Interview with Dan Ross, ADM(Mat)
Dan Ross strikes you as a man who has carefully looked over the depth and breadth of the job he has undertaken, and knows where he wants to go with it. With responsibilities that range from provision of IT services at the strategic level of the Department, through advice and standards to the conduct of information operations and the sustainment of the Communication Reserve, he brings to the position extensive experience in leadership, management, policy, communications and strategic planning gained through various positions held with National Defence, the Privy Council Office, and Public Works and Government Services Canada. After a year in the chair as ADM (IM) at National Defence, he reflected to FrontLine on his return to DND, the recent reviews and directions for IM in the Department, and the significant challenges coming up.
Q: As you complete your first year as ADM (IM), have there been any surprises? Have you been required to make adjustments in how you wanted to lead the Group?
There were very few surprises when I came back to DND. I was very impressed by the quality of the work on the Information Management Strategic Review (IMSR); it provided a major step in the development of IM in the Department.
I found the IM organization to be very robust, in terms of IM Operations, Enterprise Application Services, Project Delivery and Strategic Direction. There was no requirement to embark on ‘organizational churn’. The Communications Reserve and the CF Information Operations Group are wonderful organizations, well led and very effective; both report directly to me now, allowing our Operations Staff to concentrate their efforts.
Q: Considering your previous background in DND and other government departments, has the working environment been as you expected?
With my background in the Canadian Forces, the Privy Council Office and Public Works, I felt well equipped to fit in here. I’ve found that most civilian ADMs agree that DND is a very good place to work, where rational processes and professional, collegial work make for a rewarding work environment.
Q: You cited the 2002 IMSR for special mention. Have the recommendations been implemented? Are there areas where you now see the need to deviate from these conclusions?
In the core pieces of the management of IM, the Review was right on the mark. After slight organizational adjustments to fill in where required, we have moved through strategy, planning and implementation. That study team did a remarkable job, and we now have better financial reporting, and acknowledgment that the enterprise approach was fundamentally correct. Indeed, 76 Communication Group became the Enterprise Service Provider in the National Capital region starting on 1 April 2004, and they are doing a great job.
Q: The Defence Information Management Plan 2020 was approved in late January. Could you describe how this fits with the previous reviews and initiatives?
This effort sets a 15-year target, aligning IM capabilities with the capabilities described in Defence Strategy 2020. It sets the vision of a secure, integrated information environment for National defence that facilitates military operations.
For management purposes, we divided the resulting strategic plan into three portfolios: Military at the top, as that is our core business, supported by Corporate enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs) and all carried on a Common platform.
Q: How is this division of Military, Corporate, and Common portfolios related to the “enterprise model” adopted after the IMSR?
The portfolios are for management planning and convenience purposes. We had to package it in some way in order to discipline analysis, so as not to forget the relevance of military output and the relative importance of good resource management for force generation and sustainment. And then to figure out what you need in the platform to carry it, enough but no more, including such considerations as business continuity, multi-level security, and information integrity. The portfolios provide a useful framework to plan, manage and describe the plan.
I should emphasize that there is no discussion of ratios or quotas by portfolios.
The IM plan is essentially a schedule for capital investment. It supports the enterprise view. It allows us to talk about issues in horizontal strips by core activity. We can look at military command and control, human resources, connectivity, or ERP integration as horizontal layers in the plan. IM security, for example, is a layer in the Common section of the plan, but that doesn’t mean that it’s less important. It’s a package: we can show how each layer makes sense and is properly scheduled, virtually on one page.
It is not a question of relative priorities or tradeoffs. We may have to do that after the next budget allocation, but we have sufficient flexibility to adjust and move on. My sense is that this work has diminished the overall demand for IM by about 20%, because we took out the duplication and had a harder look at the cash lines and the requirements.
Compared to what is currently funded, we see relatively minimal increases. But in the end, we end up with a far better, more robust, integrated and cost-effective information system because we have looked at the whole picture. There are about 50 initiatives here, and virtually all on the same page.
Q: The all-pervasive nature of the IM activity has traditionally made it difficult to capture a valid overall cost for the function. What are your views on the accuracy of the current figures? How well does this fit into the overall DND budget?
Our improved project delivery discipline has given us a good handle on capital costs, but I’m not satisfied that we have such clarity in the O&M area. Having the capital costs on one page, we must now show the sustainment costs on a parallel page. So that if, for example, O&M doubles the total cost of ownership and is not resourced, it causes you to go back and reconsider the investment.
There is a fixed pool of money: if DND spends slightly less than $1B per year (on IM), it’s not going to be spending $2B five years from now! It’s going to be spending about the same amount of money, relative to the other priorities and pressures we face.
I think DND invests an appropriate amount of money in IM investment. For that amount, say $100-$200M per year in new capital investment, we can continuously improve the quality and robustness of our IM systems.
Q: What is the most significant aspect of the recent IM Plan decisions?
Reaffirmation of the IMSR decision to move ahead on truly enterprise solutions: these are key to DND and the CF.
