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Navy CIO: Cutting edge not necessarily best

Apr. 29, 2014
Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen warns that the most cutting-edge technology is not always the best fit for government needs.
Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen warns that the most cutting-edge technology is not always the best fit for government needs. (U.S. Navy)

It’s a common refrain throughout Washington, if not everywhere else: We want cutting edge. The push for the latest and greatest only grows with the snowballing pace of technology, but at least one government leader is bucking the trend.

“Cutting-edge technology may bring useful new capability, but cutting-edge costs money – usually lots of money. These days, money is something the Department of the Navy doesn’t have a lot of,” Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen recently wrote on the Navy Department CIO blog.

In some cases, taking the high-tech road option is the better bet, he acknowledged. Case in point: moving low-risk data to a commercial-run cloud, as the Navy did last year in an agreement with Amazon Web Services. That decision came after a lengthy business-case analysis, an approach that the Navy is turning to more as officials determine the best ways to spend precious dollars.

Hear Terry Halvorsen in person at the 2014 C4ISR & Networks Conference, where he will deliver a keynote address. Click here for details.

“In many cases, however, maintaining an older system that fully supports our mission makes more sense than upgrading it or buying a new system that runs the risk of degrading our mission and requires a large investment,” Halvorsen wrote.

At the Sea Air Space conference in Washington earlier this month, Halvorsen emphasized the same point. There, and in the blog post, he pointed to the Navy’s sustained use of COBOL, a programming language developed in 1959. The language, which he describes as easy to use, now has some 200 billion lines of code and continues to be used worldwide.

It’s a similar case in the military’s ongoing use of the B-52 bomber, which – with upgrades over the years – has been flying since the 1950s, Halvorsen said.

The goal “is getting the balance of the solutions right in terms of what money we can spend, what security we need and what missions we have. We’re going to use every solution out there – and in some cases we’ll use older solutions because they still work,” he said April 8 in Washington. “We don’t always want to be…at the cutting edge of technology. We want to be at the cost-effective edge of technology. And sometimes we want to be a little behind if what we have works and right now the cost of that investment isn’t the right place to be when compared to other investments we have to make.”


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