Department of Defense (DoD) Digital Modernization Strategy: Perspectives On Maintaining A Competitive Digital Advantage in the Modern Battlespace


The global threat landscape continues to evolve across all warfighting domains: sea, air, land, space, and information (including digital and cyberspace) (1). Each physical domain is heavily integrated with and reliant upon the digital ecosystem to conduct warfighting and support functions. Additionally, the digital and cyberspace estates are increasingly growing as battlespace domains and an attack surface that creates effects in the physical domains. In reaction to these evolving trends, the DoD Digital Modernization Strategy was published in 2019 to establish a vision and roadmap for advancing the military’s digital environment to afford the Joint Force a competitive advantage in the modern battlespace.

DoD’s Strategic Digital Imperatives

The strategic imperatives of the Digital Modernization Strategy aim to:

· Innovate for competitive advantage;

· Optimize for efficiencies and improved capabilities;

· Evolve cybersecurity for an agile and resilient defense posture; and

· Cultivate talent for a ready digital workforce.

Figure: DoD Digital Modernization Strategy

Each imperative extrapolates into a number of detailed initiatives, including adoption of enterprise cloud and AI. These imperatives are contingent upon leveraging leading commercial capabilities and best practices, and critical to underpinning the broader success of the National Defense Strategy (2).

Figure: Commercial best practices aligned to DoD goals and objectives

Path to Enablement and Commercial Best Practices

In order to start the journey, DoD should approach each imperative with the following logical initiative groupings:

1. Build the foundation for next generation of core technology and digital.

DoD needs to modernize and digitize its legacy core in order to enable the platform for enterprise and warfighter support systems. The initiatives that are most critical to success include: modernization of Defense Business Systems (e.g. Enterprise Resource Planning) (3), moving from “shadow IT” and environment fragmentation to Enterprise IT as a Service (EITaaS) (4); and enabling the Warfighting Cloud as the basis for future innovation and supporting a dynamic warfighting environment (5, 6).

A number of core functions should be modernized on DDP. At the heart of the business are the DoD Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) functions and systems, which currently feature varying degrees of product duplication, technical debt, operational limitations, and a lack of visibility and compliance. The DoD ERP instances provide critical, end to end business process to include Finance, Logistics, Personnel, and overall integration of these functions into the broader enterprise. The multi-year journey must start now to build a digital-native business systems environment that shifts toward commoditized core business processes, differentiation and customization only where necessary, and integration with intelligent technologies (e.g. AI / ML, Internet of Thing, advanced analytics) (3). At the same time, the DoD enterprise needs the flexibility and automation of digitized support functions as well as the vast power and control of ERP systems. Prioritization of the full suite of ERP as well as integrated support functions and “bolt on” capabilities should be carefully analyzed in a best of breed approach around the ERP “core”.

As part of the Data and Digital Platform, DoD also needs to enable an enterprise, interoperable data ecosystem. By building and expanding on existing enterprise platforms, data lakes, and analytics tooling, it can better leverage its global set of Authoritative Data Sources (ADS) and treat data as a strategic asset.

Figure: Data and Digital Platform (DDP)

Centralize and standardize on Enterprise IT as a Service (EITaaS). Additionally, the DoD currently employs heterogenous infrastructure that can be siloed in nature, and military branch and command specific. Often, the infrastructure environments are bespoke at even lower echelons and individual organizations within the Combatant Commands and Fourth Estate. Commercial best practice in highly regulated industries with heavily control functions for data privacy and security (e.g. Financial Institutions) are completing multi-year journeys toward Enterprise IT: standardized, centralized offerings as well as its service management and operational functions. The US Army and Air Force are beginning to pressure test the viability of executing similar initiatives at enterprise scale (4).

Build and migrate to the Warfighting Cloud. Similar to the legacy DoD technology environment, cloud efforts thus far have been disparate across branches and have not been architected or designed for enterprise use (5). Public Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) have established the ecosystem that is suitable for DoD requirements for compliance (e.g. FedRAMP, FISMA, DOJ CJIS, DoD SWF Impact Levels 2/4/5/6, FIPS 140–2), cloud infrastructure that is physically isolated or “ring fenced”, and native and integrated tooling that supports the DoD vision of the future (e.g. analytics, AI / ML).

Enterprise cloud infrastructure capabilities are a major precursor to a number of enterprise and warfighting objectives, including:

· Establishing a hybrid environment where DoD can make the right technology deployment decision to the right landing zone, either on-premises, cloud, or co-located with the warfighter

· Providing the elasticity, automation and resilience required to support a dynamic warfighting environment, including the exponential growth of data used for intelligence

· Enabling a unified ecosystem that fosters “joint, all domain warfighting all the way out to the tactical edge” (6)

2. “Bolt on” force multipliers to enable optimization, efficiency and IT Reform.

Successful modernization of the DoD Core Technology and Digital environment unlocks an incredible set of opportunities that can be integrated to enable optimization, efficiency and reform. The environment standardization, elasticity, automation and resiliency will establish a posture by which force multipliers can take full advantage of the DoD’s collective data and intelligence to make informed operational and mission critical decisions. Some indicative force multipliers that are imperative to DoD include:

Build AI@Scale through a common foundation (e.g. DoD enterprise cloud) that enables decentralized development and experimentation at speed and scale. The DoD AI Strategy seeks to employ Artificial Intelligence in a very unique way, from support and protection of U.S. service members and civilians by enhancing military decision-making and operations across key mission areas, to safeguarding our homeland (financial networks, electric grids, election processes, and medical systems) (7).

