McGrath: DoD becoming more 'open' to agile, holistic IT acquisition

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The Defense Department is coming around to a new way of thinking when it comes to delivering information technology capabilities, said a top DoD official at a Jan. 21 AFCEA NOVA event.

The department will adopt capabilities in "smaller chunks," deliver faster and test in the field--a technique that has worked well for the Army and Air Force accounting solutions--said Elizabeth McGrath, DoD's deputy chief management officer and performance improvement officer.

The DoD is even now open to agile development, despite it being more of a thought-process than a methodology, said McGrath.

The department hopes to eliminate the traditional milestone phases of the DoD 5000 directive in favor more frequent decisions, according to a mid-December report to Congress. McGrath said the department plans to release acquisition templates in June 2011, which will outline milestone periods tailored to different kinds of IT projects.

The Business Capabilities Lifecycle for business systems is an early example of the template approach. The Pentagon is examining the creation of unique application templates for application software development and integration, commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software procurement, integrated COTS/government-off-the-shelf capability, and commercially provided IT services.

The department is also challenging each of its organizations, not just program managers, to see the big picture--better understanding risk, standards compliance and holistic issues before making an IT investment, said McGrath.

"What we hadn't done in the past is ensure we knew exactly how the specific capability fit into the overarching architecture. How does this thing work with the other things it wants to work with? Is there redundancy? Are there opportunities to optimize an existing system and shift capability? That isn't a conversation that we would naturally have, at least until recently," said McGrath. "It's a shift. A huge shift," she added.

With that said, it will be interesting to see how well DoD moves to cloud technology, said McGrath. "We need to get there."

Defense working groups have been focused on IT acquisition reform, McGrath said, but that doesn't mean the department is ignoring other areas the Government Accountability Office had identified as "high risk." 

"It is my hope, my hope, that I will have an item come off [the high-risk list]. And I expect cards and letters if that happens," said McGrath.

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