Defense Department officials in a document released Aug. 18 outlined a new plan for getting ahead in information technology, focusing heavily on commercial capabilities, cybersecurity and updates to how the Pentagon manages IT.

The DoD "Information Technology Environment Way Forward to Tomorrow's Strategic Landscape" includes eight core goals Pentagon leadership is targeting amid "a decision cross-road facing an IT future that is fast moving, connected, and highly contested," the document states.

In a briefing with reporters, DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen emphasized the glaring need for change in how the military handles and executes IT, and promised that the document and new efforts such as a partner environment, currently in the early planning stages, is only the beginning.

"This is absolutely a living document. If it's still the same in a year we've screwed up. The tactics, techniques [and] technology all will change," he said. "We have to take into effect technology, but also the harder things, the cultural and societal changes. And it's not just U.S. based. We have to make sure what we're doing fits not only our allies' technology, but also their cultural and societal norms."

Much of the document targets cybersecurity, both directly and indirectly. One of the core goals is titled "Ensure Successful Mission Execution in the Face of the Cyber Threat," and another is to "Provide a Resilient Communications and Network Infrastructure." Another aims to "Exploit the Power of Trusted Information Sharing."

The pervasive focus on cybersecurity, explicit and otherwise, isn't an accident, Halvorsen said.

"I hope this document makes sure everybody understands that cybersecurity is important, an ever-changing game. I don't see anything in our future indicating we can ever be comfortable in cyber. There is continual change and [there must be] acceptance of continual change," he said. "Cybersecurity is data-dependent, information-dependent...it is a risk equation similar to the fiscal world. The baseline equation for cyber is the same, but the way you evaluate it is different because of the pace of technology and that's other message you have to get out. The baseline question, how risky is the risk…I think you'll see us talk more about risk factors."

The need for the document emanates from years of layering systems, hardware and software, creating an overly complex IT environment that jeopardizes security and slows innovation and progress, Halvorsen indicated.

"The department’s choice of cyber and IT capabilities lay the foundation for success – from the battlefield, to business, and beyond," the document notes. "Today the number of organization-specific networks and computing systems used to execute missions, and the incremental manner in which IT is acquired, has resulted in a sub-optimal situation. The unnecessary complexity of this network and computing environment limits visibility and impedes the capability to securely share information and globally execute joint operations."

About that 'joint' thing

Until recently, almost any and all talk related to DoD-wide IT hinged on or stemmed from the Joint Information Environment, the Pentagon’s long-continuing, sweeping effort to standardize IT across the military and create a shared operational network picture.

The new way forward includes JIE, but in a divergence from the path of recent years, it does not center on JIE. Goal No. 1 calls to "Execute Joint Information Environment Capability Initiatives," and an introductory explanation of the document promises that "Implementing capabilities for the JIE vision, including cloud computing, data center consolidation and improving trusted information sharing, are vital."

But notably, JIE is not front and center. JIE never had a seven-page, publicly released document outlining its core goals and way forward. And, perhaps not coincidentally, JIE is facing heat from Congress due to questions about funding and the fact that it’s not a program of record, among other troubles.

Halvorsen admitted JIE is presenting some hurdles as he looks to move the ball forward in rapidly evolving areas of technology and in instituting change across DoD. He also took some of the blame for that as the top official shepherding the effort for the past two years.

"JIE is a concept – this document supports the concept of what we want in a joint information environment. I think we’ll have to change the [term] because it’s too confusing – it’s not a program, it’s not an it. It doesn’t deliver; it’s a concept," he said. "This [document] is absolutely 100 percent of getting to a concept of a JIE, but what it’s trying to do today is lay out the discrete elements of getting to a pathway toward JIE concepts. Its 100 percent aligned with the vision of a joint information environment, but I think what we did was not explain enough that JIE was a vision and what we put out initially for JIE, the end game is the same – but the way of getting their has changed."