We have delivered some good systems. If we have been weak perhaps, it has been in the question, “To what requirement?” It’s my concern that our current ERPs are not ‘enterprise’ to the degree they needed to be, to the frustration of people such as the Force Generators, who could not get satisfactory information on budget or HR or weapons systems availability. So duplicate systems have grown up to meet valid needs of users. But we understand that and senior management is determined to fix it. When our ERPs can provide the true enterprise functions, then we can stop all the other home-grown projects: we don’t have to man them, to train for them, or to pay for them. The enterprise effort will of course also need tools for business planning and analysis, all integrated with the financial side.
Q: Interoperability with other government departments and our traditional allies is always a concern. Do you see particular difficulties and/or priorities to be addressed here? How will DND fit into current Government of Canada IM initiatives such as Secure Channel?
Secure Channel is largely designed to facilitate service to Canadians. DND already has that level of security, and higher in a large number of classified networks and such features as PKI smart cards. We also don’t have all that much direct interaction with Canadians. We don’t provide transactional services to Canadians at all, with the possible exception of recruiting, where one could apply to join the Forces on-line. So it doesn’t have as much relevance to National Defence as it does to most other government departments: we’re not in the queue to take advantage of that service in a large way.
With regard to other efforts, Public Safety and Emergency Planning Canada (PSEPC) is leading the initiative on what you might call joint intergovernmental command and control. It’s not just communications, but rather how you do business, centralized planning, response and mitigation.
The DCDS and ourselves participate in that work; we have the capability to deliver a common classified network to the government of Canada tomorrow if wanted, but that’s not the issue. It’s the wider problem of emergency response across the government, and PSEPC has the lead.
Among our Allies, the issue of cooperation and interoperability is as important as ever. All Western militaries talk about network centric operations in one form or another. We will always operate in a multinational environment so even connectivity is a challenge. Connectivity between our Navy and the USN is a challenge because they have so many rapidly evolving systems.
So we continue to work very closely with NATO and other traditional allied communities. It is of course increasing in importance when we talk about leveraging information operations for the conduct of operations in places like Afghanistan.
Q: Periodically, one hears that the Information Management function is another “element” in the CF. What are your views on this impression?
That may be an emotive issue with some people. The importance of IM is clearly understood as an enabler for our business, probably better than most other departments. We’ve come a long way in the last five years: no matter what senior manager you talk to, they are ready to support the investment of $1B a year in the importance of IM. But are we a separate element or Command if you will? No, I don’t think so. It’s much more a strategic function and I think IM Group’s role is different from, say, CFCC in the past. You absolutely need a strong IM Group that does standards and architecture, high quality IM svc del, running high availability systems, ERPs and secure network defence. But I don’t see it as another Command.
Q: The Canadian IT industry is strong and capable. Are there particular aspects of your work that you think could benefit by more input and participation from Industry?
Industry, particular our larger partners, is doing fine and is very professional. I know the senior members well; they come to see me and provide me good advice. I tend to treat people very honestly and openly, giving them my forthright views on where I think we are going so that they can be prepared to provide good solutions. I think we are well served and don’t have any concerns here.
Q: What are the key challenges you see in the near future?
As I told our people the day after the approval of the Defence IM Strategic Plan, “Today we are in implementation.” We have done all the planning, and selling of the ideas, now we need to deliver results.
The challenges are now threefold: enterprise systems, requirements and cost issues. We need to hammer out the front end requirements for the enterprise solutions, deliver the projects and then eventually get out of the locally grown solutions that were necessary in the past. The challenge is clearly about requirements versus IT good ideas, helping our clients to think through their requirements, and to let us deal with the project delivery to their needs. Finally there’s cost: understanding what drives the cost of a function, the total cost of ownership and delivering the basic IT environment as efficiently as possible.
Q: What are your highest priorities for progress?
It is most important to help the human resources, finance and materiel authorities to get a grip on the functional requirements for the ERPs. To take finance for example, in order to tell our project delivery people what they need to deliver to enhance FMAS, we need to work with the ADM (Fin CS), the comptrollers at all levels, the Base authorities, whoever is involved, on what is required from a good financial system across the department, to provide accurate info at all levels.
This is urgent: unless we turn the corner in the next six months on the requirement content of the enterprise systems, we can’t get into the implementation. I think we can do it in six months, but that means getting out of town, getting with our clients. If they have a need, we’ve got to work it out. Such a big part of our job is service delivery. If we’re not responsive to the client needs, we’re neither successful nor relevant.
Q: Any final thoughts?
The Group personnel continue to impress me with their professionalism, particularly when you go and talk to the Corporals and Master Corporals operating our national systems: these people are busy. Or you go to a Comm Reserve unit, or see the CFIOG in action. How hard it is, for example for 76 Comm Group to draw together the National Capital region’s IT into a system, to pull together the many ad hoc efforts grown up over 20 years! I don’t think we tell these stories very well. We really are well served.
MGen (Ret) John Leech, former GM of AFCEA Canada, is FrontLine’s Defence Information Technology Editor.
© FrontLine Defence 2005