While DoD has had success in “AI Activation” for individual use cases, the immediate next steps DoD needs to solve for are primarily to take the leap in maturity from successful pilot launch and narrow adoption to AI at scale (AI@Scale) to the enterprise. The first steps toward achieving AI@Scale include assessing the AI ambition and maturity of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), relative to the DoD AI Strategy, in order to establish the starting position. Subsequently, bottom-up transparency on all AI initiatives & enablers needs to be established in order to identify enterprise gaps and prioritization of initiatives that will feed into the broader AI@Scale transformation program (8).

Overlay the new ecosystem with efficiency enablers of enterprise cost transparency and continuous improvement (e.g. IT category management, financial management, rapid deployment models).

Accelerators such as the DoD IT Cost and Decision (CODE) Framework can be applied against the enterprise as well as individual organizational entities and functions to identify existing costs, apply them against a Commercial Reference Model (CORE) while accommodating for DoD uniqueness factors, and visualize the resulting financial data to make highly informed cost management decisions.

3. Layer in security across the full lifecycle and technology stack for agility and resiliency.

Take an enterprise approach to cyber architecture and risk management, enabling combined, full spectrum cyber operations across the Services and other infrastructure environments. US Cyber Command aims to better integrate cross-service components with the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture (JCWA) to establish unified firing platforms, command and control, and training environments (9). In order to ensure that every network, system, application and enterprise service is secure by design across currently multiple disparate enclaves, an environment agnostic approach and diagnostic tool such as Cyber Doppler can be leveraged to assess the cybersecurity posture, risk profile, and gaps that need to be addressed (10).

Embrace commercial Cyber practices that foster accelerated capability development, agility, automation (e.g. DevSecOps, COTS optimized product sets) to improve overall defense posture and Joint Warfighting Architecture. As organizations struggle to maintain a strong security profile in moving towards a foundational Data and Digital Platform, to include cloud adoption, options are accelerated but secure adoption are available. The BCG Cyber Cloud Framework (CCF) and Application Security Profiles (ASP) can map warfighting capabilities to their respective regulatory and compliance controls and frameworks (e.g. NIST, FedRAMP, Cloud Security Alliance, ISO), while navigating a journey to secure modernization (11).

4. Transform the workforce and culture to underpin digital and cyber imperatives.

Such transformative technology initiatives require DoD to cultivate a leading digital workforce and culture that supports rapid experimentation and iterative risk-informed implementation of new capabilities. Typically, shifting to a Digital Organization requires a shift away from more classic skill sets, including programming languages (COBOL), mainframe infrastructure, and database (IBM DB2, Oracle). More modern choices are being selected to support both next generation and mature but proven technologies, including Go, Python and Java for programming. In the core, cloud-native infrastructure stacks are becoming increasingly popular, to include an embrace of enterprise grade and supported open source tools, private and public cloud technologies, container based computing, and modern data platforms and tools ripe for advanced analytics (12).

To effectively implement all of these reskilling and upskilling challenges, DoD needs to identify how the commands and support functions can best organize and be governed around digital; capture an inventory of digital skills aligned against the new talent requirements to better inform what skills should be sought after to attract, recruit and continuously develop the workforce of the future; and finally, the design the enterprise apparatus for supporting the total force.


In summary, planning and executing across all of the people, process, and technology considerations required for successful DoD Digital Modernization requires: careful adherence to the strategy and objectives detailed by DoD leadership; support for the warfighter at National Defense Strategy as its North Star and top priority; and strong partnership and adoption of commercial best practices from technology leaders. Successful execution will result in innovation for competitive advantage, efficient and improved capabilities, an agile and resilient defense posture; and a ready digital workforce.


Matthew Leybold is an Associate Director in BCG Platinion out of New York City, and is a leader in the BCG Platinion Public Sector and Financial Institutions verticals for Core Technology and Digital. He can be contacted at

Supplementary Graphics

Figure: DoD by the Numbers (2)

Figure: DoD National Defense and Digital Modernization Strategy — Detailed (2)


1. Joint Force Development: Joint Publication 3–12, “Cyberspace Operations”. 8 June 2018.

2. DoD Digital Modernization Strategy.

3. BCG: Enabling Digital Transformation with BCG’s Data & Digital Platform.

4. Here’s who is modernizing the Army’s enterprise IT.

5. DoD Cloud Strategy.

6. DOD Cloud Has Leading Uses For Warfighter, Officials Say:

7. DoD AI Strategy.

8. The Big Leap Toward AI at Scale.

9. Cyber Command’s 2019 plan for new tools.

10. BCG: A Smarter Way to Quantify Cybersecurity Risk.

11. Mastering Cybersecurity with BCG.

12. BCG Digital Organization.

Other references (non-cited, please check these out if you want to expand your knowledge further on these relevant topics):

1. The Pentagon Releases Its 5-Year Digital Modernization Strategy:

2. OMB Circular A-130, “Managing Information as a Strategic Resource”.

3. New Digital Strategy: DoD CIO To Oversee All $46.4B In DoD IT:

4. Digital Modernization to Benefit Warfighters, DoD CIO Says.

5. DoD Cyber Strategy.

6. DOD Cloud Has Leading Uses For Warfighter, Officials Say:

7. BCG: How Governments Can Get Technology Transformations Right.

8. BCG: With ERP and Digital Support Functions, It’s Not Either-Or — It’s Both.

9. BCG: Upskilling and Reskilling for the Digital Age.

10. BCG: Building Critical Skills and Capabilities with Learning Programs.

11. BCG: Six Simple Steps Pave the Way to the Cloud.

12. BCG: For Many Enterprise Applications, the Cloud Is Ready for Prime Time.

Boston Consulting Group | Army Officer - #Cloud #Cybersecurity #Cryptocurrency #BCG #Army

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