When Susan Lawrence quit her waitressing job in her hometown of Ida Grove, Iowa, to enlist in the Army, smart phones and network-centric warfare were not part of the common vernacular.

Lawrence enlisted in what was then the Women’s Army Corps one week after her 18th birthday, specializing in home economics, typing and shorthand. Today, Lawrence is a lieutenant general and chief information officer of the Army overseeing a $10 billion information technology budget.

Throughout her Army career, where she has commanded at every level from platoon to signal command, Lawrence said she has relished challenging assignments. And her current job is no exception.
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A Sea Change

The Army is in the throes of a modernization effort that will transform the way it develops, buys and fields new technology. The plan centers on creating a capable, reliable and trusted network that allows the Army to collaborate with anyone anywhere in the world and provide every soldier access wherever they are.

This will be a sea change for the Army, which has been spending time and money on multiple networks that don’t talk to one another, data that is hard to access and technology that takes too long to acquire and field, Lawrence said.

“You cannot share information across 30-plus networks,” she said. “They are all built differently with different standards with different configurations. We will have to direct the standards, direct the configurations and direct the common operating environment.”

The Army, like other government organizations, is being forced to do more with less, which means that it can only afford one networking environment, and that is the LandWarNet. “We’ve talked about it for a long time, but we have never enforced it,” Lawrence said.

Cybersecurity underpins everything in the Army’s modernization plans. It is a challenging opportunity, Lawrence said, because the Army has to balance the need for sharing information with the need for protecting the information.

In Congressional testimony in April, Teri Takai, Defense Department CIO, said that DOD networks are under constant attacks from cybersecurity threats launched from the Internet and malicious software embedded in e-mail attachments or removable media. DOD spends more than $2 billion a year on information assurance and cybersecurity.

Some of the plans the Army has on tap to counter those threats include enabling constant monitoring of machine-to-machine activity, reducing the number of access points into the network by creating regional hubs, giving each person a single identity on the network so they can access data from anywhere even via a handheld device from the field, and moving data to the cloud.

Constant monitoring automatically flags anomalies on the network, similar to when a credit card company calls to check on suspicious charges on an account. It is easier to monitor five regional hubs, Lawrence said, than it is to monitor numerous access points.

“It takes very little money to attack us in the cyber environment,” she said. “You just need a computer and to be hosted somewhere. So that’s why those kinds of monitoring and architecture reviews are important.”

Data Access from Anywhere

The Army has just finished setting up its fifth regional hub node at Camp Roberts, Calif. Using a suitcase-size satellite terminal, soldiers can connect to one of those regional hub nodes from anywhere in the world and have access to their network and data. Soldiers in Afghanistan are testing droid-like devices that connect to LandWarNet via a secure tactical radio. The devices, which they wear on their sleeves, give them real-time reports and data so they know, for instance, where enemy or friendly forces are.

“Whether it is a squad going out on a humanitarian effort or an entire division in major combat operations, you will connect to the network and your data will be there,” Lawrence said.

Having an end-to-end network also helps the Army maintain continuity in wartime situations. For instance, before the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Afghanistan, the Army installed the Afghan mission network in Gen. James Huggins’ headquarters, Lawrence said.

“He wasn’t on the tactical network, he was on THE network,” she said. “Every day he had the operational update and the intelligence update, and he knew exactly what his mission was going to be when he landed in Afghanistan because he was part of it every single day.”

Having a single identity on the network makes it easy and safer to access data from anywhere. DOD’s Common Access Card provides that single identity to Army employees and gives them access to their e-mail and other data on the network, no matter where they are located.

The Army is testing a plan to allow users to connect their personal mobile device to the network using the CAC as a means of identification and authentication. Because the Army has embraced virtualized computing, the data is kept in the cloud, not on an individual device or a server under a desk, which improves security.

“You connect to the network, we authenticate it’s you, we scan your device so we can be sure there is no virus or malware on it, and then you have access to your authorized portion of the cloud,” Lawrence said. “At the end of the day, when you unplug, that data stays in the cloud. If you lose your Droid, we don’t care because our data is not there. It remains in the cloud. That will go a long way to securing our information.”

‘Disciplining Ourselves into Compliance’

Taking personal responsibility for network security is also essential, Lawrence said. “When you read about our security infractions, it’s almost always because someone did not follow policy or procedures,” Lawrence said. “Disciplining ourselves into compli¬ance is a big part of what we must do in security operations. I am glad we are recognizing it for what it is. It is a warfighting domain; it is a threat.”

