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Join Nick Miller and Lathan Turner as they delve into the crucial role of technology and innovation in national defense and security, focusing on the challenges and strategies for deploying software to government end users in regulated environments. Drawing from their extensive experience in AWS and the Air Force, respectively, this talk covers the hurdles of procurement policies, the need for accreditation, and the imperative of fostering stronger partnerships among coalition partners. Discover how to navigate the complexities of bringing disruptive technology to the Department of Defense and the significance of adopting a Prod (Production) playbook for what is termed as the decisive decade in defense innovation.


Nick Miller (0:14)

Cool. First, thanks for coming. My name's Nick Miller. I lead the AWS marketplace business for AWS, which is a service to help customers find, buy, and deploy software. I'll let Lathan do an intro and then we'll kick it off. I'm glad you found your way here 'cause I was worried nobody would be in the room 'cause Tradewinds is talking upstairs and they're doing awesome things. So go ahead, Lathan.

Lathan Turner (0:36)

Hey guys, good to be here. I just joined Second Front from Amazon. I lead global public sector for Second Front and we're providing automated delivery of software to government end users in regulated environments. And Nick and I go way back. We worked together at AWS and then I also have a second hat. I'm a reservist in the Air Force, been in the Air Force for 22 years. Intelligence, space, and cyber are my background.

Nick Miller (1:06)

Yeah, so the essence of this and kind of the framing of the entire talk is the Defense Innovation Board did a talk or a paper, a lot of big think tanks, you know, went into helping write this paper and it was kind of, you know, an innovation strategy for the decisive decade, right? And so as we thought about everything Bryon's doing with Prodacity and kind of this idea of coalition partners, how do we inspire people to think about what does a Production playbook or a Prod playbook look like for what is really this decisive decade? And let me maybe set some framing on the decisive decade, just to help you understand, right. The Defense Innovation Board is looking at how do we compete in a near peer environment? How does the Department of Defense compete in a near peer environment? And you know, I think everybody here who served and many of us have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, really realize the gravity of what competition in a peer environment looks like. All you have to do is look at what's going on in Gaza and see the gravity of that situation. And so if we're going to really innovate in this decisive decade, how do we help things get into Prod faster? What does that innovation playbook look like? And a lot of it comes down to competing with China and so competing with Russia. And so, Lathan, I might just turn it over to you to start and, you know, you've been in the community for a long time. You're in the Reserves right now. Like, as you think about kind of the Production, getting to Prod and helping with that, like help frame the challenge and what you've seen from your side as some of the challenges to kind of move forward and why are we thinking about how to get into Prod faster?

Lathan Turner (2:39)

Great question. So look, the US has been the technology leader in the world for so long, and I think we've gotten used to that. What we have to realize is that we are in a near peer environment at this stage. And because we have been the tech leader, that doesn't mean that adoption comes with that tech powerhouse. And we have issues on the adoption side because of procurement policies and structural environment that we have created over 60 years worth of policy that we have to overcome. And there's also an increase of resource demands to support existing legacy structures in the Department of Defense, which is also a challenge. A lot of the funding is going to supporting these legacy systems, which also disincentivizes going after new disruptive technology. Now let me frame it in on the Chinese perspective. China from 2007 to 2017 tripled their defense budget and investment into new technology. By 2020, they were 75% of the capability of the United States. That was three years ago. China does not also, they also don't have the same restrictions that we operate in on our context in a western context. They have very close parity and partnerships between government and private relationships. And they also mandate that private companies work with the government. Little different context here on our side. And so I think we have to solve for two major challenges from our context in order to maintain that near peer or to maintain the advantage in the world. Is acquisition and then the accreditation piece. You have to have a contract vehicle in order to sell to the government. You have to find that purchaser. And then you have to have the contract vehicle with the purchaser in order to sell your equipment or products. On the acquisition or on the accreditation piece, in order to ride on a government network, you need to be certified for your software's functionality and also security, which is important. And I think that from both of our contexts and where we're at, we're helping solve a lot of those challenges.

