DDS Chief of Staff Says Digital Transformation is “Designing With, Not For” End Users

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Defense Digital Service (DDS) Chief of Staff Katie Olson said today that DDS is helping the Defense Department (DoD) achieve digital transformation by “designing with, not for” end users.

At an FCW workshop, Olson said that although DDS employees have two-year tenures at the agency, the work they do is collaborative across DoD as a whole to help make more permanent change. One digital transformation project DDS is working on, Olson added, is a project to modernize the background investigation process to overcome challenges of sharing data across agencies to help improve background vetting.

The background investigation project is one of many DDS has worked on. Olson said that DDS has had, since it was launched in 2014, over 29 projects, 22 rogue squadrons, 33 waivers to stand up new technology in DoD, and 17 bug bounties – all of which have required partnerships across agencies and DoD.

Two other projects Olson highlighted are the Hack the Pentagon program – which involves looking at DoD digital assets to uncover with “ethical hackers” bugs in different systems before malicious actors get into them – as well as the Digital Dojo program to remake Army Cyber Command’s Army Cyber School curriculum.

Olson said that Hack the Pentagon has required DDS to reach out to and collaborate with external professionals to participate in the project, and that Hack the Pentagon will continue into the future beyond any one individual’s tenure at DDS, making the project long-lasting and beneficial for DoD.

The Digital Dojo Program, Olson added, involved DDS working with Army Cyber Command to revamp the Army’s approach to educating its cyber workforce.

“We, shoulder-to-shoulder, went in to the Army Cyber School and helped remake the curriculum,” Olson said. “We sat in on classes, helped the instructors plan the curriculum, and we’ve actually shortened the amount of time that it takes [to train the students], and we think it has made the curriculum much more effective in terms of what they’re learning.”

Olson underscored that the success DDS has seen as been through the collaborative culture its engendered within its goal of advancing DoD’s digital assets.

“This idea of designing with and not for users – I can’t underscore that enough,” Olson said. “It’s really important to be embedded with the people who are ultimately going to be using the technology to make sure that we’ve gotten you not only the product itself, but also the supporting processes as well.”

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