Due to the Army’s recent strides in IT modernization, the Army’s Enterprise Cloud Management Agency (ECMA) — led by Paul Puckett — is nimbler and more intentional about cloud management and hopes to change the way the Defense Department’s cloud services are bought, built and secured.
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) recently signaled the intention to “eliminate” cloud third-party resellers and federal systems integrators from the DOD cloud supply chain, essentially cutting out “the middleman” when doing business with cloud service providers (CSPs) like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle, according to a report from Federal News Network.
Puckett thinks all of DOD should follow suit.
“I think this is nothing but all of the right moves for the DOD,” he said in an interview with GovCIO Media & Research. “I support that vision and how it moves forward. When it comes to buying cloud services, I think what was articulated in [DISA's] strategy was the right decision, but also across DOD.”
Nixing federal systems integrators and third-party resellers can help improve transparency and auditability of cloud services at DOD, Puckett said. Sometimes, too many players within the DOD cloud enterprise can result in waste, fraud and abuse.
“Oftentimes, integrators going through resellers, or integrators leveraging corporate relationships with a cloud service provider, means the rates we get are over the map, program by program,” Puckett said. “I could be paying for the same computing service and have two times the cost here and half the cost here.”
From an ownership perspective, sometimes integrators rely on relationships with cloud service providers to offer competitive rates to DOD. While this can benefit DOD, it also clouds visibility into the cost breakdown.
“When we want accountability and communicate that to the Hill, oftentimes we can't see those numbers because it's owned by the account,” Puckett said. “We're the ones who brought all the money from the coding and the infrastructure is code and it's hosted within a DOD footprint. If the integrator owns the account, when the contract ends, the integrator takes the account and everything built in it. So now we have government paying just to rebuild and get the same capability to operate before we mature capabilities in the future.”
This can contribute to a cycle of waste and stagnant IT. Moving away from working exclusively with federal systems integrators and third-party resellers forces them to be more competitive and also opens up opportunities for new small businesses to win work with DOD.
“For the buying of cloud services, we want the lowest rate possible universally accessible across DOD,” Puckett said. “We need you to add value when securing an ecosystem that meets DOD specifications. There are small businesses coming to us with game-changing technology for us to meet our mission…but they have no corporate relationships and are competing with these large CSPs.”
Puckett’s vision for cloud modernization at the Army stems from DOD’s department-wide IT goals to enable the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative, which will allow military service branches, combatant commands and other DOD components to share intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance data with each other.
“We've got an entire DOD workforce that's still learning what cloud is,” Puckett said. “The opportunity from a mission perspective is probably untapped, quite frankly, 90% untapped in what we could be doing for our mission. Cloud infrastructure is a design pattern for computing infrastructure. Infrastructure designed in that way is an enabler to mission capability in a fundamentally different way. I think it's important for us to impact that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated IT modernization efforts key to JADC2 achievement. At the Army, the rapid shift to remote work allowed for an aggressive cloud migration push and resulted in significant cost savings and a bigger talent pool to fill IT and cyber jobs.
The ECMA had already developed a cloud strategy for the Army in February 2020, Puckett said. When COVID-19 swept the globe and shut down in-person offices in March 2020, DOD greenlit Puckett’s strategy.
“We'd already carved out this initiative to tap into a distributed architecture and how that can enable a distributed workforce,” Puckett said. “What COVID did was embolden the argument. It forced discussion around more enterprise capabilities and technologies to enable a joint workforce.”
The first order of business was moving away from a “government-first” approach to equipment. Puckett wanted employees to have a smooth user experience with accessible remote capabilities on their personal devices.
“We actually stood up a virtual desktop infrastructure for both our privileged admins but also software developers with capabilities in the cloud and made those publicly accessible,” Puckett said. “By managing credentials and access to that … the Army has also leaned into commercial solutions for classified [data].”
This shift allowed the Army to save millions on IT infrastructure expenses.
“There’s so much toil and pain with managing government infrastructure and government-first equipment, if we can manage this virtual environment, then the investments in the Army and infrastructure that may be go unused for 18 hours a day, we can now start paying for the infrastructure we need when we need it,” Puckett said. “How do you enable simpler access? So now we start to check off these boxes of, how do people get their job done? We are now enabling a world where we have an entirely remote workforce.”
Puckett already employs two fully remote workers, and believes the shift to remote work will continue to widen the DOD talent pool, resulting in a stronger defense enterprise and encouraging further cloud investments to manage a remote, digitally savvy workforce.
“In 2020 and 2021, we proved this idea that enterprise services leveraging commercial cloud capabilities can have an impact on mission,” Puckett said. “2021 showed that it wasn't a fluke, it was repeatable. The plan for 2022 is to scale these outcomes for the U.S. Army.”