Transforming U.S. Air Force Information Technology

Two weeks ago, a group from Isobar’s Federal Team attended the Air Force IT & Cyberpower Conference (AFITC) in Montgomery, Alabama. The conference brings together over three thousand people from the U.S Air Force, other U.S. military branches, and the technology industry to discuss strategies and advancements in IT and cyber security. It was an exciting few days – Isobar’s current customer experience, development, and DevOps work for the USAF was featured in several keynotes and breakout sessions throughout the conference.

Here are some key takeaways from the conference: 

USAF leadership embraced employee and user experience as top priorities

General Holmes, the Commander of Air Combat Command and one of six 4 star generals in the USAF, set the tone for the conference by talking about Air Force employee experience. Referencing the work that Isobar has done to help the Air Force understand their employees and their needs, General Holmes talked about the impact aging IT infrastructure has on the ability of Airmen to do their jobs. They are seeing frustrated airmen leaving the Air Force to join the commercial world because they do not feel empowered by IT to do their job. This theme was shared by senior leadership throughout the conference.

The importance of user experience was also emphasized during hands-on workshops led by Colt Whittall, the Air Force’s new Chief Experience Officer. In groups, attendees evaluated several of the most highly used Air Force personnel sites with the goal of identifying current user challenges and opportunities for improvement. It was an opportunity for conference attendees with non-experience design backgrounds to begin thinking with a UX mindset.  

The Future of the Air Force is enabled by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Andrew Moore, Vice President at Google and head of Google Cloud AI, took the stage to talk about the current maturity of AI in organizations around the world. He equated the maturity of AI being used in organizations today to the maturity of how businesses used the Internet in 1994. He predicts that by 2021 75% of all enterprise applications will use AI. That Andrew was invited to give a keynote address signals the importance the Air Force is placing on AI. 

There are currently several initiatives at the Air Force focused on using AI & Machine Learning to gather insights from USAF data and open source data sources. Use cases touch on almost all aspects of the USAF, including predictive analytics for aircraft maintenance, personnel readiness, force planning, and understanding global stability. It is clear that the Air Force understands that these efforts are not just technology projects, and require multi-disciplinary teams that include designers, technologists, data scientists, and subject matter experts.

Automation will play an important role in the technology evolution of the Air Force

The Air Force sees automation as a key to addressing a number of challenges, including allocating manpower more efficiently to missions and improving security in IT systems. They see automation as fundamental to the cloud story and their understanding of the value of DevSecOps. The Air Force is seriously experimenting with automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and are in the process of evaluating tools such as UI Path that can free up airmen to focus on higher order cognitive tasks by reducing the burden of tedious manual processes.

DevSecOps via Software Factories is a major theme for new development of capabilities that align with rapid ATO process

Four different Software Factories (Kessel Run, Level Up, SpaceCamp, and BESPIN) were represented at various levels of maturity with an emphasis on building Cloud Native solutions. Their objectives are lofty but very inspiring and would eventually allow for code to be written, submitted via CI/CD, employ continuous monitoring on a Zero Trust Network and deploy to Production in a much faster timeframe than normal operations. These new platforms are roughly organized by the systems they support (e.g., Business Applications or Weapons Systems). Each of these offer significant opportunities for Isobar development and system engineering work. These projects are also targeted by USAF personnel as key areas to be staffed as its cutting edge Cloud work and is also the hottest area in the Cloud Industry too. 

Cloud One is becoming the standard for hosting and PaaS solutions to the USAF and Army

What started in August of 2017 with a small team of engineers to identify the DOD required Azure and AWS architecture to scale and handle hundreds of applications, is now operational and has become a unifying and trusted solution for increased migrations and is being enforced by top USAF leadership. From keynotes by General Skinner and Bill Marion, Deputy CIO for the USAF, to various breakout sessions staffed by many USAF leaders, the Common Computing Environment (aka Cloud One) efforts were consistently identified as the strategic path forward for meeting the biggest Digital and Multi-Domain challenges. With over 30 operational applications now in Cloud One zones, this solution was stated as the defacto location for moving all application missions to the cloud. This will continue to lower operating cost and significantly improve speed to market for new USAF and Army capabilities. Isobar efforts of the last two years for Cloud One received top billing in keynote and breakout sessions.

Air Force IT and technology leadership prioritizes time for feedback about IT challenges
For the first time at the conference, USAF IT and technology leadership held an open session that encouraged conference attendees to share current challenges they are experiencing while building and maintaining Air Force systems and applications. The session was highly productive—conference attendees voiced a range of issues and the leadership panel explained the current plans in place to address the issues. The discussion also produced several ideas on how Air Force technology personnel and IT leadership can better collaborate and share information. 

Isobar was a sponsor of the AFCEA Chapter’s High School Education Day and we were proud to see our name displayed on the t-shirts of the students honored at the event.