Transforming ICT Support to Army TrainingBy Gordon Terry November 7, 2019
“If the Army wanted me to use a computer, then they would issue me one” - Unknown trainee
Army is transforming how it trains. However, Training Centres (TCs) continue to operate under the constraints of a protected enterprise network (the DPN) where technically simple innovations are made difficult by complex accreditation and slow change processes. Historically the standalone network (SN) was the panacea to cure the many ills of the DPN and TCs developed their own SNs to meet their user requirements.
Due to the perceived cyber-threat and increased costs associated with SNs, Defence has been attempting to rationalise the number of SNs and push users back onto the DPN. While this may work for some it is unlikely to provide the agility required by TCs seeking to transform training for their varied training audiences.
So the challenge before Army is how do we develop an ICT environment that enables training transformation if the enterprise network is unsuitable and we can’t use a SN? Thanks to a number of unaligned but complimentary projects and initiatives being pursued by Defence (JP2047/ADELE/DREAMS10) the conditions exist to genuinely transform the provision of ICT support to training.
Course content up to FOUO (i.e. most ACOSTC and IET courses) can now be made available through the internet using ADELE(U) nullifying the requirement for a SN to provide a Learning Management System (LMS). Meanwhile, DREAMS provides a means of accessing content only available on the DPN from the internet. The Defence Wireless Internet (DWI) network can already provide trainees connectivity to these domains if it is rolled out to the required learning spaces (classrooms/theatres). So assuming all content resides on ADELE(U) or the DPN, and trainees can access the internet and DREAMS via the DWI, then all we’re missing is the laptop.
Unfortunately maintaining large fleets of UNCLAS laptops without network infrastructure to deliver updates and patches is manpower intensive and does not represent the best use of Army’s technical workforce and we will lose much of this infrastructure as we close down SNs. But just like “non-techs” in the armoury, there is a way to distribute this workload to trainees; the solution is to develop a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.
With minimal defined device requirements, other than the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network and launch an internet browser, trainees would be free to procure, and work from, their preferred device. Sensible controls such as password protection and contemporary anti-virus software would have minimal impact on the user’s experience and importantly there would be no increased cost to Defence (less a requirement for Defence to continue to increase investment in DWI and DREAMS).
While there are few technical barriers to this concept, the cultural shift would be significant. There is an expectation across Defence that the workforce is provided with the tools to do their job; to suddenly be required to outlay approximately $1,000 for a device that may only be required six weeks a year would no doubt generate resistance across all ranks.
A potential solution to this would be a triennial re-imbursement of (for arguments sake) $1,000 to all Army permanent personnel to offset the purchase of a laptop to access online learning resources. Such a reimbursement could totally offset the cost of an adequate laptop with appropriate warranty. Such re-imbursements already exist for members in certain roles and a larger scale trial with similar mechanics was run circa 2013 in Townsville, enabling soldiers to purchase approved boots and seek reimbursement.
A sensible extension of this concept would be to provide students with a modest ‘mobile data allowance’ calculated as a daily rate while they are on course, a rate of $3/day may be appropriate. Trainees would now be equipped to access and complete course requirements without TCs having to maintain SNs or UNCLAS laptop fleets.
While this would not be a silver bullet that could enable the total removal of SNs it would provide an alternative for Army’s high volume courses. It would also equip army to be more agile in other distributed learning initiatives and enable units to facilitate ADELE(U) enabled training rapidly and without specific facility requirements.
Such a program would also provide valuable insight into the viability of reducing the quantity of desktop terminals required in ordinary workplaces and commence a cultural shift away from the mindset of “Army must provide me a computer to do my job”.
What about digital signatures and printing? DREAMS enables the use of digital signatures and ADELE(U) enables online submissions, so this should eliminate most course printing requirements. Additionally, making the DPN printer portal available through the DWI would enable printing as required.
How are we going to get everyone a DREAMS token? Making the app available for Android devices would be big step in the right direction but also enabling single factor authentication to DREAMS from DWI would eliminate the requirement for a token.
Why reimburse? Why not just tell people to claim it back on tax? A reimbursement more accurately compensates the member and ensures that they can meet the minimum device requirement and not be out of pocket. A tax-claim would see most members only recover ~30 cents on the dollar for their initial outlay.
Would it save money? Probably not in the short term but most likely in the long term. This concept does not support reducing APS staff and will not remove all SNs. It will also require capital investment in the DWI and up to $10m/year in recurring funding to provide the reimbursements. The only immediate saving is the reduced requirement to purchase laptops for each TC, a modest reduction in software license costs and the reduced sustainment funding as SNs are decommissioned.
Could this replace all desktops in workplaces? If everyone has DREAMS and DWI access, then this could be the first step in reducing the number of desktop workstations required. However there would be certain environments where BYOD is not a practical replacement for a desktop. What it could support in the short term is a significant reduction in the requirement for DPN computer labs in Bde locations. If all soldiers have a laptop and data connection then commanders at all levels can facilitate training at the point of need with just an FS Table and a couple of power boards.
Will this reduce the requirement for APS IT staff? Absolutely not. There will still be a requirement to generate and manage DWI accounts and maintain a small fleet of UNCLAS laptops (for foreign national trainees, personal laptop failures during course, etc). There are also TCs where SNs will still need to exist. However, what this concept will do is generate capacity within the APS IT workforce to direct towards managing ADELE(U) and developing digital learning content. These tasks are largely undertaken by instructors in most TC increasing their individual tempo and causing friction as postings occur.