What Kind of Industry Partner Does Army IT Want?

Army IT
Source: U.S. Army

Information technology is evolving at a breathtaking speed. In order to stay at the forefront of those developments, Army IT is committed to engaging with industry to “get soldiers to the fight, support the fight, and bring them home safe.”

Integral to this effort is the Army’s Program Executive Office, Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), which manages and provides “the information technology network and business systems that Soldiers and the U.S. Army need to operate every day,” according to PEO EIS’s website. This amounts to approximately $3.5 billion in assets each year – a whole third of the Army’s IT budget.

We’ve talked before about what the Army is doing to modernize its network systems and the strategic vision it’s working towards with its industry partners, so now, let’s talk process.

What can industry do to make sure that they are being the best possible partner to the Army as it works on these objectives?

This was the prime focus at AFCEA Belvoir’s Industry Days this year, where the theme was “Creating Innovative IT Acquisition Solutions…Defending Tomorrow Today,” where Cheríe Smith, the Army PEO EIS’s program executive officer, said emphatically that she is looking for partners she and her organization can rely on – true, iterative collaborators, not just vendors selling a solution.

“I’m all in” for engaging with industry, Smith told the assembled audience of Army enterprise IT stakeholders, and she had the statistics to back that up. Over the past twelve months, PEO EIS senior leaders and program managers had more than 588 one-on-one meetings – 168 hours – with industry. That’s two or more meetings a day and a total of 21 whole workdays out of the year.

In addition to that time invested in finding the right solution for the mission at-hand, many leaders in the space agree that the effectiveness of the solution should be prioritized over checking the boxes of the process of selling to the government.

However, when PEO EIS is committing so much time to bringing industry on board, then it only follows that they expect that their industry partners bring that same level of energy into the room and reciprocate that level of trust.

To that end, Smith wants to build solid, educational, and productive working relationships with PEO EIS’s industry partners and for them to never lose sight of who they work for when they work with her team. Industry should bring the right experts, preferably first-level principals, into meetings, fully prepared to make her and her senior program managers smarter and advise fully truthfully on how they can help improve extant network solutions.

And perhaps most importantly of all, industry partners need to remember that they are there to “do what’s right for the Army.” Ultimately, the person that benefits from their work are the individual soldiers who are out in the field, so in addition to advising PEO EIS program managers in that spirit, they also need to show performance metrics that demonstrate their solutions’ value to the soldier.

With all of the priorities on PEO EIS’s to-do list, from the Army Leader Dashboard, piloting Enterprise IT as a Service (EITaaS) programs, to supporting e-learning programs like DDTC and ALMS, there are a lot of areas where private sector expertise can be a massive value add. And, with the ground rules set for a more cooperative, more productive relationship between industry and Army, things look promising for progress in Army IT.