A difficult pivot away from a long-favored IT modernization strategy enabled the intelligence community to collaborate more efficiently and let individual agencies tailor technology to fit their needs, says IC CIO John Sherman.
The key, he said, was the IC’s work on developing reference architecture that gives the 17 agencies in the community a template from which to design their own IT.
“This has truly been a case of us needing to evolve or losing the relevance and applicability of what we’ve built,” Sherman said at the 19th DoDIIS Worldwide Conference Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. “That’s not going to happen on any of our watches.”
One-Size-Fits-All IT No Longer Fits Intelligence Community
The toughest IT job the IC has confronted in recent years, according to Sherman, was to discard the IC Desktop Enterprise project, which would have created a common desktop across the community.
“It was a noble effort, but it was not meant to be,” he said. “It was among the hardest decisions any of us ever had to make.”
But once the decision was made, he said, that opened up a new way to look at IC ITE — the IC IT Enterprise strategy.
“No longer would we be focused on one-size-fits-all solutions, but rather we could move to a more federated approach that insured interoperability without forcing agencies to compromise their particular requirements,” he said.
Cloud Technology Has Worked Better Than Expected
The “second epoch,” as the IC community calls it, of IC ITE is based on the concept of relying on reference architecture and the flexibility it creates. Already, Sherman said, agencies including the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency are seeing the difference. Basic tasks common in the private sector are beginning to appear in IC offices.
“We can chat with our colleagues in NSA, and that’s no small feat. And now we can do it with NGA, DIA and the Coast Guard,” he said. “The pick-and-shovel work that we’re doing with reference architecture is helping us get beyond agency-centric approaches and creates a framework that encourages true interoperability.”
The IC is also building on early successes in the cloud, with many agencies using the Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) offering run by the CIA.
In June, the Office of National Intelligence released a strategic plan on advancing cloud computing in the IC. It calls for supporting artificial intelligence and machine learning, disconnected and edge capabilities, applications and data that are portable, and workflows that move across multiple layers of security.
The C2S currently handles data designated as top secret, but will soon be handling secret data as well, paving the way for easier collaboration among intelligence, homeland and military partners, Sherman said.
In addition, edge node capabilities have been deployed overseas, giving distant intelligent workers increased ability to work with those based in more technologically stable locations.
“We’ve benefited greatly,” Sherman said. “Our workloads and data in the cloud exceed that of what even the most optimistic advocates could have envisioned when we started the C2S contract over five years ago.”
For more articles from DoDIIS 2019, check out our conference coverage here.