The recent release of new acquisition guidance from Under Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has generated a lot of buzz along with a lot of questions. We at AGI are certainly encouraged by this renewed attention to affordability
, because we believe that our software and software from many providers of readily available commercial information technology (IT) has an important role to play in realizing the objectives set forth in the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) roadmap as well as those recommended by the Defense Science Board. At the same time it forces us to evaluate what we, as a community, have to do to make this initiative succeed where others have failed.
A good starting point is to recognize that IT is fundamentally different from weapon-system hardware and support services. The current AT&L guidance focuses on increased competition and incentives on an acquisition-by-acquisition basis. However, much of IT is infrastructure and varies from program to program only in its implementation. If we hope to realize efficiency and productivity gains for defense IT—which means widespread interoperability, a competitive vendor community, rapid technology evolution and capability enhancements that precede requirements—then we need to consider IT on a broader scale than that for individual program acquisitions. We also need commercial-market incentives like rewarding the first-to-market regardless of perceived “fairness.”
Successful examples of such a market model certainly exist, albeit on a limited scale. Consider the Commercial Joint Mapping Tool Kit (CJMTK)
program, which provides commercial software infrastructure as Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) or Government Off-The-Shelf (GOTS) software for any approved program. Unlike GOTS, CJMTK does not put the government or its contractors in the business of being IT vendors, so the community is rewarded with significantly lower costs, compliance with IT standards, improved interoperability, consistent tool performance and capability enhancement in advance of requirements. CJMTK can claim both successes and lessons learned, but it should absolutely be considered as a potential pattern for future IT procurements.
The commercial IT community has an important role to play in this transformation as well. Software providers like AGI, who are predominantly focused on IT for aerospace and defense, have to do a better job of illustrating the cost/benefit impacts
of operating in a more open defense marketplace. Currently, we make pricing and product decisions based on the market dynamics that exist today and look forward to the day when more commercial-like dynamics take hold. However, we don’t effectively communicate the vision of what that will mean for the consumers of our technology, and, as a result, the marketplace remains unmotivated. For example, we frequently hear that, because our workstation software can cost tens of thousands of dollars, using our software on a broad scale is simply unaffordable. The reality is that, outside of individual engineering applications, AGI licenses its software on an enterprise or program basis and in multiple form factors at fees that are a small fraction of our workstation fees when measured on a per-user basis. But we have failed in providing transparency into that cost structure, which has understandably led to improper cost/benefit trades by potential user organizations and the defense marketplace, in general.
The bottom line from an IT perspective is that the current DoD Efficiency Initiative holds great potential for all stakeholders—the warfighter, the taxpayer, program offices, contractors and vendors. It’s now up to the entire community to make sure we keep focus on the priorities of delivering capabilities faster while controlling costs—both at development time and over the lifetime of the program. Doing so will require a fresh look at how IT is acquired and delivered for defense purposes.