Nick Miller (5:07)

Yeah, no, I think it's right. Maybe just a user story. So in my prior life I worked at a firm that invested in venture-backed startup companies. I had a portfolio of 70 top tier venture-backed startup companies all wanting to serve the Department of Defense and wanting to serve the national security community. And every one of those transitions was Herculean by an end user, right? And it was just that initial transition. It wasn't what does scaled adoption look like? How do we want to build scaled adoption? And so when I came to the marketplace, I started to think about what might scaled adoption look like? How might we templatize the far from a product perspective and think about abstracting some of the hard requirements? And I actually went and talked to users. You know, some of the folks at Lathan and I used to, I talked to 'em and what they told me was, look, buying the software is actually so hard sometimes as we kind of lack the will to get to yes on just buying the software. And it prevents us from doing kind of even the next hard part of the problem, which Second Front I think is tackling, which is how do you, once you get the software, get it into production? What are some of the things you're seeing from your users, Lathan, around strategies to maybe get things into the production, templatizing the landing zone? How are you thinking about solving this vision where any application at any time can get to ATO?

Lathan Turner (6:25)

Well, I think you have to address some of the culture aspects within the community. A lot of people say no because they don't know any different. They've been living and operating by a certain rules and parameters. And so I think you have to help them understand, number one, what are the benefits of the change and helping them provide their organization with the vision of what that outcome is. We've heard a lot about outcomes and outcome based decision making this morning as well. And providing that clear vision of what that outcome might be so that it can galvanize the community around it. And you have to recognize that, you know, when certain folks are saying, no, it's not because they are against it. You need to help them get there. So flood them with data. And one of the ways that we're doing that is by partnerships with companies like yourself, doing proofs of concept to provide, you know, true, you know, like examples on how they can get to production much faster.

Nick Miller (7:29)

Yeah, it's really interesting. One of the things our team thinks about is what is the pathway for an emerging stage company, somebody who wants to get into the defense and intelligence community, and how do we bend the cost curve to make that a lower cost path to market, right? How do I put maybe my firm, AWS's logo behind moving the cost curve down so that a venture startup company or an early stage company thinks, I want to sell into the federal government before I launch an AMEA practice, before I launch an APAC practice, before I maybe even deploy and go sell into perhaps adversarial territories, right? And the way I think about doing that in my role kind of leading the federal business is how do I provide pathways to get access to customers early and drive that bottoms up kind of motion in the government that seems to be lacking? Because of a 40 k procurement is almost as hard as a $100 million procurement, right? And because of that, we miss all of these opportunities to play to our strength and leverage the innovation that exists in industry because it's just too hard for them to go to market. And so we are building a playbook to help it, to make it easy to go to market under any vehicle that has cloud, not just at the unclassified level, but at the classified levels, so that you can get access to data, you can get access to users, and you can start to work through these in, you know, interim authority to test, certificate to field, ATL, whatever that looks like in your organization. But just getting access seems to be that innovation pipeline. Why don't you talk about maybe some examples you have where you've done this in practice or some of the experiences you had. I know you were one of the early employees at AWS helping bring cloud to the government. And you know, even then there were people who decided on-prem was more secure than cloud. Why don't you talk about some of the experiences you've had helping people get to yes. Kind of working through some of those cultural challenges. If I step back and look at that defense innovation board where they talk about the decisive decade, they kind of say our nation's awash in innovation and the problems are not technology related, they're cultural and process related. And so I know you have some great experiences kind of helping guide the customer through that. Any you want to share with us here?

Lathan Turner (9:40)

So thinking back on AWS territory, going back when we first won the C2S contract with CIA in 2013, there were a lot of organizational nos across the board. They wanted to protect their data centers and their data and they were scared to move to cloud. So we started with CIA, NRO, and NGA and we had developed stakeholder champions, Doug Wolf from CIA CIO, Sue Gordon from NGA, and then also Terry Duncan from the NRO. They were the champions that led their organization saying, no, this is going to be cloud first move. And they, we started small. It's let's get your information into storage first. And some of the challenges that we had is, you know, the storage costs at AWS were a little bit more expensive than what they were already paying for on-prem. So we worked very hard internally to lower the price of S3 and to deliver a greater service to the customer. Once they got their data, a lot of the data into the storage S3, we started working with our service teams to prioritize AIML services from NLP to... Our marketplace was also another example, bringing marketplace for into the intelligence community, into the secret and top secret regions, which was a lot of costs for us corporately, but we were wanting them to leverage these capabilities and drive those costs lower. And over time, all 18 intelligence agencies were on the C2S contract. But it was partnering with them and showing them the value of having their data in the cloud and being able to get to Mission quicker.

