Defense Intelligence Agency CIO Douglas Cossa speaks at the 2023 Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems Worldwide Conference in Portland, Ore.

Dec 19 2023

DoDIIS23: DOD Takes Steps to Improve Aging Technology

Customer experience and security can be improved with a tech refresh.

Well aware of complaints about the state of office technology across the defense and intelligence sectors, CIOs are taking steps to refresh as much tech as possible to improve user experience.

The Defense Department recently stood up a new user experience portfolio management office, run by Savanrith “Savan” Kong, which has been charged with fixing UX shortcomings. DOD CIO John Sherman said that the department plans to issue new technology refresh guidelines soon.

“Having stuff that is more than a few years old isn’t going to cut it anymore,” he said at the 2023 Department of Defense Intelligence Information System Worldwide Conference. “We’ve got to do better than we’ve been doing in terms of tech refresh.”

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Technology Refresh Is a DOD Priority

In 2022, DOD employees and service members — including DOD’s then-chief software officer — took to social media to point out flaws in the user experience of fundamental tools, citing slow log-in times, crashing collaboration tools and network latency. DOD officials acknowledged this at the time and focused more on upgrades.

“We’ve all seen the horror stories about the hardware that’s way too old,” Sherman said at DoDIIS. “It’s not only the inputs, it’s routers and switches. And it’s not all about hardware, it’s about software too.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency has made tech refresh a priority as part of the modernization of its Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, the DOD’s secure intranet. It’s critical that agencies dealing with sensitive information have the latest hardware and software for security reasons, said Kathryn Lipps, the chief of DIA’s JWICS program management office.

“We want to make sure that we are maintaining a healthy tech refresh cycle,” she said. “When you have aging equipment, that’s a significant avenue of potential compromise.”

The official five-year refresh cycle began in fiscal year 2023, she said, “so we’re just at the beginning of things.”

LEARN MORE: Asset disposition services can offload old technology so that agencies don’t have to.

Technology upgrades have long been on DIA’s to-do list; DIA CIO Douglas Cossa said that when he joined the agency six years ago, “the age of our equipment was quite old — some was 17 years old.”

Old equipment meant frequent outages, and fixing those took up much of the CIO office’s time, he said: “This was not just here in the U.S. This was in very hard-to-reach areas where we had to fly in very skilled staff into, frankly, war zones.”

In most cases in the defense and intelligence sectors, agencies follow government procedures for disposing of used technology. At DIA, the tech is wiped to ensure that it contains no classified information or agency-specific configurations and then is shipped back to DIA facilities for proper disposal. “They’re not passed on to anyone for use in other capacities. They’re completely gone,” Lipps said.

In some cases, technology disposal is more dramatic than a mere wipe. When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021 after 20 years of war, “I thought we would just pack up all of our stuff and put it on a plane to leave,” Cossa said. “It never occurred to me that we would actually blow it up.”

“This,” he added, “really emphasizes the fact that technology must be affordable.”

To learn more about DoDIIS 2023, visit our conference page. You can also follow us on X (formerly Twitter) at @FedTechMagazine to see behind-the-scenes moments.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Wade Costin/Defense Intelligence Agency

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