Buying software is inherently different than buying hardware, but the DOD procurement system has not always recognized that.
This is changing, said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, at a Pentagon news conference this afternoon.
Software is the “go juice” of DOD in the digital age, and changes in software need to be quick.
The Defense Innovation Board, chaired by businessman and software engineer Eric Schmidt — who accompanied Lord — looked at the department’s software acquisition and practices, and discussed the board’s conclusions.
The board issued a report on the subject that had three main themes. The first is that speed and cycle time are the most important metrics for managing software. The second is that software is made by people, for people. Third, software is not hardware and not all software is the same.
America’s private companies have learned how to manage software, and the Defense Department needs to take advantage of that expertise.
One problem deals with money. Software development, production and fielding needs to move quickly. Yet money for it is doled out yearly and money spent on development cannot be used for fielding and vice versa. In the fiscal year 2020 budget request, Lond is asking permission to have pilot programs that will allow the department to shift funds around within the software program to where it is needed and when it is needed.
Lord said the process needs to get back to basics and needs input from those who will ultimately use the software. “What is the problem we are trying to solve? What is the core functionality that is nice to have? Then, what is nice to have?” she said.
The pilot programs will include major defense weapons platforms and business systems so the department can get “the breadth and depth” to learn from the process, Lord said.
Schmidt said the military and the civilian personnel systems need to look at software experts differently. He noted the case of a young officer who was incredibly well-versed in software, but who was being reassigned. “Software is a very special thing,” Schmidt said. “It’s like being a doctor … and we have said repeatedly that the military has to have a technical track for career people in the military and civilians at the same level as a tech company.”