Army IT Day: Improved networking could save dollars, says CIO

The Army is looking at restructuring its information and communications networks so that they might drive efficiencies in a time of shrinking budgets, says Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence.

The Army is looking at restructuring its information and communications networks so that they might drive efficiencies in a time of shrinking budgets, Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence said at AFCEA NOVA’s Army IT Day March 13.

But as the service puts more emphasis on its networks, it is running into capacity issues as demand outstrips capacity. “We are peaking out,” Lawrence said.

One major challenge caused by limited capacity is that it is affecting efforts such as providing distributed training and education to units in the United States and those deployed overseas. The Army is looking into ways to solve this problem and is beginning to work out business cases to support those solutions, she said.

Another challenge will be the move to mobile devices and supporting not just hundreds of thousands of smart phones and tablets, but myriad sensors and other devices which could number in the millions, Lawrence said. The Army will have to design its network to not only handle increased voice and video traffic, but other types of data streams from all those sensors.

The service is cooperating with the Defense Information Systems Agency on a mobility pilot program involving 2,000 devices. “It’s almost not a pilot anymore,” Lawrence said, describing the size of the program. Two important requirements must be met before mobile devices are deployed across the Army however. These are proper   authentication and authorization for users and protecting data. Because users can lose their mobile devices, it is imperative that any sensitive data be stored in an Army cloud and only accessed via mobile device with the proper authentication, she said.

The service also must be able to conduct command and control across its networks. But to do this properly, there is a lot of clutter in the form of redundant software applications. Lawrence cited a lesson learned from the service’s first Network Integration Evaluation events, where warfighters complained that there was too much complexity at the tactical levels of the network. It was found that there were 76 different tools and applications in use at the brigade combat team level.

The Army has since removed or consolidated half of those tools, Lawrence said. The chief problem was that each unit commander was acquiring tools and software for their networks. To prevent such redundancies, she noted that this acquisition should be handled by a single program office.

The Army is already working on a variety of cost saving efforts. One example is a new joint enterprise licensing agreement signed with Microsoft. Instead of a license with the Army, the agreement covers all of the services for more efficiency, she said.