Digital Army 2030: Modernizing Technology at Scale - Part 1Massive Tech Overhaul to Integrate Data and Insights Across Platforms
Decision dominance is driving the digital transformation of the U.S. Army, which is one of the world's largest employers and a top strategic organization. The Army is not just focusing on technology transformation but also on using data as a strategic asset to become battle-ready. To appropriately respond to cyberthreats from adversaries such as China, the U.S. Army CIO is on a mission - Digital Army 2030.
Through digital transformation, the CIO's office is preparing the Army to take on the battles of the future. Akin to private sector companies, the Army wants to deploy new operating models and services to augment its war-fighting capabilities.
Along with modernizing next-generation combat systems, the Army also wants to do away with its legacy information infrastructure and introduce cloud computing at scale to phase out its 250 data centers, which cannot sustain the requirements of the mission.
The Army has also signed a $1 billion transformation project that will involve large hyperscalers and cloud service providers to modernize and migrate more than 5,000 of its applications in the cloud.
In this interview with Information Security Media Group, Dr. Raj Iyer, CIO of the U.S. Army, discusses:
- The need for digital transformation to support battle readiness;
- The shift to cloud-native architecture to leverage cloud for war-fighting capabilities;
- Application migration and modernization at scale to support war missions and business functions.
In Part 2 of this interview, Iyer shares how zero trust helped cyber command mature to gain offensive and defensive capabilities.
Iyer serves as principal adviser and directs all matters representing the Secretary of the Army for information management and information technology. He sets the strategic direction and oversees the execution of policies and programs for IM/IT, including managing an integrated IT architecture, enterprise data management, cybersecurity and cloud management.
Rahul Neel Mani: Welcome to the ISMG Studios. I'm Rahul Neel Mani, and today we are honored to have Dr. Raj Iyer, who is the Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Army in the ISMG Studios. Dr. Iyer serves as the first civilian CIO of the U.S. Army and is responsible for its IT portfolio through a global workforce of about 15,000 civilian IT and 10,000 military personnel and providing oversight to the Army's mammoth $18 billion annual IT and cyber budget. Welcome, Dr. Iyer. Thanks for your time. Honored to have you with us.
Dr. Raj Iyer: Yeah, thank you. My pleasure.
Neel Mani: Dr. Iyer, let's start with getting a broad sense of the overall technology transformation vision of the U.S. Army, which also employs the largest workforce in the world, and is one of the top most strategic organizations.
Dr. Iyer: Great question. I would rephrase that to say that the journey that we're on is we're terming as digital transformation and not just technology modernization. The Army has been pioneering a lot of technologies through research and development for many decades now. But the journey we're on right now, and why this is so different, is it all comes down to how we're transforming the Army through data as a strategic asset. A couple of reasons for that. The first being that after 20 years of fighting a counterinsurgency, in Southwest Asia, the Army is modernizing at scale to meet the pacing challenges of the future. To us, that is the potential challenges and threats from China, and to be able to strategically deter those challenges. It was very important that we engage in a mass effort to truly transform the Army. Our 246-year history, as an Army, has always been about how well we fight with our people. That will always remain. However, what we found is that the key, the secret sauce, in terms of being able to deter any future adversaries is how well we're able to make decisions under uncertainty. Especially, when we're challenged or contested by peer adversaries like China, it is absolutely important that we have the best data available in the hands of our commanders for decision-making. So to us that decision dominance, as we call it, is what's driving our digital transformation efforts. We are embarking on a massive effort to achieve the Digital Army of 2030. That is a combination of a number of modern technology platforms all the way from next-generation combat vehicles to future vertical lift aircraft, other monetization platforms, and weapon system platforms. But truly, the secret sauce is integrating and exchanging data across all platforms and making that available to our commanders at the point of need for decision-making. For us, digital transformation is also about truly changing how we fight in the future. That's akin to how the private industry has leveraged digital transformation to really employ new operating models, disrupting the market and new services to users and consumers. That is a similar journey we're on in the Army as well, except, the business of the army is in the warfighting business. For us to be able to achieve that strategic advantage, that competitive advantage against an adversary, we're looking at digital transformation as a means to be able to achieve that end state.
Neel Mani: Let me get to a little granular conversation here. I've been very keenly following your posts on social media and was reading about the massive $1 billion cloud migration contract that the U.S. Army is talking about, and the Army cloud and data plants. What do you have to say about that?
