Two Defense Department officials pointed to culture as a key challenge counteracting innovation.
The Defense Information Systems Agency has migrated 16,000 users to its Microsoft Office 365 offering for collaboration tools under the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions contract so far, according to DISA’s outgoing director.
Vice Adm. Nancy Norton, speaking Thursday at her last media roundtable before she departs the agency after a three-year tenure, said all DISA personnel has been migrated into DOD365 and onboarding pilot users from other commands is the next step in the effort.
Less than three years after Congress considered eliminating the agency, programs like DEOS and its precursor—the temporary Commercial Virtual Remote, or CVR, environment set to remain in use until June—were critical in enabling DOD’s shift to mass telework. But cultural hesitance in DOD around adapting to changes in information technology remains a challenge, according to Norton and another DISA official.
“Changing technology’s easy,” Norton said. “It's getting people to learn the technology and adapt to it, and figure out how best to use it—that's really hard. Because otherwise you just have new systems and nobody bothers using the functionalities that's there. So that cultural change of embracing innovation, and really expanding on how that works for making us a better force is probably the hardest over time.”
Cultural resistance is the number one roadblock when it comes to IT modernization in government, according to a recent survey. During the pandemic, some of the hesitance to innovate had to be pushed aside so that DOD personnel could keep working: The CVR Environment was rolled out in less than 30 days.
Sharon Woods, director of the Cloud Computing Program Office, said the effort to push out CVR reflected a “massive cultural change” toward agile development, focused on releasing minimum viable products and accepting continuous feedback, that is ongoing.
“But those lessons, which I think the department onboarded because of the pandemic, it's really hard to translate that still into other efforts,” Woods said. “So even with the enduring O365 solutions, it's really hard to not revert back to well, you know, we want everything right out of the gate.”
Woods said CVR serves as a fresh reference point demonstrating to developers and customers the effectiveness of continuous development. The CCPO, which runs major DOD cloud programs from DEOS to milCloud 2.0, was fully absorbed by DISA in January.
“The pandemic showed us that we can achieve the capability, we can do something in 30 days, that's never been done in the world. It's the largest O365 tenant in the world,” Woods said. “But then enough time passes and it's just really hard to not revert back to that traditional mindset.”