Enabling Business Transformation "On the Go"

By Dan DelGrosso and Mike Hernon - Published, April 20, 2012

Increasing the ability to conduct business on the go, away from a traditional office or desktop environment, can be a key enabler of the Department of the Navy's business transformation process. Arming DON personnel with access to the department's knowledge base regardless of their location will improve effectiveness in any new or improved business process.

A robust enterprise mobility capability can improve communications, save money, enhance the ability to make decisions and facilitate organizational restructuring — all of which are critical business transformation rationales.

Leveraging the Cloud

Mobility and business transformation can each leverage ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) IT initiatives such as cloud or tablet-based computing. In a cloud environment, an organization's data and applications reside in centralized data centers and are accessed via the Internet or an intranet such as the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

There are a number of advantages to this approach. Perhaps the most obvious one from an end user perspective is that the traditional desktop computer with its large disks to store applications and data is replaced with zero- or thin-client devices, which have no or minimal storage, respectively. This is particularly well-suited for a more mobile workforce as mobile devices typically do not have the processing power or storage capacity of a desktop computer.

In this environment, a tablet may be more useful than a standard desktop computer because it can have the same application functionality but with the added benefit of removing the tether from the wall jack. Tablets are especially useful on the move in varied settings, such as a hangar deck or on the flight line, whereas laptops are good for access from a remote, but generally fixed location.

Organizational Transformation

Flattening organizations — reducing the levels of hierarchy — is a common business transformation strategy. Flattened organizational structures significantly increase decision agility by cutting red tape and eliminating multiple review and approval steps before taking action. Empowering employees to assess the environment and make decisions at a lower level is often a goal of organizational flattening.

The effectiveness of a flattened organization largely depends on the ability to publish, share and discover information in a timely fashion. Empowered employees must not only have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization, but must also have ready access to the same information available to senior management to make good decisions. A robust mobility capability is necessary to meet this requirement for an increasingly mobile workforce.


Telework is one of the major business transformation initiatives underway throughout the DoD. While telework is already an active program, a major increase in the number of participating personnel is expected once a new DON telework policy is signed. This follows the signing into law of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 and the DoD Instruction 1035.01, Telework Policy of Oct. 21, 2010 (www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/103501p.pdf ).

The new environment created by these policy changes will transform the way business is conducted with telework becoming a common practice, instead of one reserved for special situations. Telework's benefits include supporting continuity of operations, cutting costs, promoting "green" work practices and retaining qualified staff. Without a viable mobility capability, a successful telework program will be difficult to achieve. Remote and mobile communications and access to information are basic requirements for personnel to be effective when working from home or other locations outside the office.

Is There an App for That?

At this time, there is not a DoD app for that — yet. Typical mobile access across the DoD today supports basic business functionality — email, calendar, tools and address books. Portals may also be accessed, primarily through laptops because the browsing experience and ability to work on documents on a smart phone-sized screen are limited. While this level of functionality has proved beneficial, the department must take it to the next level to more effectively support business transformation.

Moving to the next level means the mobile environment will provide the same functionality available at a traditional workstation and, in many instances, even more. As in the commercial sector, the key to reaching this level is the availability of feature-rich apps that are easy to use and designed for the mobile environment. As today's applications are redesigned to take advantage of the cloud and thin and zero clients, the department must also ensure it will be mobile friendly. This entails vetting and approving existing commercially available apps for use in the DoD network environment.

Challenges and Mitigations

There are a variety of challenges in taking the department's mobility environment to the next level. For each challenge, however, there are actions that can be taken to mitigate the factors working against progress. The major challenges are:

  • Information Assurance: IA remains the primary concern for DoD IT platforms and is why the DoD is not on the cutting-edge of adopting new technologies. IA can be improved by cloud-based mobile computing because data does not reside on the device. Consequently, a lost or stolen tablet would not result in compromised information. Accelerating the move to the cloud will help address IA concerns.
  • Pace of Change: The processes to certify, accredit and deploy devices that connect to DoD networks have not, and will never, keep up with the pace that manufacturers set. As a result, DoD is approving devices built on hardware or operating systems that are either obsolete or no longer commercially available. These devices have not proven to be popular with the user base. As a result, the department must streamline certification and accreditation and deployment processes. Another approach the DoD is studying is the bring-your-own-device model. With this approach, users buy their personal device with a supported operating system and can connect to a DoD network. The government data and apps would be accessed through a secure "sandbox" that is segregated from personal data. Moving to the cloud will also facilitate this approach.
  • Backend Infrastructure: The prevalent IT architecture is oriented toward the desktop computing environment of the past 25 years as mainframe dumb terminals were replaced by personal computers with ever-increasing memory, storage and processing power. This is not conducive to either a robust mobility model or a business transformation effort because of the fragmentation and dispersal of enterprise data. Adopting the cloud model as quickly as possible will enable a more potent mobility capability to support business transformation.
Moving Forward

Business transformation can be supported and significantly enhanced by enterprise mobility. As the department's IT model itself is transformed toward cloud computing, the role mobility plays in supporting new or modified business practices will only grow.

Dan DelGrosso is the director of naval networks and enterprise services, Office of the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer. Mike Hernon is the former chief information officer for the city of Boston. He supports the DON CIO in telecommunications and wireless strategy and policy.

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