Nick Miller (11:34)

Yeah, I mean I'll talk about, you know, my former life, I ended up helping lead Arlington Cemetery through their digital transformation journey. In 2010 there were some scandals, Washington Post, headstones in the wrong grave. And a lot of what it was was an underlying technology challenge. They had put decades of investment in building that next gen system and it failed, right? And along the way in two years, we were able to take the organization from paper records to an iPhone application, literally in the iTunes store recognized by the DOD in the digital government strategy that went to the White House in OMB. But along the way there were so many nos that we got, oh, you can't have that in the Department of Defense because of this rule or this regulation. And so what I've often seen is getting through that "no" and getting the "yes" is hard. And where I'm looking at it from my lens is how do I help Mission speak acquisition so they can get through the acquisition burden, but it still puts the burden on Mission to get to yes. Any techniques you have in terms of, I know you talked about exposing 'em with data or lessons around how does Mission get to yes? Maybe talk about escalation and some of the things that you've seen work well to help get to yes and move through what are initial nos. 'Cause I think if Mission isn't getting through those initial nos, you never get the Prod. You have any insights there?

Lathan Turner (12:56)

You have to be firm in your beliefs, you know? And to be able to push against the nos. And if you can find a couple of internal champions, like I mentioned before, you know, the three major leaders from NRO NGA and CIA to help provide that top cover. But then if the operational level of the organization has data to operate off of, to justify that move, I think that's critical as well. And to get them excited on the outcomes that their lives are going to be better, they're going to be more efficient on their mission set. One of, so one of the things that excites me is we just got back from Australia playing in October Sky, and it's just an international example where, you know, we're translating digital enabled technologies into Mission outcomes. And we had three universities, 24 companies, industry invested $5 million of our own money to do this exercise. And we had five different outcomes. But one of the most impressive things is that we were able to do this in less than four months. And talking back to the partnership level, you know, it's really impressive when, you know, industry can come together to provide, you know, data and outcomes to help the Mission user, you know, prove this model out. So, you know, for the secure software effort, we were able to remediate 200 common vulnerabilities that we discovered as we were compiling software together for this. One serious critical vulnerability we identified, we remediated it in 24 hours, which was incredible. There were nine different companies working on this effort, and it really showed the strength of DevSecOps and what it can do for the Australian Defense Force. A couple of other things that we did. We did swarm tech sensor defeat, standoff strike, and then also proved out sustainable logistics. So again, you know, within two weeks we were able to deliver as a team, you know, to the ADF to show them the value of DevSecOps and technology.

Nick Miller (15:21)

Yeah, I'll riff on that because I think one of the things in my formative career, you know, 2005 I was in Iraq and I was sitting on a theater board, and what the theater board looked at was, what is everything that we need to support the Warfighter? What came through that board undoubtedly was commercial items. And kind of what you just said was, you know, how do we bring commercial items to the Australian Defense Forces and our five eye partners? And so fast forward to Afghanistan 2009, you know, I heard Bryon just talk about some of these programs that had spent billions of dollars and delivered. I got a call on a radio from a company commander who couldn't get internet for their Mission brief, right? For their troops going outside. And what was he using? He was using a commercial radio that was actually fielded because the Army's jitter program, $9 billion, no radios, failed to deliver, right? And so I come from a perspective as we can bring the innovation in America, the innovation that is represented in the commercial industry to bear on the Department of Defense Mission. You do two things. You make the Mission big, you make the budget bigger. It's hard to believe the Defense budget getting bigger, but when you leverage the investment that you just talked about from industry, you make the department's budget bigger to be able to do more with less. You also leverage the human capital partnerships, academic, right? You make the human capital looking at the Department of Defense's budget bigger to be able to solve these problems more efficiently. And I think this speaks to the scale that we need to bring through partnership.

