Bringing Speed and Agility to the DoD's IT Acquisitions

January 2015
Peter Modigliani

As a former Air Force program manager, Peter Modigliani has a deep understanding of DoD acquisition systems. While he has a number of roles within MITRE, they all lead back to helping the DoD dramatically reduce the time, cost, and complexity of acquiring products and services for our nation's military.

Modigliani works within the National Security Engineering Center, the federally funded research and development center MITRE operates for the DoD. He has helped many DoD sponsors with their acquisitions, including the DoD Chief Information Office (CIO), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Air Force.

"I work with DoD agencies to help them embrace concepts like agile development, portfolio management, as well as rethinking key processes for the digital age," says Modigliani. In particular, he specializes in helping the DoD acquire cost-effective IT capabilities. Because MITRE doesn't manufacture or sell any products, Modigliani and his colleagues are well positioned to offer unbiased guidance on this complex aspect of government operations.

Cutting Monoliths Down to Size

The DoD's ongoing challenge is that it uses essentially the same process to acquire IT capabilities as it does major weapons systems. This includes specifying, documenting, and seeking approval on "monolithic" purchases, which often stretches into the billions of dollars. As a result, it typically takes eight years for the DoD to acquire new IT capabilities.

"What works for fighter planes doesn't work with IT," says Modigliani. "Just think what it would mean in the commercial world if your 'new' computer was based on eight-year-old specifications. Then consider how our warfighters depend upon information technology for everything from tanks and ships to command-and-control systems."

Agile development and portfolio management help cut through that time-consuming and expensive process. "In the simplest terms, breaking purchases into smaller sections means being able to adapt better to changes in technologies, operations, and budgets—and to have a higher success rate," he says. "You put key things in place like consistent technical and business architectures, processes, and contracts. That way, you can divide large projects into smaller components. This expedites the approval process so releases can be delivered in a series of 6–12 month cycles rather than one massive delivery in eight years, with greater chances of success."

Discussing Agile Concepts at an Armed Services Committee

Congress directed the DoD to restructure acquisition processes to acquire IT capabilities more quickly. This is particularly crucial where fast-evolving technologies are necessary for success of our warfighters in a dynamic operational environment. In February 2014, Modigliani joined MITRE's Mike Janiga in a roundtable discussion to the House Armed Services Committee about IT acquisition reform.

Modigliani explained to the members of Congress and their staff that agile practices can help the DoD achieve many of its objectives by focusing on small, frequent capability releases and using software instead of comprehensive documentation. Agile practices also allow for a rapid response to changes in operations, technology, and budgets while actively involving users throughout development to ensure high operational value.

Writing the Book on Agile IT Acquisitions

Modigliani wears many other hats in support of DoD acquisitions. For instance, he helped the DoD CIO outline a 10-point plan for DoD IT modernization. In addition, he worked with DISA's acquisition executive to develop nine tailored IT acquisition models to make it easier for the staff to make purchases. He's also overseeing three internal acquisition research projects for MITRE.

Modigliani not only reads avidly about acquisition processes, but also writes about them. Along with fellow MITRE acquisitions expert Su Chang, he wrote the Defense Agile Acquisition Guide to help DoD professionals adopt agile practices within each element of their programs. Defense AT&L Magazine has published two of his articles about improving portfolio management and leveraging digital technologies and strategies to reinvent the DoD's acquisition processes.

"What I love about MITRE is that we have such a broad footprint across nearly all the defense, intelligence, and civil agencies," he says. "I'm passionate about our opportunity to help reinvent federal acquisition for the digital age."

When not reading, writing, or actively helping the DoD with IT acquisitions, Modigliani spends time with his wife and two children.

—by Bill Eidson

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