Army Corps: Cloud partnerships key to digital success thus far

The Army Corps of Engineers has over the past two years been well into an initiative to adopt office 365 cloud applications. The progress has not been easy, but it’s been steady, according to officials.

Instead of making the digital journey alone, the Corps has formed partnerships with other agencies going through the same transition: Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency, etc. It has also partnered with Dell to implement the Microsoft technology.

“That was a big part of our ability to go fast and have consistent learning across the Department of Defense to get to that cloud capability,” Greg Garcia, ACE CIO, said on Cloud Insights. “We really had a little bit of a discovery learning over the last maybe say nine months to 12 months, but we’ve worked with our partners on this.”

ACE operated primarily on its own networks until this initiative started and Garcia said it was a learning curve to go from a private network to a joint Defense network and then work through the cloud access points and commercial vendors. He said the partnerships help to ensure that the change is timely and secure.

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Forming partnerships is nothing new for the agency. It has partnered with FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for years to help assist with disaster recovery, such as flooding. Garcia said it’s important in this case to be able to bring in real-time information to help citizens and stakeholders make the correct decisions in timely circumstances.

“I think the future is maybe autonomous ad hoc networking capabilities that have a lot of artificial intelligence in it to meet mission requirements as described without some specific engineer having to chart what the intended path will be,” Garcia said.

The Corps is divided into eight divisions: Pacific Ocean, Northwestern, South Pacific, Southwestern, Great Lakes and Ohio River, Mississippi Valley, South Atlantic and North Atlantic. Garcia said some of these areas are majorly affected by real-time events such as car accidents, hurricanes, etc.

These incidents challenged environments and often make communication between divisions, and within, even more difficult.

“We’ve got to build an ability to be interoperable in that area,” he said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “One capability that we possess in the Corps is that we have a series of mobile comm vans, RVs and flyaway kits. These are instrumental in our disaster recovery areas — deployable, multifaceted ability to do [ultra-high frequency] cell or WiFi to really bring capability to where the work is and at the time of contingency.”

The next steps have to focus on the way to use the cloud to do things more accurately in the future. In other words, defining networks and communications through the cloud. This is where edge and caching services such as Akamai come in handy, Garcia said.

Going mobile

Creation of a mobile device system is already in the plan for the agency. This framework will hopefully allow different devices on different networks to connect even in disaster areas.

Garcia said the agency currently uses Iphones, Androids and Blackberries to communicate. He said creating this collective network will give the Corps’ teams the ability to find an accurate, working network without having to worry about connectivity issues. Once again, he said this all came down to the partnerships they’ve made with the mobile, cyber industry.

“What we found is that there was some network connectivity on one of the two major providers and normally you’re not allowed to roam between those major providers. Eighteen teams stepped up with their partners to allow, during the contingency, the ability to really run between any available network which really helped that ability of responders,” he said. “So that partnership, beyond the federal government with industry, I think is really critical.”

The agency has developed a cyber and user services roadmap to focus on specific areas that will make processes and capabilities for the Corps’ teams and users more ‘reliable, agile, and capable.’ But first, it all starts with upgrading legacy systems to the cloud, he said.

Moving forward, Garcia wants ACE to follow the same footsteps of many application vendors, like Adobe and Autodesk. They are moving rapidly to provide software as a service, such as the cloud, as one if not their only product.

“Let’s have an enterprise design that’s tailorable … an enterprise design [to] be hosted in a cloud so everybody can leverage it. Because if I’m doing disaster recovery work such as debris removal in Florida, in Texas, in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, it would be nice to pull that,” Garcia said. “[And] being able to understand the consistency of processes across different geographical areas and do that through a cloud instance versus something that’s local.”

Cybersecurity issues always arise when talking about cyber capabilities and cloud computing hasn’t escaped the Corps. Garcia said due diligence and balancing mission and cyber risk is what matters.

Defense and cyber partnerships, as well as training within a risk management framework process, are the key to success, he said.