DoD CIO is responsible for ensuring the governance and oversight of Information Technology in the DoD. One of the most critical IT capabilities in DoD is the ability for warfighters to communicate over secure radios during real-world operations. As international threat capabilities increase in sophistication, DoD must modernize both networks and terminals to ensure reliable, secure communications with Joint and Coalition Forces in the modern battlespace.
To transition the Military Services and subordinate units effectively and smoothly to modern capabilities massive, coordination must take place both within and across Military Departments (MILDEPS). Internal MILDEP coordination is handled within each branch of Service (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines). But coordination for implementation between MILDEPs and Combatant Commands (CCMDs) requires DoD CIO oversight to accomplish. SharePoint and Microsoft 365 enable Modernization and Transition Planning solutions that provide centralized management, governance, and oversight capabilities along with transparency that empowers a mutual understanding of progress across Services and Combatant Commands.
The DoD CIO is responsible for all matters relating to information and the DoD information environment, including Command and Control (C2), Communications, Radio Frequency Spectrum, Network Operations, Information Systems, Information Assurance (IA), Defensive Cybersecurity, and Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT). Achieving and maintaining Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) superiority in the increasingly congested, contested, and constrained electromagnetic environment is critical for DoD to successfully execute its mission.
Our adversaries have recognized the U.S. military’s reliance on EMS-dependent systems, and they continue to work aggressively to exploit this perceived vulnerability. Current EMS threats attempt to detect, exploit, deny, disrupt, and deceive our capabilities from navigation and communications to sensors. DoD must continuously modernize existing capabilities to ensure ubiquitous connectivity and military overmatch in the modern contested and congested communications environment.
To modernize existing capabilities, transition planning must be accomplished to ensure the ability for units to interoperate throughout the transition. This becomes a complex planning challenge when considering the various advanced waveforms, secure networks, and a variety of encryption algorithms and devices involved. Add to this the size of DoD and the separately governed and managed Services and the level of difficulty to manage the transition increases immensely. Trying to coordinate and execute transition strategies in DoD using Email and Excel is unreasonably difficult and riddled with risk.
By developing a plan
with the right level of detail and making it transparent for stakeholders, everyone could assess their situation against other dependent units and assist in highlighting any issues early. Transparency during execution dramatically increased the likelihood of issues being handled swiftly so units could consistently complete transitions on-time. Since some units had already started transitioning on their own in various areas, a data call was required to snap a chalk line on everyone’s status.
A SharePoint-based solution that established the plan and enabled progress reporting in a central, web-based repository was clearly the best way to tackle the problem. Since many DoD organizations were used to Excel Spreadsheet driven data-calls over email, it was likely there would be a learning curve for some related to entering information in centrally managed SharePoint-based solution. While one part of the team went to work on the data model and data that needed to be captured, another part of the team started working on how the data call would be presented to users to provide a good user experience when clicking a link to a SharePoint list vs. opening an Excel spreadsheet.
Since the services and units tracked status and information related to the modernization effort very different, there was no easy way to capture all the data from existing sources although some information helped to provide a better starting point than a blank slate. The existing data sets were exceptionally helpful in starting conversations with stakeholders regarding what data elements were important and why. Stakeholders often commented the experience of walking through each data element with the ACES team was very educational in that it forced them to define why they were capturing certain data elements. The why question led to the removal of several data elements items and the addition of a few not previously included.
Meanwhile, the Data Call Team determined the first thing they needed was a list of unit POCs able to provide the information needed to populate the data model and accurately report the status of each unit throughout the transition effort. By sticking to a simple data call that only required contact information, the focus could be on training the user base to get comfortable with entering information in SharePoint. This worked great as the first day people started entering data, they appeared to get the hang of SharePoint very quickly and generally reported enjoying the speed at which they could enter the data.
The Data Model Team worked to define data elements that were choice fields so users could quickly click to fill fields fast and feel freedom from poorly designed forms that regularly require long explanations to vague, nebulous questions. The goal was to make the data call experience fast and fruitful in the sense that users would finally be putting data into a repository that was transparent and could be used and referenced by them in the future. Many found they no longer needed to maintain their local spreadsheet as they could reference the new enterprise repository and even leverage it for reporting.
Speaking of reporting, this was a big part of the solution once the data call went live as we were able to visually show Services that had the most responses and those that were lagging. It’s amazing what a little competition will do to drive results. As the information in the data model matured reports showing the status of the overall modernization effort were put on display and briefed regularly to senior leaders. This provided several opportunities to either shine or gain undesired attention. AI, ML, and NLP were leveraged to assist with uncovering potential issues as well as enabling a Natural Language Querying capability.
ACES is leveraging the Microsoft 365 DoD-High GCC to revolutionize data calls and
save staffers throughout DoD hundreds if not thousands of hours aggregating spreadsheet responses. By developing integrated, well-defined, centralized data models at the enterprise level, the need for each individual organization to develop a solution to the same problem is eliminated saving the government countless manhours that can be redirected for greater productivity. This approach also enables faster, more accurate reporting and enables effective data visualizations to assess situations from the unit to the enterprise level. The modern tools in SharePoint and Microsoft 365 are presenting a new paradigm to how we work in DoD and is enabling progress and productivity at levels never experienced for those who work with ACES.