Business Transformation at the Department of Defense
Dennis Wisnosky, CTO of the Department of Defense Business Mission Area talks about the process of transforming the world’s largest business from an "as-is" to a "to-be" state.
By Ben Bradley
Dennis Wisnosky is chief technical officer of the Department of Defense (DoD) Business Mission Area within the office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation (OUSD (BT)). He is recognized as a creator of the Integrated Definition language, the standard for modeling and analysis in management and business improvement efforts. Wisnosky holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from California University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in management science from the University of Dayton, and a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Writer Ben Bradley recently spoke with Wisnosky about his role and the process of transforming the world’s largest business from an “as-is” to a “to-be” state.
Ben Bradley: What is your role?
Dennis Wisnosky: I have two roles. As chief technical officer my job is to look over the horizon at transformational technologies. As chief architect, my role is oversight of the business enterprise architecture (BEA) and the netcentric architectures to which it federates within the Business Mission Area (BMA). These architectures define the corporate systems, processes, business infrastructure services, laws, rules, polices and data standards common to the DoD and related agencies.
How did you get here?
I worked for the Air Force on manufacturing architectures in the late 1970s, so I am familiar with what goes on here. After that, I went into the private sector and started my own company and wrote books about automation, business process reeingineering (BPR) and simplifying IT investments by improving architectures.
A few years ago, I sent some ideas to Donald Rumsfeld. That letter was forwarded to Paul Brinkley [Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation]. We met and agreed immediately on all the things that needed to be done and could be done. I joined as a contractor and about a year later, they made it official and asked if I would join the Department.
In the private sector, Paul Brinkley led one of the largest business transformation efforts in the technology industry sector. What approach is he using to staff the Business Transformation Agency (BTA)?
Before he was appointed to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation, Brinkley transformed JDS Uniphase by migrating 40 acquired companies with nearly 30,000 worldwide employees onto common enterprisewide processes and technologies in less than two years. Now the task is even bigger. We’re teaching the world’s largest employer (1.6 million active duty personnel and 1 million reservists and 900,000 civilians) to manage and embrace a technology refresh every 18 months.
To do this, we’re operating at startup speed. Brinkley is using a hiring process more typical to Silicon Valley than the Pentagon: He is looking for highly qualified individuals from all walks of life and he is using every rule and role that he can to find to put the right people in the right roles. He is absolutely going out after the best and the brightest. He has a combination of young people with 10 and 15 years experience and some like me who have been around for a long-time.
How does the netcentric vision fit into your role?
Interesting question. For whatever reason, this analogy comes to mind—I am a PADI certified SCUBA Diver (Rescue). When I think about SCUBA diving, it is about the dive, not the water. Netcentricity is much like the water—it is just there. Or, at least I am counting on my Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) people to make it so.
Where does DoD need to go?
Back in the early 1980s I shared the stage with W. Edwards Deming. He told about the time a CEO of an auto company asked for a turnaround plan that would make [the company] competitive (again) with the Japanese in one year. Deming said something to the effect, “It took you guys 30 years to get in this position; it will take you at least a decade to get out of it.”
In the DoD today, we are in a similar situation. Without a doubt, the U.S. warfighting machine is the best the world has ever known. Our troops are the best equipped, the best trained and the best managed. But, this has come at a tremendous cost in infrastructure, especially the business systems and IT infrastructure.
Since World War II the Department has been adding to an infrastructure based on a Cold War threat. The result is that while businesses have made unprecedented advances in business productivity and reduced the cost of the IT infrastructure (the two go hand in hand), the DoD spends nearly 45 percent on IT overhead. The DoD has allowed duplication, triplication and quadruplication of business processes.
The DoD is not in the “business of business.” The DoD is in the business of warfighting. However, we must reduce the cost of doing business so we can return more money to our core mission. We can reduce the cost of doing business and the cost of infrastructure by eliminating complexity.
Within the past two years, we’ve created our “to be” architecture (business enterprise architecture or BEA), we have a blueprint (enterprise transformation plan, or ETP) and we have an enterprise architecture federation strategy and roadmap based upon service-oriented architecture (SOA). So the pieces are in place.
How will you get there?
In an organization as large and complex as the DoD, there are many paths that we must take simultaneously, but our overall approach is to work together with the DISA and with the Components, Services and Agencies to define and to implement our SOA based upon realities such as a common DoD portal known as Defense Knowledge Online (DKO) and the DoD SOA Foundation Services such as mediation, discovery and work flow.
From the BMA perspective we are studying how to rationally dismantle giant systems and converting key functions into services. For example, we looked in depth at all 26 of the systems that are the responsibility of the BTA. We found functionality that overlaps from one system to another and between mission areas. Some of this is how it should be—the Intel Mission Area should be responsible for such things as identity management, for example. But, in other areas such as personnel and procurement, a common approach at the Office of the Secretary of Defense should be more efficient and more effective. These functions are great candidates for conversion to services to be shared by all. So a keystone of our strategy is to use SOA to make our business and IT infrastructure smaller and more agile.
How long will this take? How will business transformation address culture change?
I defer to Deming on this question—this is a journey. I can only promise that we have begun and the initial results look very promising. With respect to culture—the cliché that this is the hardest part is quite true. It will take a generation. The approach is constant communication and that we train people as we go along.
When I read about organizations that go out of business, it is not because they aren’t willing to change. It is because they try to change too fast. They run out of money or there is a backlash from the old guard.
Culturally we need to strike the balance between having the vision clearly understood, having confidence that the vision will work and that it will continue to work. That is the approach that Paul Brinkley has taken, and that is the reason that he has brought in people like me who have been around the block a few times.
What is the biggest challenge?
We’re at war. Everyone is in a hurry. The challenge is making sure we do this right and leave behind a sustainable architecture and infrastructure. We’re spending as much time teaching as we’re spending doing. You can’t lose sight of that. We could probably do a lot of things faster but the risk is that we wouldn’t build a sustainable culture.
At the same time, this is a big project—perhaps the biggest ever. It is a process and a journey. The Department has decades of momentum in doing business in a certain way. We must overcome this momentum.
What has the DoD done wrong?
The simple answer is that in the past we put the same level of rigor into building military systems as we did into building business systems. We overbuilt our business systems to last decades. They are out of step with the ability of SOA to introduce new capability in months, not years, and a technology refresh cycle that should be 18 months. And, we outsourced much of our intellectual capital.
Last question, what is the role of marketing to communicate the vision?
Helping people understand the importance of efficient business processes is a marketing function. The architecture explains it and helps us ensure that the roadmap is connected to the blueprint. Communicating that architecture and using that architecture to manage and constrain investment decisions should be viewed as a marketing process as much as a governance process. We are using this approach within an end-to-end business capability lifecycle, that couples the blueprint (BEA) the roadmap (ETP) and investment review (IRB)s. And we are building outreach, visual aides and training material for all levels of stakeholders both internally through the BTA, and cooperatively with DISA and the Defense Acquisition University.
If you want to get resources and support, you have to sell your message. Communications is an essential part of any IT project. Marketing projects like this is about helping stakeholders maintain their confidence through the change. When there are bumps in the road—there are always bumps in the road—marketing helps you maintain the vision.