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Shanahan: Pentagon Needs to Learn from Industry to Develop Systems Faster

Defense Patrick M. Shanahan. DoD Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. –The Pentagon’s number two civilian says industry needs to develop the systems and programs the military doesn’t even know it needs yet.


When compared to the commercial sector, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said the Department of Defense is slow in evaluating and acquiring the innovations created and adopted by the industrial base.

“The department shouldn’t be setting standards, industry should be setting standards,” Shanahan said speaking at the WEST 2018 conference.

As an example, Shanahan mentioned the department’s move to adopt cloud computing. He wants a system put in place that’s both useful now, but adaptable to future needs. Industry has used cloud computing for years, but the Department of Defense is still evaluating the technology.

In the meantime, Shanahan said redundancies exist that probably could be erased using cloud computing. He pointed out how each service branch has its own financial service system. A cloud computing system could reduce this, he said, saving both time and money.

“It isn’t just about moving to the cloud,” Shanahan said.
“The cloud is a huge enabler so that we can get to doing things across the department that industry has done for a long time that has enterprise-wide services.”

At the same time, Shanahan wants to ensure once a new technology is adopted, a legacy system is not still funded to accomplish the same task. This means also instilling in the department a sense that individual technologies or systems are not what’s important, rather the focus should be on what such technologies or systems accomplish.

“The cloud is not our goal,” Shanahan said.
“Our goal is to get a lot of the data into an environment where we can start making better decisions.”

He created a reform management group to focus the department on finding ways to save time and money in adopting new programs. Doing so, he said, is really at the core of the recently released National Defense Strategy.

“We must make our systems and products affordable,” Shanahan said. 
“Our biggest opportunity is to be smarter and faster when it comes to the development of these programs.”

The military has the money to develop new technology. What he wants to do is develop a better understanding inside the Pentagon of how much things should cost and how to best define good.

“We have to get past everything is measured in improvement,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan recognized he’s asking a lot of industry. The military, he conceded, does not do what industry wants – integrate new products and services quickly, in a balanced manner with a predictable revenue stream. All too often, he said new systems and programs are bogged down in planning, increasing costs and ultimately decreasing their applicability when ultimately deployed.

“We know that you’re going to invest, it’s just we have to be very clear on how we want to integrate those investments and how we want to evolve certain capabilities,” he said.