The Army’s chief information officer on Tuesday said he is addressing the service’s lagging enterprise technology modernization with plans to stand up a cloud program office in the next 90 days and run a series of pilot programs over the next two years focused on adopting an IT “as-a-service” model.  

Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford told attendees at an Association of the United States Army event the new “Enterprise IT As-a-Service” approach will shift a focus to industry bringing in contractor owned and operated IT to modernize the enterprise network, while officials are also establishing new pathfinders to refocus the cloud migration effort.

Army CIO Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford Photo: U.S. Army.

“In the next 12 to 24 months…you can expect the Army to start experimenting with a fundamentally different approach when it comes to modernizing the enterprise,” Crawford said. “And that different approach is exploring options that involve various ‘as-a-service’ models provided by commercial and defense industry.”

Crawford noted the current approach to IT would take the Army beyond 2030 to full modernize its enterprise network.

“The Army’s enterprise network at its current level of investment and pace of modernization cannot meet the immediate future warfighting requirements to optimize force readiness,” Crawford said.

The new “as-a-service” model is meant to get new tech integrated faster by buying access to the IT rather than outright purchasing the hardware or software, with officials now focusing on replacing outdated legacy capabilities of 50 high priority Army posts rather than incrementally upgrading all 288 installations.

“Enterprise IT As-a-Service” will start with three pilot programs in FY ’19, followed by up to eight programs in FY ’20, which will include technologies for the network itself, services related to the network and individual devices.  

The first effort will focus on enterprise technology at the Futures Command headquarters in Austin, Texas, according to Crawford.

Crawford said the Army’s retooled approach to the cloud will include standing up a cloud program office and releasing a new data strategy within the next 90 days, while also setting up five pathfinder efforts in FY ’19 to ensure officials have the proper infrastructure to avoid previous cloud migration missteps.

“Our near-term focus is posturing ourselves to leverage general purpose and fit-for-purpose hybrid cloud hosting capabilities. There are some things that we’ve got to do in the Army to set conditions to be able to properly leverage cloud hosting capabilities,” Crawford said.

The Army’s pathfinders will focus on cloud computing considerations for tactical intelligence data, financial management applications, global force integration systems, logistics and maintenance and the tactical server.

“Rather than a five- to 10-year cloud strategy, we really want to focus on getting after those five pilots. My instincts tell me there will be significantly more given the interest. A win for the Army is that 24 months from now we’ve grown the capacity, whether it’s contract writing or in other areas, to institutionally learn how to do this,” Crawford said.

Crawford added that the Army is expected to award two contracts in the near future to ensure the service has the manning and contract writing capacity for eventual cloud efforts.

“It’s no secret. This isn’t the Army’s first venture with the cloud,” Crawford told reporters following the event. “What we’re trying to do, this whole idea of setting conditions, is to say big Army is going to help you help incentive [cloud migration] by putting in place those managed services contracts that you need to go through the rationalization process and actually move [to the cloud].”

The Army in the last six months has conducted market research with companies such as Netflix, AirBnB, the banking industry, as well as government organization to receive feedback on taking an incremental approach to cloud adoption, according to Crawford.

Crawford told reporters that Army officials plan to offer more details on both the cloud pathfinders and enterprise IT as-a-service pilot programs at next week’s AFCEA Army Signal Conference.