SAN FRANCISCO—The Pentagon has enlisted the help of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet [GOOG], to lead a new Defense Innovation Advisory Board that will be charged with quickly figuring out innovative and agile ways to address problems through new technologies and management processes, the department announced Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Schmidt have not yet laid out an agenda, but the board could offer the department advice on topics such as rapid prototyping, iterative product development, complex data analysis in business decision making, the use of mobile and cloud applications and organizational information.
Carter and Schmidt met Wednesday morning at the RSA security conference in San Francisco to discuss the advisory board. Afterwards, Carter told reporters he wanted to give Schmidt the latitude to structure the board the way he wanted and define the agenda.
“He knows innovative people who would be the best minds to be one the defense innovation board and what would be the best things for them to work on,” he said. “Part of the spirit of having such a body is to let them think things themselves. We’re not going to make this something where I dictate either the membership and the agenda.”
There is a clear difference between the way the technology sector operates and the organizational style of the Pentagon, partly because of mission, regulations, age of institutions and other factors, Schmidt told reporters.
“There’s no question that there’s a gap. So if the team that we’re able to assemble can help bridge that gap by bringing innovative new ideas that help the overall mission of the defense department, making individuals more effective, bringing in new ideas. That will be a help. We would not anticipate doing massive proposals and so forth. We’d rather focus on where are the things were new ideas can solve a new problem.”
Harnessing the innovative power of Silicon Valley has been a theme during the defense secretary’s trip to the region this week, the third he has made since April.
“The secretary is always looking at ways to try and bring in innovation into the department, to keep the department thinking fresh, bringing in new ideas, bringing in new voices,” a senior defense official told Defense Daily. “He sees that there is another way to do that and once again tap some really talented people who work or deal with national security issues on a daily basis but still have business experience and life experience that can be helpful for the department.”
The board will be made up of up to 12 representatives who have successfully led public or private organizations and could include defense contractors or Silicon Valley executives, however no members besides Schmidt have been announced yet.
The members will not receive monetary compensation and will not offer advice on military operations and strategy.
“This is about things going on in the tech world that these people will have familiarity with that they can share with the Department of Defense,” the official added. “It’s not just hardware and that kind of innovation but even problem solving tools, best practices in terms of business processes that might be helpful for the department.”
A launch date has not yet been set in stone, but the official said he expects the board to be formed “relatively quickly.”