WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The Army has been relatively successful at putting in some big enterprise systems. In just the business sector of information technology alone, roughly 800 systems are in place across the Army, according to Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon.

"You can imagine the interface between them," he continued, meaning they don't all interface together very well. For instance, even seemingly trivial things like how a date is entered or how far to the right a decimal point is placed can cause big interface problems between systems that calculate things differently.

Cardon, director of the Office of Business Transformation, spoke Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare-sponsored breakfast.

To get a handle on all of these systems, he said, the Army conducted what he termed a "time analysis," with the goal of putting each business IT system into one of four categories: invest, mitigate, eliminate or tolerate.

As a result of the analysis, it was decided that the Army would bring the number of business IT systems down to about 400 from the current 800, but the Army will still need to make some investments in new IT systems, he said, citing the need for an enterprise system to track Soldiers' leave.

The current system of accounting for leave, he said, is a manual process involving handwritten forms and more than a dozen steps, plus seven to eight more steps once the Soldier returns to duty.

Imagine how many transactional errors can take place during this process, Cardon said. "Thousands." And the Defense Finance and Accounting Service keeps track of all those errors and charges the Army for them, he added.

A new mobile-device-enabled personnel system will eventually replace the pen and paper system. "That's transformational," he said. "There's [transformational] stuff like this going on all across the Army."

PREVENTING BLACK SWAN EVENTS

During his previous assignment, Cardon was the commander of Army Cyber Command. Speaking from that cyber perspective, he cautioned that aggregating data into fewer IT systems can present some security challenges. He wants to avoid the kind of data breach that affected the Office of Personnel Management in 2015, resulting in the theft of millions of personnel records.

The Army may look to private industry to solve a lot of big data challenges, he added, calling for feasibility studies of public-private partnerships.

For example, the Army might use the power of artificial intelligence to get a better handle on risk assessment through Monte Carlo simulations, particularly of black swan events, he said. Monte Carlo simulations are an objective way of harnessing big data. A black swan event refers to a surprise event that has a major impact.

Cardon said he was impressed by Hack the Pentagon and Hack the Army events last year that offered cash rewards to hackers who could find vulnerabilities in a select number of public Army websites. Events like those with friendly "red team" opposition forces could help prevent a black swan attack.

HARNESSING PEOPLE POWER

Over the decades, many young Soldiers have had a many great, transformational ideas, Cardon said. The problem for the Army was that those great ideas didn't always make their way up the chain to someone who could implement them.

In October, the Army launched Army Ideas for Innovation, or AI2, a digital crowdsourcing program that solicits ideas for how the Army can become more innovative. Any member of the Department of Defense community with a CAC card can participate. AI2 is located at https://www.milsuite.mil/book/community/spaces/ai2.

At that site, which is a SharePoint portal, those ideas are crowdsourced and, if they pass muster, elevated to appropriate staff agencies. "It may not be perfect," he said. "But it has potential to harness the power of our workforce and innovation."

TECHNOLOGY NOW IN HYPERDRIVE

Cardon said the fast pace of technological change should be a wake-up call for the Army, a force intent on maintaining its overmatch advantage. While the warfighting community has embraced innovation and disruptive technologies, he said, the business side of the Army has some catching up to do.

Civilian corporations are similarly faced with the growing threat of disruptive new technologies and processes, he said. Traditionally, companies on the Fortune 500 lineup have averaged 90 years on that list. Today, it's more like 15.

As a centuries-old institution, the Army must be mindful of the danger of obsolescence amid this surge in technological innovation. Cardon illustrated the point using the following time travel analogy.

If you took a Soldier from 1917, the year America entered World War I, and dropped him into 1940, early World War II, the Soldier would encounter modern but still recognizable armaments and organizational structures. On the other hand, if you dropped a Soldier from 1914, before America's entry into World War I, into 1940, it would all be new to him.

Since that time, Carden proposed, the pace of technological advance has moved so rapidly that a Soldier from just 10 years ago would find the technology of today almost as new and daunting as Soldier from 1914 would find the world of 1940.

ROAD AHEAD

Cardon said there's a great opportunity for accelerated business transformation in the Army, as the new administration, along with Congress and the new secretary of Defense, are making transformation a priority.

Cardon predicts, once all the political appointments are filled, the pace of that change will quickly pick up.

"The challenge now," he said, "is how we organize for what is to come."

(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)