The CIO file: John Gilligan (expanded interview)

John Gilligan

Full title: Chief information officer

Took the job: 2001

Hometown: Pittsburgh

Home now: Fairfax, Va.

Family: Wife, Debbe, a teacher at Bishop Ireton High School, Alexandria, Va.; sons Kevin, 25, and Ryan, 22

Hobbies: Fitness (jogging, weights, biking), reading, gardening and landscaping

Currently reading: "Connect the Dots ? To Become an Impact Player" by Dick Lynch

Alma mater: Bachelor's degree in mathematics from Duquesne University; master of science degree in computer engineering from Case Western Reserve University; master of business administration degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

WT: Describe the technology needs of the Air Force. How are they unique?

Gilligan: Many technology needs parallel industry: global connectivity using standards-based common infrastructure; online, self-service business applications; reduced cost of ownership. Those that pertain to our air and space warfighting mission tend to be unique, [such as] linkage to airborne, space platforms; some of our security requirements ? encryption, strong authentication, equipment hardening for certain environments ?while others parallel industry; mission planning, rehearsal, etc.

WT: What have you learned from the Iraq war concerning Air Force technology?

Gilligan: IT worked. IT was clearly a primary enabler for both Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Global networks provided sufficient bandwidth to permit rapid exchange of information; Web-based tools for planning and tracking worked; GPS-derived systems permitted very precise position location and targeting as well as superior situation awareness that confounded the enemy. Interoperability between the Air Force, Army and Navy permitted synergy on the battlefield, and limited confusions and conflicts while permitting enormous firepower to be used with confidence.

WT: The CIOs of the Marine Corps and the Navy CIO have noted the Iraq conflict as being a commercial-off-the-shelf technology war. What is your take on this?

Gilligan: I would agree substantially with that, but I think we ought to be careful that we don't oversimplify some of the technology, including the information technology that was used. An awful lot of what we used was commercially available technology, and probably the percentage of what we used was a higher percentage of commercially available technology than in any other situation.

But there are some things that we also did that are military-unique applications that you won't find elsewhere. In those cases, many of those were built on building blocks. I wouldn't want to leave the impression to someone who doesn't really understand the environment that we just go out to eBay or Dell or others and order a bunch of commercial stuff and glue it together, and that's what we got.

When you get into the warfighting areas, when you're talking about, for example, sending precision positioning coordinates, whether it's our special forces guys on the ground, or combat search and rescue, or a target, [or] to an aircraft, there are pieces of that that are not commercially available. Those are relatively unique. But they're leveraging increasing protocol, such as Internet protocol. That would be my only caveat.

WT: How has technology changed what the Air Force does or how it does it?

Gilligan: IT has been the key to much of the Air Force transformation. Examples include limiting the number of people we deploy by using IT to "reach back" to folks at home station; using older platforms, such as the B 52 bomber, a platform designed to deliver nuclear weapons, to perform precision delivery of conventional weapons in a mission called close air support, where the weapons are delivered within hundreds of yards of friendly forces.

WT: How have you transformed your paperwork into electronic files? How is it going?

Gilligan: The Air Force uses electronic files to a great extent. However, we still lack a robust tool set to help us manage our electronic files, including e-mail and data derived files.

WT: Have you seen any technologies that you think would help you with that? Do you have anything particular in mind?

Gilligan: We have seen tools, and we have an ongoing discussion with industry. We will likely go out for an acquisition in the near future for a requirement to integrate tools ? and to help us to evolve with the maturing of technology ? those tools to give us something that fully meets our needs and is much more tightly integrated that what we see today. What we really see is many of the tools are niche tools.

A lot of our information exchange today is via e-mail, yet when you're talking about electronic filing, very few of the tools deal well with e-mail. That's just a huge problem for us. And so we've got collaboration, we have e-mail, and those don't fit nicely into the "now I want to capture and store this in the same type of repository that I put things that came in as more formal documents." I think it's just a reflection of the maturing of technology, and we're seeing greater emphasis and maturing of some of the standards to exchange information between some of the tools.

WT: Do you ever see the Air Force doing a large project such as Navy-Marine Corps Intranet?

Gilligan: That is a loaded question. NMCI was the Navy's approach to deal with a couple of needs. To this point, the Air Force has met those needs through other methods. In the future, we'll likely use increasingly contracted support. But I think we're unlikely to bundle everything in the scale that the Navy did with NMCI, in part because that, from out vantage point, has proven to be a little bit of a disadvantage because it's so big.

What the Navy has done in terms of consolidating all of its networks and all of its computers, we've done that as well; we've just not done it through a single big contract. We're well along and nearing completion of that, establishing common sets of service levels, etc., common standards. So we have been doing that in parallel, as has the Army, by the way. So there are a lot of things.

Do we like what the Navy is doing? Apart from the fact that it's all one big contract, yeah, there are a lot of good things about that. As you may know, they're struggling on some areas ? it's gone a lot slower than they would like, the contractor is having problems, etc. ? so that is why I am caveating the statement. Would we do it exactly that way? No. Do we plan in the future to outsource increasingly some of our infrastructure? Yes. In fact, I'm looking for us to begin that dialogue with industry in earnest about nine months from now.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Gilligan: That they share our focus on integration, compliance with
recognized standards and innovation.

WT: A year from now, where do you see the Air Force's technology capabilities?

Gilligan: A small piece [is] we will increasingly look to smart outsourcing to both free up our military people to put them on higher priority jobs, and to leverage industry capabilities. But I think the major emphasis a year from now is that we will continue to see growing investment in the use of information technology to improve our warfighting capabilities. I gave you a mental picture about precision location, and that is one dimension of what we're moving forward. It's the precision location of everything and that information being visible to everyone. So if you are an airplane, you will know where everyone is, and you can get that information.

[Also important is] to be able to move that information around very rapidly to link our aircraft. For example, today our aircraft sort of talk point to point, so we send stuff to them, and they send stuff back. If we want to get anything to our aircraft, we have to channel it through an intermediary, if you will, which is kind of a forwarding station. [Eventually] we'll have horizontal links between our aircraft, manned and unmanned, our space assets and the ground in a dynamic fashion. It's really taking the concept of the Internet and putting it, in our case, in the sky and in space.

Figuratively and almost literally, in the cockpit you will have your Internet access, and you can ask for information on where are the friendly forces, the enemy forces, the latest weather, the latest threat information. And while it won't be exactly the same user interface that you have at your desktop, it will have some of the same types of power. That's kind of the vision.

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