JEDI's disruption may go beyond the cloud

The Defense Department's JEDI initiative is part of a continuum of how innovation has shifted away from the government and to the commercial sector and the implications are only growing.

The wait continues as the Defense Department is working behind-the-scenes to get a final solicitation out the door for its potential $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract that slipped past the expected release at the end of May.

But that slippage may work in DOD’s favor if it is to build a consensus within its own leadership structure and broader enterprise for not just JEDI but any emerging next-generation technology from the commercial marketplace, says a June 4 report from IT market intelligence firm Technology Business Research.

Traditional technology procurement models are being disrupted by innovations outside government-backed research-and-development initiatives.

That shift is “elevating consensus-building into a prerequisite for embarking on disruptive technology adoption” for desired government outcomes, according to the report from TBR Public Sector IT Analyst Joey Cresta and Principal Analyst Geoff Woollacott.

Some recent moves by DOD related to the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract may indicate that consensus is becoming a priority. The Pentagon met its deadline for a pair of reports to Congress before the May 7 deadline on the strategy for JEDI and a justification for the single-award plan.

In that report to Congress, DOD turned a somewhat critical lens on itself with respect to how the military has looked at cloud computing adoption, our sister site FCW.com noted May 14.

DOD has more than 500 ongoing cloud acquisition and migration efforts that are "reminiscent of DOD's current legacy information technology environment, which is not optimized for the 21st century,” the Pentagon said in its report.

The history of defense technology innovation and adoption has largely been driven by catalysts dating back to the Cold War. As Cresta and Woollacott note, the U.S. has traditionally had a “top-down innovation engine” that saw the government drive investment in technologies key to both security and economic vitality.

GPS was operationalized by the military in response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite launch. High-performance computing was adopted for nuclear research and artificial intelligence was initially dependent on funding form the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

But that dynamic has flipped since the end of the Cold War and defense spending reductions in the 1990s, during which the economic power government once held in technology switched to commercial enterprises. Cresta and Woollacott attribute this to Moore’s Law economics, a term coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.

Moore observed that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year while the costs are halved -- a clear allegory for the pace of technology innovation.

In essence, the pyramid of innovation has essentially flipped but the DOD’s approach to technology acquisition largely remains unchanged.

The new catalyst for DOD to reinvest in technological superiority can be found in the recent National Defense Strategy: Russia and China in particular have ramped up their technology investments that made cyberspace and space contested domains.

And DOD’s aggressive push on the JEDI effort even with certain procurement delays are in part a response to that catalyst, the TBR analysts noted.

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