We've all heard the promise: by applying digital technology solutions to our IT infrastructure, we can perform processes faster, take humans out of the loop in many cases, or integrate machines to wrangle complexity. Each is technology-enabled transformation on its own. Moreover, while digitizing something is often necessary, it is, by itself, insufficient to transform an enterprise. Witness the recent rapid IT modernization efforts wrought by government and industry as it adjusted to work-from-home requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, digital solutions have mitigated the challenges of those requirements, but they fall short of transformative changes to enterprise IT.
Fundamentally transforming an organization or operation requires a holistic approach based on thoughtful planning, leading change, and creative thinking. Further, successful digital transformation (DX) occurs when combining the technology, the people, and the organization in ways that maximizes efficiency and effectiveness into mission results. Ignoring the challenges from any one of the three dimensions (mission, technology, and people/organizations) results in failed transformation — which is why more than half of DX efforts do not yield promised returns. In addition, simply putting digital in front of the word transformation does not make it faster, better, cheaper, or easier. After all, DX is about more than just applying technology.
While benefits are now being felt in some instances, tangible DX is truly realized when we consider not just our information technology domain but everywhere technology is utilized to achieve the mission. From people, to software, to hardware, to policy, doctrine, processes, leadership and organizations, practices, requirements, and activities, real transformational change cuts across every aspect of an enterprise.
For national security missions, we must modernize IT while simultaneously leveraging the power of digital engineering to yield mission-enabling DX. As expressed in the Department of Defense's 2018 Digital Engineering Strategy, the “DOD vision for digital engineering is to modernize how the Department designs, develops, delivers, operates, and sustains systems.”
While shifting the acquisition and procurement process from an antiquated model to one that leverages technology instead of being held hostage to it will not be easy or cheap, anticipated investments should be covered by savings in streamlined research, development, testing, and evaluation. Incorporating cutting-edge methods like model-based systems engineering (MBSE), along with a modular open-source system approaches, will allow for rapid prototyping and testing in mission-relevant virtual environments before allocating dollars and authorizing work.
To reach that nirvana of real, tangible, impactful DX, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach that fuses mission objectives, technology, and organizational change.
How to digitally transform
An organization should begin with an existential question and completely understand and embrace its answer. Assessing and understanding why an organization exists sets a solid cornerstone in the foundation for success. Crystalizing awareness with a mission focus will make efforts toward implementing evolutionary approaches have the profound and desired effects in the end.
For the U.S. Navy, its end state, as stated in the Chief of Naval Operations December 2019 Fragmentary Order 01/2019: A Design For Maintaining Maritime Superiority, is “a Navy that is ready to win across the full range of military operations in competition, crisis, and contingency by persistently operating forward with agility and flexibility in an all-domain battlespace.” While progress is being made by the Navy and Marine Corps to — as stated in the same document — “deliver decisive Integrated American Naval Power,” concepts such as Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) can only be successful if technology and organizational change are woven into applied solutions from the start. The bottom line is the process is not just about application modernization but also well-informed rationalization.
Implicit in effective DMO and its corresponding force structure — platforms, weapons, and sensors — is an ability to operate within, and harmonize information to joint all-domain command and control (JADC2). JADC2 is an emerging strategic concept that essentially links every U.S. and national sensor to every shooter, from all services, across all domains, allowing rapid targeting of enemy forces no matter where they are, around the globe. Integrating all the pieces that will move JADC2 from concept to reality is a complex undertaking for all services, but it is an imperative if the Navy is to retain an asymmetric information advantage. Embracing that complexity, though, with a fixed eye on the desired end state is critical to setting the proper context upon which technological solutions will be introduced.
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