The Department of Defense (DoD) has a well-earned reputation for being a conservative institution. With the defense of the nation and vital strategic interests as its mission and the protection of over 2 million active duty and reserve personnel, adherence to rules and a well-run bureaucracy are essential to mission success. However, as Mike Masten, Vice President of Operations at Chenega Applied Solutions, noted during a recent conversation with Government Technology Insider, that as the world moves more quickly and the mission becomes more complex, innovation is becoming just as necessary as bureaucracy for mission success.
Read on to learn how Masten and his team at Chenega Applied Solutions are collaborating with the Quantico Cyber Hub, TruStacks, and other leading technologists to build software factories that will ensure that innovation is art of the possible for the Department of the Defense.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): Why has the Department of Defense become open to investing in innovative solutions like DevSecOps and Modernization as-a-Service?
Mike Masten (MM): The Department of Defense has been investing in innovation and innovative solutions as a matter of necessity. The pace of IT development has increased rapidly in recent years, while the culture and technology on bases has remained firmly 10 or 15 years in the past. If the United States is going to be the dominant global power and be able to defend itself, its allies, and its values in air, sea, land, and space, it must drive innovation and quickly too.
This need to make innovation the art of the possible has really hit home at the Pentagon, so from the highest ranks the agency is invested in building the fighting force of the 21st century that is supported behind the scenes with the right tools and technology. That means investing in software and agile development so that the warfighter always has access to state-of-the-art tools and is never left wanting.
GTI: What challenges has the Department of Defense faced as it adopts a more disruptive and agile approach?
MM: The Department of Defense is a conservative and bureaucratic organization for good reasons. The mission – up to a certain point – does require strict adherence to rules and regulations to protect the warfighter, the nation, and the mission. But – and there’s always a but – there are some areas where embracing agile approaches is also necessary. For example, if we wanted to build physical software factories using traditional DoD processes it could take over 5 years to navigate the lease process with the GSA just to procure the building.
But with a software factory, like the Nebula Software Factory we’ve built at the Quantico Cyber Hub, we are fully operational in under 9 months, delivering the space and the tools, to get bootstrap developers into seats and solving challenges. Not only does this ensure that today’s mission-critical challenges can be solved in real-time, but that the software and tools that these developers build can avoid falling into the “innovation valley of death.” This innovation valley of death happens when products are developed, but then they take years to get approved higher up the chain of command. Being able to create minimum viable products (MVPs) and proofs of concept (PoC) that can be demonstrated – and not just talked about in theory – DoD developers are more likely to get projects greenlit and funded quickly.
GTI: What has the partnership between Chenega Applied Solutions and the Cyber Bytes Foundation brought to the Department of Defense?
MM: The partnership between Chenega Applied Solutions (CAS) and the Cyber Bytes Foundation has created the opportunity to deliver Modernization as-a-Service the right way through the Nebula Software Factory.
It has brought together IT leaders, like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Red Hat, together with CAS in a single location so we can truly collaborate and bring state of the art solutions and innovative ideas to the DoD. Being in Quantico, Virginia, we’re practically onsite with some of our most important customers, including the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, so we can listen to what challenges they’re facing as they’re facing them and get the process of finding solutions started immediately.
It’s a uniquely creative environment that allows the Chenega Applied Solutions team to be responsive to the Department of Defense’s needs by having the right tools for today’s mission all in one place.
GTI: How do minimal viable products and proofs of concept help drive the quest for innovative solutions forward for the DoD?
MM: Minimal viable products (MVPs) and proofs of concept (PoC) create a tangible stepping stone on the innovation journey. It enables leadership to see what a solution could look like and how it could benefit the warfighter without a largescale investment and show success quickly because of iterative development processes.
The Nebula Software Factory gives the DoD’s bootstrap developers access to state-of-the-art facilities to develop MVPs and PoCs at no cost. They can then deliver quick wins and successes that enable them to get a project funded and a solution into the hands of the warfighter in months, instead of years, or in some cases, decades.
One example that demonstrates the value of the software factory is when a group of airmen wanted to modernize how they tracked air refueling processes. When they arrived at our Kessel Run Software Factory the process of tracking refueling was not only done manually but documented on blackboards and whiteboards. Giving these airmen access to the software factory resulted in the rapid development of software that could automate tracking processes reducing the workload of the refueling teams, increasing the accuracy of fuel usage, and saving the U.S. Air Force billions of dollars.
Results like this are just the beginning of what could be achieved for the DoD whether it results in saving budget, improving process efficiency and mission success, and even in saving lives.
Ready to get started? Mike and the Chenega Applied Solutions team are looking for beta testers at the Nebula Software Factory. You can sign up here.