Last year’s ransomware attacks on the Colonial gas pipeline and JBS, a global leader in meat distribution, have exposed the need for commercial and government industries to prioritize their cybersecurity. To help this process, in November 2021 NCMS launched a collaboration between the US Air Force and BigBear.ai. This collaboration—Digital Transformation of Cyber Operations for Acquisition and Sustainment Operation—is using the US Air Force as a test bed to ensure that legacy acquisition and procurement processes have robust cybersecurity protections.
“The objective is to take the traditional acquisition and development process that the government uses and transform it into a Lean-Agile enterprise that can independently sustain the delivery of high quality, secure, and valued capability at the speed of need for their customers to protect the US and its resources from cyberattacks,” said Tom Tschuor, Senior Vice President of Defense Service Solutions at BigBear.ai.
BigBear.ai and the Air Force collaborated to develop a training program that combines Lean and Agile approaches. Put simply, “Lean” is a quality improvement and management philosophy focused on reducing waste and improving workplaces. The term “Agile” has multiple definitions and, in this case, applies to a framework that allows flexibility, minimizes risk, and adapts to emerging requirements while maintaining and sustaining current operations. Combining Lean and Agile approaches promotes a single strategy for continuous innovation and development.
The initiative is applying the Lean-Agile approach to the US Air Force’s Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division and demonstrating their solution using the Air Force’s Unified Platform (UP), a software platform designed to consolidate cyber capabilities across the DOD for joint cyber warfighters. The goal is to ensure successful execution by rapidly fielding secure, fully integrated, interoperable cyberspace capabilities.
The project began in February 2022 with an agility assessment report to identify organizational challenges and improvements needed for responding to urgent and emergent cyberwarfare operations. After assessing these needs, the team delivered customized training in Lean-Agile principles and methodologies, including Jira software (an Agile project management tool), Kanban/Sprint boards, metric reports, risk management, planning, collaboration, and continuous improvement. By conducting “train-the-trainer” instruction on Agile processes, the initiative also established an initial cadre of Agile coaches to sustain the Lean-Agile cyber operations workforce pipeline. This training breaks down legacy acquisition organizational silos through the instantiation of “DevSecOps”—the harmonized combination of development, application security, and operations.
The Lean-Agile framework ensures that the cyber unit is adaptable to the dynamic nature of offensive and defensive cyber operations and rapidly responsive to adversarial attacks. Beyond the Air Force, this initiative directly supports the senior DOD’s strategy of cultivating, expanding, and enabling a foundational cyber workforce trained to conduct decentralized development and experimentation in cyberspace while remaining a dominant power in global cybersecurity operations. The collaboration has completed the first two phases and is working on the third one.
“Phase three focuses on taking the solutions we developed in the first two phases and building on those capabilities to deliver a larger-scaled solution,” said Tschuor. “This will provide insight into how the defensive cyber applications can support commercial and business operations.”
The project, scheduled to wrap up in 2023, will enable a stronger global defense industrial base and allow for the delivery of high-quality cybersecurity for both government and commercial enterprises. From integrating Lean-Agile approaches into their systems, processes will be adaptable across the spectrum of business sectors. With this advancement, businesses will be equipped with an ability to rapidly produce high-quality, innovative, digitally enabled products and services. These advances will enable a continuous delivery pipeline of software and tools embedded with DevSecOps practices and compliances to reduce the cyber vulnerabilities faced by the general public today.
“If we can’t evolve and create defensive tools quickly enough, then we’re vulnerable to cyberattacks,” said Tschuor. “Without effective cybersecurity measures in place, a lot of systems potentially can be compromised, such as power infrastructure, the internet, and even the food supply.”
Along with improving cybersecurity, this initiative will enable better efficiencies in complex, software-intensive transformations. As results from this project have shown, the transformation plan employed is capable of creating and maturing an adaptive, cadence-based release system design that supports the growing software infrastructure. Additionally, this initiative will demonstrate how alternative scaling frameworks can be used for software development and sustainment. These scaling frameworks could help businesses leap from rigid hierarchies and infrastructure models to a more collaborative approach capable of rapid responses to emerging requirements.
“I’m very excited about the government program offices being able to deliver value much more quickly to their customers,” said Tschuor. “Delivering that value continuously and as quickly as things change in the cyber areas is critical to keep ahead of the threats.”