The program executive officer for the U.S. Army’s Enterprise Information Systems, Cherie Smith, outlined her vision of the future of network capabilities across the Army and the Department of Defense by way of a frank discussion of the challenges she faces in achieving stronger network connectivity.

“When you talk about connectivity across the Department of Defense, I really think in many cases today it’s the disconnectivity,” Smith said during a keynote at the C4ISRNET conference. “We struggle, constantly, to figure out how to provide that connectiveness even within our own PEO.”

Smith, who oversees more than 60 Department of Defense and Army acquisition programs, advocated for a new broader approach to streamline disparate networking programs for the global Army.

“There used to be the day where your stuff stopped at the enterprise and there was something different when you got over to the tactical world,” Smith said. “More and more we’re seeing that’s not happening.”

The main challenge for the PEO is finding a way to achieve a more dynamic, mobile IT environment, according to smith. To achieve her vision, Smith wants to build a more open and honest relationship with industry.

“I’ve asked all my PM’s at every level to spend more time with industry,” Smith said.

The PEO went on to encourage industry representatives in the audience to be more transparent with her office about successes and failures they have experienced working with the Defense Department in the past.

“I know you guys have got to make a buck. I’m good with you coming in and talking about your capabilities and your products, but I ask that you put that into context with how we can do things better,” Smith said. “I know you all don’t like to talk about that, but we need to know those things where it wasn’t successful.”

Smith stressed that to be able to flexibly move from move from one platform to another, the PEO must be able to have frank discussions with industry.

“I want you to come in and tell us where we’re not doing something smart,” Smith said. “We are wide open to those types of discussions.”

Another topic on Smith’s mind was how to leverage future data technologies, like artificial intelligence and the cloud, in her overarching mission to rapidly deliver innovative and cost-effective systems and services for the total force.

“How do I get some of this workload off of the individuals running it and putting it into AI? I want to think about how we use open sources and software to define networks and network management,” Smith said.

The key to many of her toughest challenges, according to Smith, is improving the management of data. She even floated the idea of establishing a data czar.

“The thing that worries me the most is data. We designed all of our data differently,” Smith said. “Nobody has looked across [the enterprise]. The bottom line is I’ve got to simplify. I’ve got to make it easier.”