databases, if you will.

The second piece is our identity and access manager, which is the regulator of who gets to see and access which data. And the third piece is the application environment, which needs to move to a widget environment where the customer can select the various tools to provide their operational capabilities and then those applications would be leveraged by the identity access manager to give them access into the appropriate data sources.

DS: You’re just starting to deliver the next-generation desktop computer to combatant commands and DIA headquarters. Tell us about that.

Schneider: Our next-generation desktop is replacing our DODIIS Trusted Workstation. This is a virtualized desktop environment. We started the deployment in March, and we will deploy 12,000 next-generation desktops across our environment…not an ultra-thin environment but a thin-client environment. And then we will go into the process of serving up that same virtualized environment on our thick-client computers.

What this provides in addition to a virtualized environment is multilevel security access. So I will be serving up across this environment: a top-secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) environment or desktop experience; a secret-level SIPRNet desktop experience; a five-eyes level, Stone Ghost experience, [which is a TS/SCI environment for U.S. allies Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand]; and other classification domains that I need to. So that’s going to provide the combatant commands and DIA headquarters access to systems that they may not have access to today and in a far more efficient manner than we have been able to do in the past.

DS: You’re a member of the DODIIS Executive Council. What has it been discussing lately? 

Schneider: The top of the agenda is our ability to come to a common set of tools to use across the entire DODIIS community, and so we talk about various capabilities, such as digital production, link analysis and search geospatial visualization. We do those across the community using a lot of different tools today, [and] we are developing governance structures so we can become more common on the specific tools and applications we are using to provide those capabilities.

DS: That likely ties into the subjects of data consolidation and centralized info management, which is also the theme of the DODIIS conference in early May in Detroit. Please tell me about what you’re doing in that area?

Schneider: The data consolidation is back where I mentioned the data layer. We are developing the intelligence community data layer, which is really a way to take our existing databases and have them indexed in a common manner so that I don’t have to create a new copy of the database every time I have a new application that wants to run against it, which is what has happened in the past. And so we are trying to consolidate the datasets as much as possible and have them be authoritative and accessible via the cloud environment to whoever needs them.

DS: And along with that goes security, right?

Schneider: In our business, we have to do information sharing and information security. And when we look at the world of the cyber environment that we have today, things like WikiLeaks obviously being a significant event for the DOD, we have to be able to secure the data and share the data. So we have got to have the proper controls, the proper understanding of what is in that data layer, who should have access, what are the business rules that govern access to the data and visibility into the data that’s there.

DS: I’m hearing a lot about the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E). How do you define DI2E? 

Schneider: We provide much of the IT services for the Joint Intelligence Operations Centers, and then each of the [military] services have their Distributed Common Ground Systems. The intent of DI2E is to add commonality from an overall defense intelligence enterprise perspective, just like we are trying to do in the DODIIS community…getting commonality around the tools and capabilities. I think DI2E is going to first start with getting commonality around the frameworks that we are using in the combatant command and the service environments, and then that will drive us to be able to share more and have more transparency and more integration across those environments.

DS: What do you see in your crystal ball for the next couple of years for technologies or capabilities in development that could make a difference in making services seamless to the user?

Schneider: I really think the world of advanced machine-driven analytics and getting to the point where IT is delivering and serving up to the customer more refined datasets, parsing through as much information as possible, and letting our customers focus on really doing the hard where-you-need-a-gray-matter-brain analytic and historical context point of view [is where we’re going]. And the technology needs to take all the grunt work out of it. At the same time, it’s not really grunt work because it requires a point of view on every piece of data that gets reviewed. And so the advanced analytics ability to have a point of view on the data and parse out the appropriate ones — structured and nonstructured — is going to be huge.

DS: Does DIA have the personnel and skills sets to develop advanced machine-driven analytics?

Schneider: For that, it’s really a partnership. It’s not something that we would look to do in-house within DIA. We will look to partner with other parts of the community, both the defense community and the intelligence community, as well as working with academia and industry to really drive that for us.

DS: To follow on that point, what specifically would you like to see industry developing?

Schneider: Obviously, the advanced analytics piece, as well as the ability to help us deal with the volume of data and information as it continues to come in and the ability to streamline our operations. We haven’t talked about cost. Cost is certainly a driver in all environments, and so the ability for all our capabilities to be more interoperable and to drive down our operational costs is huge.

DS: I understand that DIA is working with some of the other intelligence agencies to create a common architecture among the organizations. Please tell me about that.

Schneider: We call it the Quad. The Quad is an activity with the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and DIA where our four directors have an agreement or a [memorandum of agreement] directing their four CIOs to drive our IT architectures and infrastructures closer together. And so they have tasked us to really be able to build out some initial operating capabilities that will be a common operating environment that users from any of our organizations can go to, get back into their home capabilities, and get into various Quad collaborative capabilities, and do that in a seamless manner and really tie our architectures together.

DS: What is the road map going forward to eventually develop such a common operating picture?

Schneider: A huge element is normalizing our identity access management capabilities, so that all of my tools will recognize users from other agencies and be able to parse out data appropriately to them. The other piece will be that we interconnect — and our environments are well interconnected today — our environments even more to make it seamless for the individual customers.

DS: People have been talking for years about wanting to be closer and collaborate better with sister agencies. What is the enabling technology or fundamental management change within the Quad that will allow you to do that?

Schneider: I think the big thing for us is going to be moving from a very federated environment where we kind of have meet-me locations and we agree on the attributes of the meet-me locations so we can all get there to an integrated environment where we are truly integrating and have complete openness or significant openness and trust amongst our systems to be able to [do things like] tearing down firewalls [so we can] have that openness and trust between the systems.