Digital Transformation Is Not Just About Technology

Digital Transformation Is Not Just About Technology

Real change only comes through a holistic approach

Calendar icon 08-04-2020
Profile photo Josh Jackson

Key Takeaways:

  • Establish a strong DevSecOps foundation by incorporating automation, continuous quality and security, infrastructure management, and a collaborative culture.
  • Move up the maturity curve by continuously monitoring and measuring effectiveness to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Leverage integrated toolchains to generate meaningful data to inform operational improvements and drive DevSecOps maturity.


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.


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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.

Technology that enables DX surrounds us and, yes, sometimes confounds us. However, the benefits have arguably been worth every ounce of mental investment. For example, cloud environments that enable elastic computing and advances in digital communications allow for increased power "at the edge," which in turn unlocks our ability to process vast amounts of data closer to the point of need. Advances in digital engineering and modeling and simulation similarly help us build “digital twins,” shrinking capability development and fielding timelines in supporting real agility in modernizing legacy systems.

SAIC has been able to use multiple repeatable solutions to accelerate cloud migration for one of our government customers, enabling an automate-everything approach that reduces personnel, risk, and cost across the enterprise. In doing so, we provided a unified, central dashboard and platform for IT modernization that was minimally disruptive, and we provided a highly automated, efficient path to cloud adoption for a wide variety of legacy applications. At the same time, we maintained cybersecurity readiness early and throughout, using a single sign-on, zero trust model.

Those technologies cloud, digital communications, data at the edge, digital engineering, model-based systems engineering, and IT modernization will all play central roles in instituting DX but will be ineffective without organizational change and talent alignment.


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A common phrase heard in the military is ”Our people are our greatest asset.” With any effective DX plan, the axiom rings true. You also need organizations that are aligned and agile to effectively, and efficiently, implement DX. People, and the organization that supports them, must be synchronized and aligned to employ technology in ways that enable mission success. The fact remains that until machines take over, people and organizations will oversee the implementation of technology and processes. This is an oft-skipped or artificially accelerated component of DX. This is messy and difficult, as it involves non-binary decisions about people, effectiveness, and organizational design. These decisions, however, cannot be wished away. Organizations must evolve to embrace new ways of working and how they execute missions. Implementing DX requires leaders who are driven by the mission and can artfully bend technology to their will to enable achievement of objectives and goals, removing constraints on human capability and decision-making.

Crossing the DX line

Successful DX occurs when, into the context of a mission, technology aligns with people and organizations. This alignment is enabled, in part, by harnessing the power of digital engineering and IT modernization to affect a reimagined and agile organizational framework that effectively and efficiently executes a solution. DX is more than just IT, and it must be driven by mission.

Recent changes made by the Navy are encouraging as it considers these dimensions in its digital transformation journey, with a reimagined CIO, cross-cutting transformation organizations like the Digital Integration Support Cell, and establishing ecosystems like NavalX and Tech Bridges. The Navy obviously learned that just because you can put digital in front of transformation does not make it easy.

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A Case In Point: Holistic Digital Transformation in Weapons System Modernization


At SAIC, we use a holistic digital transformation approach, developed through investment, successes, and lessons learned. For one government customer, all dimensions harmoniously came together in a weapons system modernization program.

To start, an integrated group came together to work across disciplines and collaborate on data, process, schedules, and project management. Then, the large-scale engineering and integration work leveraged DX tools and MBSE skills to develop a system architecture with technical management and modeling and simulation features, allowing contractors and the customer to track progress in a shared system model. With all key stakeholders having access to distributed data in real time from the same central, authoritative source, against program objectives, this facilitated agile decision-making against system performance, risk, schedule, and budget.

We specifically integrated modeling and simulation with the system model to analyze and specify the system functions and interfaces well before hardware or software development started. This allowed us to experiment with the functionality of the system and fully simulate those functions to verify the desired mission outcomes before development. In the end, those simulations provided a quick start for the system control software development, since the DX tools supported direct porting to embedded code — the same code that enables rapid hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) and software-in-the-loop (SIL) development using the same simulations.

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