Pentagon’s Joint Information Environment ‘Picking Up Steam’

Flickr user David B. Gleason

The Joint Information Environment is becoming more important to the Pentagon and military branches as they deal with constricted budgets and a top-down push to share data.

The chief technology officer of the Air Force said the plan to provide a consistent IT framework across the entire Pentagon “has been picking up steam,” as budgeted dollars have decreased and tech budgets in general have come under more scrutiny.

“We can’t afford any longer to not have development standards for applications,” Air Force CTO Frank Konieczny said Monday at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Joint Information Environment, or JIE, is a nebulous term that often “means different things to different people, depending on the mission,” according to Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, chief information officer of the Marine Corps.

Yet, it’s clear JIE is becoming more important to the Pentagon and military branches as they deal with constricted budgets and a top-down push to share data, applications and services that formerly would have been siloed away by each department.

At the Air Force, Konieczny has gotten ahead of the JIE curve, promoting “as-a-service” methodologies, consolidated IT centers and more agile approaches to IT development, he said. When available, the Air Force is reaching out to commercial providers for tech needs, instead of building them in-house.

“We want our airmen to be fighting battles; we don’t want them doing IT work,” Konieczny said.

For now, military CIOs are caught in a balancing act.

“JIE is going to promote cost savings, and it’s not hard to argue with reducing threat surfaces,” Crall said. “But the biggest challenges are... how do you enforce standardization and balance customization?”

Crall said the Marines, because of their mission, operate “a little bit differently” than counterparts like the Air Force, Army and Navy. Many Marine programs and applications “require some customization,” Crall said, so uniform standardization is an important goal, but not the end-all, be-all policy.

IC-ITE Offers ‘Unimaginable’ Opportunity for Intelligence Community

The Pentagon isn’t the only agency working on a massive rethink of its IT framework.

The Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (known as IC-ITE, pronounced "eye-sight") plan offers the 17 agencies within the IC the opportunity to “fundamentally re-imagine our world,” according to Cathy Johnston, director for IC-ITE and digital transformation at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

From an analytic perspective, IC-ITE can “redefine the relationship” between all-source intelligence analysts, signals intelligence analysts and multi-intelligence analysts, she said.

“What IC-ITE allows us to do is interact with each other and our insights constantly,” Johnston added.

Unifying 16 disparate networks under various governance policies is a major challenge, Johnston said, as is the cultural challenge of “breaking out of data ownership.” But the potential payoff is huge.

Consider, she said, that it isn’t uncommon for analysts within the IC to be forced to query several hundred or more databases separately as they collect information. IC-ITE allows for a “data ocean” of pooled intelligence from various intelligence agencies, improving an analyst’s efficiency by some 70 to 80 percent. Instead of querying many databases, analysts only have to check one.

IC-ITE should also improve the IC’s cybersecurity posture, Johnston said. Improved intelligence sharing means both improved national security insights and increased sharing of threat vectors. Improved information sharing, she said, allows the IC as a whole to to put more of the pieces of intelligence collection together.

In addition, Johnston added that the joint cloud computing model the IC incorporates – led by the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency – allows users to only view data “they are authorized to see,” thereby mitigating Edward Snowden-esque insider threats.