Senior Writer

General Dynamics IT takes multicloud strategy to the next level

May 12, 20237 mins
Aerospace and Defense IndustryCloud ComputingIT Strategy

Having closed its last data center, the aerospace and defense contractor’s IT division is delving deeper into cloud-native applications to optimize performance, scalability, and costs in the cloud.

James Hannah stylized
Credit: James Hannah / General Dynamics Information Technology

These days, to serve the backbone corporate needs for more than 100,000 employees globally means betting big on the cloud.

That’s what James Hannah, SVP and global CIO of General Dynamics Information Technology, has done in partnership with the Reston, Va.-based aerospace and defense contractor’s 10 business units, each of which has its own CIO who works autonomously to make decisions about each division’s use of digital technologies for its unique business.

And the results are truly multicloud, as Hannah has opted to work with all the top cloud vendors to fill the company’s various back-office needs — AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and Oracle Cloud — as well as Workday for HR and other SaaS vendors for specific needs. GDIT is now 100% on the cloud, having closed its final brick-and-mortar data center at the end of last year.  

“We’ve gone through our digital transformation already and migrated all of our application workloads into either an IaaS or SaaS environment,” says Hannah, whose focus is primarily on corporate systems, leaving each of GD’s other business unit open to make their own selections. “They’re free to go to whatever cloud they need to meet the needs of their customers,” he says.

Still, the 10 units are not all islands. Hannah’s IT division collaborates with and serves the needs of its “sister” business units where it makes sense, such as hosting financial applications for some business units. And there are overarching digital technologies that traverse General Dynamics’ business portfolio,  such as security, toward which all units are working to implement zero trust across the board.

But Hannah is clear about his mission, which is to provide critical services to the employees who serve GDIT’s high-level customers within the US government’s military-industrial complex and partners around the globe. It is not a candy store.

And in doing so, GDIT’s full cloud migration, which started pre-pandemic, is paying off nicely.  

Laying the multicloud foundation

When the IT division started its digital transformation, Hannah and his team performed a thorough assessment of General Dynamics’ corporate workloads to determine which cloud would be best based on functionality. As part of that process, integrations with other systems and applications were taken into consideration to avoid workloads “traversing from cloud to cloud” or “bouncing all over,” Hannah says.

“I think that the clouds are quite good. We saw a lot of reduction in cost,” he says. “We were able to get better metrics and reporting. And it increased or strengthened our DR [disaster recovery] posture overall.”

The next move, Hannah says, is to delve deeper into how GDIT can evolve more corporate assets into cloud-native, virtualized applications that can be optimized for the scalability, flexibility, and cost savings of its 100% multicloud infrastructure. Hannah’s team is also constantly learning how to strengthen and shift workloads to optimize performance and, in some cases, move workloads from IaaS to SaaS when it makes sense.

“That’s part of the evolution to the cloud,” he says. “You’re not going to be in a constant state of transformation. For me, it’s more of an evolution, assessing workloads and making sure they are still where they need to be.” 

GDIT has also automated many tasks within its finance systems such as accounts payable for inter- and intra-company transfers as well as for HR and IT business areas.

None of this is surprising for an IT division of a major enterprise these days, and GDIT is big — roughly 30,000 IT employees tend to General Dynamics’ corporate needs.

Skilling up and battening down

General Dynamics’ overall CTO leadership group is looking at generative AI and the implications and governance around it and how it could be potentially used with customers, Hannah says. But for a defense contractor — which manufactures nuclear submarines, aerospace systems, and combat systems, among other defense units — it is a very complex operation that has just begun, he adds.

Still, the CIO has made use of machine learning models available from one of its cloud providers to train employees for the rapidly evolving digital era and impart upward mobility within GDIT. The initiative is part of GDIT’s Career Hub, which provides employees with training recommendations around skills and certifications to help level up their careers, Hannah says.

“Since going live with that AI modeling capability, we’ve seen about a 30% increase in internal applications driven directly from the Career Hub,” he says.

Employees simply upload their resume or LinkedIn profile to Career Hub and the AI recommends current job openings, similar to the way Netflix makes movie recommendations, the CIO says. It also ties into the company’s learning and development system, providing skills and certification training recommendations that will help employees reach job openings they may not have thought of as suitable because they may presently have only 80% of the required skills.

Hannah is also deploying automation for lower-level repetitive tasks, freeing up GDIT employees to work on more complex tasks, such as rolling out automation within finance to enable speedier metrics, for example. In this way, GDIT’s use of automation helps employees continuously gain skills that not only allow greater efficiencies for the company but greater mobility for IT employees.

But if there’s one thing that keeps Hannah up at night, it’s security, which is pivotal for any enterprise, but especially a defense contractor. GDIT and all 10 business units are waiting for executive orders and guidance as part of a three-year security program currently under way. Still, cybersecurity remains Hannah’s primary focus now and over the next 12 months even as the top brass work on the comprehensive security plan.

“The focus is on transforming and evolving the cyber tools that we have … that’s the primary focus with the threats in this environment,” Hannah says. “We’re always under the watchful eyes of bad actors throughout the world. Being part of a group that always has a target on your back means you need to make sure you’re always looking at all the technologies available to improve your cyber posture as you move forward.”

Gartner analyst Daniel Snyder says the US government and military is relying heavily on partnerships with defense contractors such as General Dynamics to transform. 

“The Department of Defense relies on thousands of networks that are vital to execute its mission. Over the course of the past few decades, the development process has resulted in layers of stove-piped systems that are difficult to integrate,” he says, noting that as part of its digital transformation strategy, the DoD is overhauling its IT infrastructure to leverage the cloud.

“Much of the future success is hinging on the support of its industrial base with systems integrators such as General Dynamics, Leidos, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman,” he says.