I recently had the opportunity to speak with Zachary Fryer-Biggs of IHS Jane’s at RSA 2016 on the DoD’s expansion into Silicon Valley and its attempt to tap new innovative technology solutions. Zachary’s recent article titled “Defense in Silicon Valley” takes a look at the cultural change the DoD is attempting to adopt and its focus on making it easier for companies to do business with the Pentagon. While the concept is sound, you have to put the concept into proper context of how the government works.
The new Silicon Valley outpost, dubbed Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), is the DoD’s venture at integrating innovation and creative thinking into the Pentagon and repositioning the U.S. Military as a technological powerhouse. Unfortunately, despite the focus to change the culture and be more responsive to technological innovations, I feel this approach may be too little too late. While I like the idea of the DIUx, they are still a part of the government and subject to certain rules and regulations. These rules and regulations tend to handcuff innovation rather than foster it.
Take the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for example. Its rules make working with the government more difficult, and if you don’t happen to be classified as an 8A company, you are even further inhibited to successfully working with the government. This combined with the need for security clearances creates a real barrier for entry, which also leads to a serious lack of IT talent within the government. This combination of forces creates a perfect storm that can drive smaller companies on the cutting edge of innovation to choose not to work with the Pentagon. We sadly came to this conclusion over a year ago. Not because we don’t want to work with the government, but because it is too difficult and cost prohibitive to do so.
I will be attentively watching the progress of the DIUx and wish them the best of luck. Hopefully it will not create the same hurdles and drawbacks of working with traditional government organizations. If there is ever such a thing as a cyber war, we will find ourselves on the losing end unless we can successfully lower the barriers of entry that have been keeping the government behind the innovation 8-ball. The approach of the newly formed DIUx is definitely a step in the right direction, but only time will tell if it will be successful. I just hope we have the time to find out.