There is much talk about IT modernization as an imperative for federal agencies, because most agencies still use old legacy systems. The way Elaine Wilde, Vice President for Department of Defense for Appian, looks at the situation is through a focus on transformation, rather than just modernization. When in a situation where the mission must come first, such as in the Department of Defense (DoD), Wilde says, resources must always be in support of the warfighter. That means that business processes and processes in support of readiness should not be modernized, rather they should be transformed.
Federal Technology Insider (FTI) recently spoke with Wilde about IT modernization and transformation, specifically in the DoD. Here’s what she had to say:
FTI: What’s driving the need for IT modernization across the DoD?
Elaine Wilde (EW): The need has been there for some time and sequestration has slowed the potential for modernizing legacy business processes and systems. This leaves the DoD with the challenge of maintaining legacy systems at ever-increasing costs and not deriving value from transformational technologies. Currently, the DoD has hit a critical juncture of balancing IT modernization with core mission support. The way forward is rooted in transformation, which involves changing not only the IT tools, but also the mindset that determines how these IT tools are used to meet the mission. To that end, modernization has got to mean something different than it did before. It truly needs to mean transformation.
FTI: How would you define that transformation?
EW: Transformation is looking at the holistic picture of the organizational mission and moving from systems driven work to mission driven work. This comprehends that the mission is paramount and comprehends how people, processes, systems and data can work together in a unified agile environment. That is where the concept of transforming legacy systems should fall. Transforming doesn’t necessarily mean ripping and replacing current systems. Today Appian’s platform can lie on top of existing systems and integrate all the disparate data and systems silos providing the user a single interface and real-time insight. Over time, DoD can retire legacy systems as needed and at a pace supported by budgetary challenges. Appian has started this transformation by providing an Application Platform based on Intelligent Business Process and Dynamic Case Management Platform that truly changes the way people work, automates and simplifies processes and saves significant operational dollars. Appian’s platform does this by offering a low-code development environment that enables the enterprise to keep pace with change. You can update a system in days or weeks, rather than the traditional months or sometimes years.
FTI: What does it mean to move from systems-driven work to mission-driven work?
EW: From acquisition to personnel and pay, there are many business processes required to run an enterprise as large as the DoD. In the past 25 years, fabulous technologies came to market and systems have been deployed in the DoD that automated enterprise challenges of the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, these technologies and systems delivered very rigid functionality. Systems-driven work is when an entity or function works in accordance with the system and that system’s interpretation of their mission regardless of the changing nature of their business priorities, regulations and imperatives. The entity and users are captive to the system. With rigid systems-driven work, your employees are abiding by a set of rules that are more aligned with the system than they are aligned with your mission. At Appian, we provide an agile, fast and flexible platform that empowers, aligns and supports the contemporary demands of the mission.
FTI: Where is the DoD feeling the most pain from the systems-driven work approach?
EW: One example is the shortage of 1102’s, which are the Contracting Officer’s Series designated by OPM. That shortage creates ramifications in support of the warfighter. In response, the DoD has put a major focus on transforming the acquisition process. There are only two ways to address this; either hire and train new contracting officers or increase productivity of individual 1102’s through innovative and transformational technologies. There’s a term we use called the “swivel chair way of working” which is when you must work in 10-12 different systems to put one contract together. Appian has integrated the data from multiple systems, creating one interface for contracting officers. Appian has transformed the way the some DoD Contracting Offices build contracts and makes acquisitions simultaneously increasing productivity.
FTI: What other challenges does the Appian platform solve for the DoD?
EW: Case management. DoD has many investigative and intelligence entities. Every time an action is taken on an individual, a case is formed and a tremendous amount of research is formulated around that case. The Appian platform is powerful because it’s not only a business process engine but a dynamic case management engine. It can link and integrate all the data that’s common to an individual case and generate the appropriate action.
Ultimately, the Appian platform provides tremendous efficiencies for mission critical DoD processes. Time matters, and as you can imagine, the implications of not having secure and efficient systems that allow for quick and agile work fulfillment has incredible ramifications to the mission of the DoD.