The Defense Department’s (DoD) efforts to move from a highly networked legacy environment to a data-driven environment require a careful balance between modernizing network systems and meeting mission requirements, a senior Pentagon technology official explained this week.

Lily Zeleke, deputy chief information officer for the DoD, said the agency cannot break mission at the expense of modernization. Therefore, the department wants to ensure as it onboards modern capabilities that it continues to deliver capabilities to the warfighter at the speed of operational relevance.

“The focus of our office is to deliver a secure and modern digital information technology environment and capabilities to support the warfighter and the mission, and we want to do this at global speed and scale,” Zeleke said during the Defense One Cloud Summit on August 8.

According to Zeleke, one of the biggest accomplishments for DoD this year has been its Software Modernization Implementation Plan, which has catapulted the department’s ability to solidify and continue to evolve modern software practices, including accelerating the DoD’s cloud environment.

For example, implementing cloud capabilities at all classification levels at the DoD ensures an easier path to deliver the software-driven capabilities warfighters need at the speed of relevance.

“If we’re late to need, then it’s pointless if we have the shiniest capabilities for the warfighter. We straddle a legacy environment with needing to modernize and bring current our capabilities to the pacing challenge we’re fighting it’s a critical piece at this pivotal time,” Zeleke said.

However, the idea of a specific due date for modernization and cloud implementation does not work for an organization as complex and massive as the Pentagon.

Successfully implementing a modernization strategy requires due diligence, collaboration, and partnership – not just internal to DoD but external commercial partners, Federal partners, and academic partners.

“A lot of times we put out a modernization strategy and folks say, ‘you put out a strategy in 2020, how come you’re not done?’ But with a massive organization like the DoD that has a complexity of requirements and a heavy mission, folks must get it in their minds that modernization is a journey,” Zeleke said. “We want to do this right and to deliver capability and operational need relevance, as well as speed in cybersecurity.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.