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Top 10 IT priorities at the DoD

Deputy CIO David Wennergren talks about IT initiatives at the U.S. Department of Defense

By , Network World
April 13, 2007 04:03 PM ET

Network World - The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to spend an estimated $23.5 billion this year on IT -- the most of any federal agency -- according to market research firm Input.

One of the people with a say in how that money is spent is David Wennergren, deputy assistant secretary of defense for information management and technology and the deputy CIO at the Defense Department. Wennergren joined the Defense Department five months ago after spending 26 years at the Department of the Navy, where he most recently held the CIO position.

This week Wennergren spoke at an Input event in Washington, D.C., about the 10 most important IT issues on his mind, including becoming net centric, implementing security in the new age of information sharing and effective management. Here are his priorities:

1. Developing net-centric operations

The world of networking used to be like Tinker Toys, Wennergren says. “You had point-to-point solutions, and as more and more people embraced the power of information technology with point-to-point solutions, the Tinker Toys became unwieldy as you tried to grow a network where more and more people are collaborating,” he says. “There had to be a better way. And it’s plasma balls.”

Plasma balls are those psychedelic lamps that have cool glowing light inside (powered by low-density gas and an electrode), which responds when someone touches the outside. Just as there is light available to anyone who touches the plasma balls, there is knowledge available to everyone to consume in a net centric world, Wennergren explains.

“It’s all about the data. That’s what makes all of this work,” he says. “A few years ago it was all about the infrastructure, the network haves and have-nots. This generation’s story is all about the data -- how you get access to it, and how you use it.”

While the concept is easy to understand, it’s not easy to implement across a huge organization that has all branches of the military underneath it. Wennergren points to three problems that need to be addressed as net centric operations are deployed and supported across the Defense Department. “I can’t find it, if I can't find it I can’t access it, and if I can’t access it I can’t understand it,” he says.

The Defense Department’s net-centric data strategy is all about addressing those problems, he says.

“We’ve spent decades being highly decentralized organizations,” Wennergren says. It wasn’t too long ago that “70% of an organization’s knowledge was stored on C drives and wasn’t accessible to anyone else. So we have to change the culture.”

Being net centric is about how you use XML to expose data and create a common platform that everyone understands, he says. It’s also about using Web services that are accessible using common smart cards issued to Defense Department employees. The smart cards, a big initiative in the government, use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) credentials so employees can access the Defense Department’s enterprise portal, he says.

One recent net-centric project is the efforts of the Defense Department and the Department of Veteran Affairs to jointly develop an electronic health records system that lets physicians share the medical records of veterans and active military.

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