Dr. Iyer: Cloud is absolutely one of those key enablers to achieve digital transformation. You don't have to take the Army for it. Look at how Uber, Netflix, Lyft, Airbnb and all of these other companies have leveraged the cloud to be able to disrupt the market with new operating models. That is the same journey that the U.S. Army is on as well. Cloud is a key technical enabler to achieving digital transformation. That's because, what we need to be able to do is harness the data available in all our systems, applications and weapon system platforms. What we're finding is that, with the advent of newer platforms, the volume of data that we are receiving from sensors and other applications, and including our soldiers themselves, who's over sensors, is growing exponentially. Without a capability like cloud to be able to not only store and manage the data but to be able to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning, you need the compute power of the cloud to be able to achieve that objective. Cloud was one of those key fundamental priority areas for us, that journey that began about two and a half years ago. I can tell you that we have come a long way since then, in terms of not just building out capacity in the cloud, the right security architecture, which is absolutely critical. The ubiquitous access to the cloud by focusing on our network architecture, as well, so that the data is accessible from anywhere in the world, from any device by any soldier, but also about how we leverage the power of the cloud for warfighting, and that means that taking a technical enabler like the cloud, and then putting it in the hands of our warfighters, or soldiers to operationalize that. At the end of the day, we're looking at changing how we fight in future and that gets into the doctrinal aspects of warfighting. Then you know, our warfighters really need to be the one that own that business process. They need to be looking at how to innovate and how to take these technologies as modern technologies, and then use it in different ways to fight than they have ever been in the past. That is a journey we're on this year. In 2023, we will focus on really getting these kinds of capabilities to the hands of the warfighter. We have a number of our cores and divisions, even down to the brigade level, and below, actively engaged now in taking these technologies and experimenting with them, making them part of exercises, with the idea that these are all lessons, a campaign of learning, that will enable us to find new ways to fight for these technologies that have not been previously available. As it relates to our billion-dollar effort, in parallel with us looking at cloud as a warfighting capability, I, as a CIO, also have to find cost efficiencies, and one of the ways we're doing that is to try to shut down over 250 data centers that we want in the Army around the world. One, it is not sustainable from a cost perspective, and it is not meeting the mission requirements. The investment that I've been able to secure is to start moving applications to the cloud, migrating them to the cloud, modernizing applications, and then with an emphasis on exposing the data in the applications for decision-making. It all again comes down to data. This journey will not only enable us to divest of some of the on-premise data centers but also help with mission effectiveness.
Neel Mani: You mentioned the journey starting two and a half years ago, and besides cloud being used as the warfighting capability builder, you are also very conscious about the escalating costs and therefore deciding to shut down the 250 or data centers and migrating the applications into the cloud. That is where my next question was - the U.S. Army Enterprise Application Migration and Modernization agreement (EAMM). How do you think will this pan out? Because it's a mammoth plan.
Dr. Iyer: The plan is pretty detailed and documented in the Army cloud plan and that is available as a document for public release. It captures priorities and our priority initiatives for the fiscal year 2023 and 2024. What we also needed was access to good technical talent from industry to help us on this cloud journey. Because we know from a talent perspective, we don't have all the expertise in-house organically to be able to do this. The intent of establishing a contract with the industry is for us to be able to get access to the best talent that's available in the industry to help us on this journey. That's exactly what the EAMM contract will enable us to do. Not only will it bring us technical expertise, but also the combat power, the capacity that's needed to be able to migrate applications at scale. Because it's one thing to be able to do this for a couple of data centers and a handful of applications. My portfolio is over 5,000 applications and systems in the Army, as I know that that's worldwide, supporting a number of warfighting missions, business functions and so on. It was important for us to make sure that we have the combat power and help from industry to be able to meet that objective.
Neel Mani: We just heard Dr. Raj Iyer, CIO of the United States Army, on the mission of Digital Army 2030, and how the largest employer in the world and one of the most strategic organizations is working to digitally transform the U.S. armed forces with technology modernization, cloud adoption, and innovation in the applications. The second part of this two-part podcast series will be squarely focused on how the U.S. Army is modernizing its cybersecurity infrastructure with zero trust, and skilling its workforce to prepare for modern warfare, including cyberspace. Until then, goodbye. I'm Rahul Neel Mani, signing off.