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"Platforms of the Future" Speakers Find Solutions in Emerging Technologies

In “Platforms of the Future,” DAU's flagship event of the summer, speakers closed the day with a discussion on next-generation ideas. The speakers discussed how to find an anchor point and pivot…
"Platforms of the Future" Speakers Find Solutions in Emerging Technologies

"Platforms of the Future" Speakers Find Solutions in Emerging Technologies

In “Platforms of the Future,” DAU's flagship event of the summer, speakers closed the day with a discussion on next-generation ideas. The speakers discussed how to find an anchor point and pivot and how to interact with people, technology and industry.

Anchoring and Pivoting to the Future

“Research shows that our brains dislike change,” said Steffanie Easter, Vice President, St­rategy, Defense and Civilian Sector, SAIC. “I believe that each of you has the capacity to lead through and effectively navigate the perpetual change and uncertainty that is our future.”

To do that, Easter said each person needs to find their anchor.

“The purpose of your anchor is to steady you, like a rock-climbing anchor,” she said. “Your anchor not only steadies you; it allows you to pivot so you can see the opportunity in the change, not just the problems and challenges.”

DoD will need to anchor, pivot and adapt to changes to leverage the opportunities they present.

“Having an anchor allows you to take risk,” Easter said, highlighting how as she moved through new stages in her career, she relied on her knowledge of engineering and the problem-solving process as her anchor.

“The only thing that is certain about the future is that change and uncertainty are coming,” Easter said. “Find your anchor and get ready to move.”

Throughout DoD, several opportunities are present for the workforce and leadership to pivot and use. These opportunities are present in how DoD connects people, understands technology and innovates with industry.

Increasing the Velocity of People

Zach Baumann, co-founder, Air Force Gaming, described a concept he called the “velocity of people."

"[Velocity of people is] measurement of the rate at which collisions happen in a society, or an organization,” he said. “Higher velocity of people, healthier organization” by providing additional benefits, such as an improved rate of sharing.

Through Air Force Gaming, Baumann hoped to increase the amount of collisions among Airmen.

“We set out to create a digital water cooler,” Baumann said. “Gamers are constantly making new friends and keeping up with their old ones and doing it all while they are having some good old-fashioned fun. … Fun breeds collisions. Collisions breed trust. Trust breeds innovation.”

And innovation was something the Air Force was looking for.

"We agree with our senior leaders that our Air Force was dying for connection,” Baumann said.

Baumann was surprised by the strong response he received, with Airmen making the connection by volunteering to support Air Force Gaming with their various talents.

“What the heck was happening,” he asked. “We weren’t sure, but it was a freaking blast.”

While others, critical of Air Force Gaming, openly questioned it, the platform grew.

“AFG gathered more than 16,000 users in less than 6 months,” Baumann said. “Programmers. Linguists. Special Forces. Engineers. The DoD is on a mad hunt to find, retain and develop digital fluency. Can somebody let them know that I know a good spot?”

“If you want to accelerate change, you must first accelerate people,” Baumann said. “Air Force Gaming is accelerating the velocity of people.”

Turning to New Technologies

During her presentation, Easter said, “Technology enables humans, and humans must be able to trust technology."

"Platforms of the Future" MC Travis Stewart, Dean of DAU's Kettring, OH, campus, introduces the final four speakers of the event and DAU Vice President Frank Kelley to the online audience during the last Behind the Scenes session with the speakers.

Alex McLeod, Lead Asset Manager, Close As You Go, picked up where she left off, proposing that there currently exists an evolving technology designed to enable humans to trust in it. This technology is blockchain.

She described blockchain as “a powerful weapon we should prioritize in our arsenal thanks to its attributes of immutability, resiliency and transparency.”

Blockchain is a type of distributed database that, due to the way the various nodes on it communicate, improves trust in systems.

“Although perfect security does not exist,” McLeod said, “a blockchain solution could help certify the integrity of that software update, protecting us against future threats.”

Blockchain will also enable transparency.

“Transparency fosters trust, a key tenet of innovation,” McLeod said.

Much like Air Force Gaming’s increased velocity of people built the trust in the platform to go from a small community to over 16,000 people, blockchain solutions allow verification and transparency.

“Increasing speed and agility, while staying in line with policy and regulations is extremely hard,” McLeod said. “And this is where innovation and momentum can get stifled. Incorporating blockchain into solutions can help power the transparency we need to innovate… blockchain allows you to trust, but verify.”

Blockchain is just one of the many developing technologies that DoD may decide to leverage. To do that though, DoD is going to have to find new ways to work with industry.

Unleashing Venture Capital

Maj. David Rothzeid, a U.S. Air Force acquisition officer laid out a unique problem.

“Back in 1960, the U.S. accounted for 69 percent of global research and development, of which 36 percent of that was rooted in the DoD. Today, U.S. R&D accounts for 24 percent of global R&D, and DoD’s share of global R&D is now less than 3.5 percent," he said.

The commercial sector, not Government, is now driving innovation.

“And chief behind this incredible growth is the venture capital community,” Rothzeid said.

Rothzeid believes that DoD needs to realize that venture capitalists (VC) are “better positioned and resourced to identify the next disruptive technology companies and innovative entrepreneurs.”

Rothzeid realized that the acquisition community often did not fully understand how venture capitalists work or how acquisition professionals could leverage venture capitalists to benefit the warfighter. Venture capitalists, he explained, provide risk capital to new companies, trusting that their initial investment will see returns.

“For every company a VC invests in, they will on average meet over a hundred,” Rothzeid said, explaining the due diligence and market research VCs used to make their investments. The tenacious market diligence VCs conduct is how they ensure their money sees a return. “For program managers performing R&D or modernization efforts and trying to harness new technology for existing requirements, I suggest we put in the request for information and proposals for companies to identify whether they are backed by VCs,” Rothzeid said. This signals the need for dual-use technology and enable acquisition professionals to see if other investors have validated a company’s value.

Next, Rothzeid said that leveraging VCs would allow DoD to stretch dollars more effectively.

“By negotiating funding milestones, the Government can protect scarce R&D funding with promising, yet unproven technology companies, by pushing the company to develop revenue streams in the commercial sector,” he said. “This helps buy down the risk as the company proves its go-to-market strategy.”

Finally, as acquisition professionals build relationships and portfolios of VCs, they can leverage this information to provide insight into the market and emerging technologies.

“All of us as acquisition professionals need to hone our skills and think more broadly. For far too long we have trained and raced alone,” Rothzeid said. “Venture capital is the lifeline for the next crop of technology.”

Ultimately, whether it is finding new ways to connect with people, to exploit new technologies, or to work with industry in novel ways, each member of the acquisition workforce needs to embrace the coming change, find their anchor, pivot and move.

Videos of the talks are available now. You must be logged in to DAU Media to view the videos. Don’t have a DAU ID? Request one now.

"Platforms of the Future" Speakers Find Solutions in Emerging Technologies Matt Sablan