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Haystack Blog

Posted by Mark Testoni, October 30, 2014

Solutions Summit 2014 Features Record Turnout, Thought-Provoking Dialogue

This morning, SAP NS2 hosted our Third Annual Solutions Summit, attracting a record turnout of more than 800 government technology executives, mission professionals, policy makers, and business partners who participated in a dialogue on the top national security issues of our time.

It was also a chance to see NS2 solutions in action at a series of "Innovation Bars"; and to present a progress report on NS2 Serves, the nonprofit we launched in 2013 to provide world-class training and employment opportunities for U.S. military veterans.

More than 2,000 years ago, the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said, "What enables the good general to strike and conquer is foreknowledge." The same could be said today. Our government's ability to collect, analyze and act on relevant information is increasingly central to our national defense.

We are living in the "Big Bang times of the Information Universe." We are buried in information. But we are far better at collecting this information than we are at analyzing and figuring out what to do with it.

The great promise of IT is in harnessing the data and making it actionable. The threat demands so much more today, but the tools are within our grasp. And we must be much more nimble in developing and employing these tools.

The challenge is especially acute for those working in national security.

Last month, Apple released the eighth generation of the iPhone - a product that has been on the market for only seven years. That shows you the agility and flexibility of the private sector. New capabilities are created even before the consumer knows they need them.

Meanwhile, consider the government. Potential nuclear launch orders go from the President to missile silo computers that still use big floppy disks. Military pilots are at the controls of airplanes once flown by their grandfathers. It would be as if Apple tried to sell black rotary telephones today.

Back in 1977, in my earliest days in the military, I.T.'s job was to "process" largely internal data to reduce paper, manual mistakes, and staff time. We used I.T. tools to help us "collect" information, and we occasionally disseminated "reports" of some value to those who needed to know.

And back then, that was good enough. Militarily, we had pretty definable, slow-moving threats.

Then in the 1990s and early 2000s, our capabilities grew. We improved processes – such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) -- extended our systems outside our walls, and began communicating through the Internet. "Reports" got more sophisticated, and we built huge data warehouses, although we largely filled them with info we could define, collect and control.

At the same time, the threats we faced became broader and harder to define. Now instead of worrying about big things – big nation states, big armies, and big missiles – we had to address smaller, more fragmented threats – the remnants of once-unified countries, the sects and tribes in the Middle East, and so forth. The tapestry of what we needed to know became much more complex.

From the mid-2000s through today, the evolution continued. We started to make greater use of the Internet. The social media and sensor explosions led to data explosion. Traditional IT models were overwhelmed.

And at the same time the risk was evolving again. We now face transnational and fluid dangers, from Ebola to ISIS to cyber hackers.

Feeding into this "perfect storm," we have a shrinking budget and demands for much greater efficiency and accountability in the national security I.T. space.

Traditional IT models are overwhelmed. They can't keep up. We all need new solutions and platforms to handle this "big bang."

We need the best minds of the private sector and government to address those challenges. Technology is making a difference, but there is much more to do.

Lessons learned from past battles - sometimes derided as Monday morning quarterbacking — are always needed. But we must be careful that we not get trapped into using yesterday's solutions — or even today's — for tomorrow's battles.

Working together we must find ways to harness the power of the "Big Bang" to ensure the safety and security of our country, and to build stronger partnerships between government, industry, and the expert community.

The rewards of getting our task right — and the price of getting it wrong — are enormous. Our fellow citizens and future generations are depending upon us. There is not a moment to waste.

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The Haystack Blog is where SAP NS2 President and Chief Executive Mark Testoni shares his perspectives on how to advance the national security mission through I.T. innovation. The name comes from his observation that in the 21st century, "We seem to be collecting more and more haystacks in which intelligence needles must be found."

SAP NS2 President and Chief Executive Mark Testoni
Mark Testoni
President and Chief Executive of SAP NS2