Commands increase influence on IT buying decisions

Combatant commands are changing how they buy IT including how they work with DISA. ImmixGroup analyst Mark Wisinger explains what you need to know about this shift in the market.

Change could be coming for how combatant commands buy their information technology and work with the Defense Information Systems Agency. Policy driven by the Defense Department chief information officer and the Joint Staff J6 may dictate closer ties between COCOMs and DISA, which could mean mutual IT requirements and procurements. The change could require a shift in how technology companies sell their solutions.

There will be challenges creating joint IT requirements for all the combatant commands, so it’s important to understand the nuances before hunting opportunities. The concern is that each command has unique conditions, including funding, partners, and missions that affect their views regarding DISA and the fact that not all IT requirements will fit all missions.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Take, for example, NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM. Their partners are resource-constrained and non-traditional. Their unique needs may not fit the mold of DISA’s initiatives, or the new U.S. Central Command-led project known as the Mission Partner Environment (MPE). The MPE (a successor to CENTRIX) will be the shared information enterprise environment for multiple COCOMs with features like chat, voice, and video collaboration.

Central Command and its MPE partners (PACOM, EUCOM, SOCOM and AFRICOM) have overlapping IT requirements, making them better candidates for joint requirements.

Other combatant command missions drive them in a different direction, making it hard to tailor IT requirements to the specific command needs. CENTCOM has similar missions and challenges as PACOM, EUCOM, SOCOM and AFRICOM. They also have more overlapping IT requirements than NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM, and some have bigger budgets.

Despite these similarities, it’s been difficult to roll out MPE to all the combatant commands at large because of the one-size-fits-all issue. Getting buy-in from NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM has been particularly challenging. But Joint Staff J6 director, Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, plays an important role in championing joint IT requirements for the combatant commands.

He’s aware of the interoperability and inter-agency concerns and has said he believes the combatant commands should embrace enterprise-wide procurement. But he’s also concerned that DISA is focused on broad initiatives and doesn’t have the bandwidth to develop specific requirements for the combatant commands. While he’s a strong advocate for joint IT requirements, he’s not pushing for additional DISA involvement.

What this mean for tech companies

If the combatant commands don’t consolidate IT requirements, some will continue making ad hoc purchases, depending on their size and budgets. Some of the bigger commands are moving toward more enterprise level procurement. But enterprise purchases can’t happen at the same scale if joint IT requirements aren’t put in place.

Without joint requirements, enterprise procurement can only work on a command-by-command basis, which is already happening in some cases. Industry should keep a close eye on the enterprise agreements or vehicles coming out of the combatant commands that haven’t created them yet like AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM, and NORTHCOM.

Increased DISA involvement in combatant command IT procurement is far less likely than joint IT requirements. The Joint Staff J6 director does not support it, and there’s stiffer opposition within some of the commands compared to joint IT requirements. The impact would also be restricted to infrastructure solutions like data centers and networking.

IT requirements across the combatant commands will likely happen because their biggest supporter is the Joint Staff, and how they fit into larger DOD initiatives such as enterprise procurement. There isn’t genuine opposition; rather, there are a few lukewarm stakeholders. In the short-term, combatant commands will gradually incorporate some smaller-scale joint IT requirements like the Mission Partner Environment. Technology companies with combatant command relationships, especially those with infrastructure solutions, should work on getting a toehold into the MPE. It could lead to a de-facto rollout to CENTCOM, PACOM, SOCOM and AFRICOM and more business across the combatant commands at a rapid pace.

 

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