Another important effort is under way to introduce new technology such as mobile devices and wireless technology into the Army much faster through Network Integration Evaluations, which take place at Fort Bliss twice a year. During the evaluations, the Army tests products to see if they can fill a ca¬pability or technology gap. For instance, at the last test, the Army found a commercial product that solved a radio interoperability problem.

“If we build this environment and it doesn’t meet the needs of what our soldiers and leaders need, then we won’t get it right.”

“We have to acquire IT much faster than we do today,” Lawrence said. “Today we are held under the same standards and regulations for how we acquire a tank or a helicopter, and as we all know, IT turns over every 12 to 24 months.”

How security is incorporated into the network is part of the exercises. “If you think about security as an afterthought, it will never be secure,” Lawrence said. “Security has to be in the design of a product from the very beginning or we won’t achieve what we want to achieve.”

However, all those efforts will be futile without enforcement of a common operating environment. As a result, the Army is directing the LandWarNet architecture and standards “so everybody can’t bring their own products and build their own environment,” Lawrence said.
At one point, the Army had 13 types of handheld devices and 28 network management tools on the network. “When you are trying to put together a net¬work with 28 different network management tools, it’s almost impossible,” she said. The Army also plans to reduce its network applications – mainly old applications – by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Those are lofty goals, and Lawrence knows it won’t be easy. “Sometimes it’s hard for someone to understand, but it will make their lives easier,” she said. “It will make industry’s lives easier if we publish these standards.”

Out of The Comfort Zone

Change comes with the territory. Lawrence has a sign hanging in her office that reads: “Change is good. You go first.” But the Army’s shrinking budget will act as a great motivator. The secretary of the Army has tasked Lawrence to return $1.5 billion to the Army by fiscal 2015. Where will the savings come from? Enterprise e-mail will give back about $100 million annually, data center consolidation will return another $100 million, and enterprise licensing will save millions. This is just a start.

But despite all the efforts to become more efficient, Lawrence points out that in the Army, overall mission accomplishments and effectiveness outweigh efficiencies. “Everything I am doing is not necessarily about efficiencies. It’s about building an interoperable network that can collaborate with our partners and being able to secure our networks and protect our information. The great second order of effect is that we are gaining efficiencies as we’re doing it.”

It’s also important to understand and try to meet users’ needs, Lawrence said. “If we build this environment and it doesn’t meet the needs of what our soldiers and leaders need, then we won’t get it right. They want mobile devices on the network. I hear them. I got it. Now how are we going to do it while securing our networks and protecting our information?”

Being a good listener is important to Lawrence, and she is in constant contact with the senior civilians and colonels “who really run the organization” to get them to think strategically. One of the ways she has learned from her bosses: “They never let me get into my comfort zone. They always pushed me into something bigger and better than just doing my job. Now I say to my team, ‘I will never let you stay in your comfort zone.'”

Every week she asks her young leaders to tell her three things they did to make the Army a better Army. Although it was hard at first, they are catching on, Lawrence said. “I think most of them realized how important they are to our success. If we’re going to be successful in the CIO’s office and do all the things we’ve been asked to do, it will be because of them.”

It’s important to share ideas as the Army goes through its changes. “The thing that has been the best for me is my collaboration with my partners in industry, in academia and in the other services. I don’t need to learn the lessons again if they already have,” Lawrence said. “In fact, I redesigned one of my directorates based on the Air Force and how they look at their enforcement of policies. So the time I spend with those individuals is very important.”

Lawrence knows that her job requires perseverance, something she understands intimately.
She has served in operational assignments in Europe, Korea, Southwest Asia and the United States and has held positions in three different divisions, two corps, and now as CIO/G6. During this time, she earned her bachelor of science degree from Campbell University in North Carolina and a master’s degree in information systems management from the University of Georgia. She is also a cancer survivor.

When Lawrence was going through her cancer treatments, her team commissioned a mosaic that sits framed in her office. It depicts her life story from when she enlisted in the Army up until she made general.

Still, Lawrence hesitates to take all the credit for her success.

“How did I get here? I worked with some fabulous people and I had bosses who had a lot of faith and confidence in me and continued to challenge me,” Lawrence said. “As an 18-year-old private at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to even dream of being the CIO at the U.S. Army was impossible.”