Lathan Turner (16:52)

Yeah. And one other thing. This was US, Australian, and UK companies all coming together. And I think that in the environment that we're walking into in the next several years, we need to have true partnerships across our western alliances and working together, sharing this technology. If you think about the submarines and the F35s and allied systems that require software and advanced technology, we're going to have to figure out a way to work together. And so I think leveraging cloud technologies as well as DevSecOps really drives that.

Nick Miller (17:34)

Yeah, I mean, if you look at the current Ukraine fight, a lot of what saved the Ukraine war was commercial items. Whether it was, you know, commercial imagery, commercial software. And this is what is coming as we think about the near peer environment. As you think about Second Front and their mission, like, help me paint a vision for where you're trying to go, how you're trying to help the government. What I love about the Second Front story is this idea that accreditation is hard. And if we can kind of templatize that, and again, I'm not at Second Front. If we can try to templatize that for Mission to make it easier to bring innovative technologies in, that will help the government leverage the full agility of cloud and the full agility of industry. How about you tell me in your own words, how are you thinking about kind of bringing that vision and what's that vision from your view in terms of how you best help?

Lathan Turner (18:20)

Creating a highway so that you can deliver software effectively and safely and quickly to the end user is, and in international context is just really being able to drive closer partnerships with our allies as well. But you know, it's, there are four things from the DevSecOps if you have a good platform. That you know, it keeps your assets ready. So it talks to that, you know, increasing your cybersecurity posture, which is increasingly important with non-state actors continually attacking you. You know, there's, it allows you to adopt to the fog of war. So you're allowing for continuous delivery to the end user. And then also it allows for rapid prototyping. So you're taking the input from your end user and being able to make your software more relevant to that mission use case. And then it's also bridging the gap between the government and the industry ecosystem, providing that highway.

Nick Miller (19:40)

Yeah, I love that highway vision. I talk a lot about this when I talk to procurement officers or CIOs about this highway. If you think about cloud, one of the things cloud did, is give you building blocks that you could provision in an on-demand way very rapidly, right? But those building blocks are just the 200 to 300 building blocks that we can provide. It's not the 13,000 building blocks that exist in industry, right? So that super highway looks really good for first party, but when you think about third party, the super highway kind of looks like the California coastline, right? And so what my team is trying to do as a marketplace is how do we build that procurement framework in a product that pulls that California coastline taut? And so the mission builder has not only access to 200 building blocks, but 13,000 building blocks to be able to deliver in a continuous way for the Edge Mission user. Because I think, when I go back to it, it comes down to it is about the mission, right? Like in war we could get the things we needed to get done 25 months, I've seen it. We can get the things we need to get. Are we at war today? I think that's a real question. I think the way NDS is looking at it is, yes, we're in a continual warfare. So how do we take that lesson of acquisition innovation that was deployed over theater and build it into the ethos of the culture to provide that highway, right? Because once you have that highway, I think then you can start to think about the partnerships. We have about four minutes left. Any final thoughts you want to leave the audience with?

Lathan Turner (21:07)

It is going to take all of us working together in order to succeed in the environment that we're walking ourselves into. I think that the western culture is something that we need to protect and the ecosystem, the rules-based ecosystem that came out of World War II, I think that's something that we really need to protect in order to have strong economies and move our nations forward collectively. And that's going to take every single one of us to work together to do that.

Nick Miller (21:42)

Yeah, some of the vision that I've seen here over the last couple years is just that. Like even the term coalition partners is really meaningful, right? It's not competition among industry trying to compete for that dollar anymore. The federal government budget, frankly is relatively small compared to the global economy, right? So it's really about industry coming together through partnership to deliver and enabling Mission to get the outcomes they need to provide the framework and the space for us to be that leading voice in the world around democracy. So any questions? We have about three minutes left. Any questions in the audience that people wanted to ask? I could talk forever, but I don't know that you want to hear me talk. All right. Well with that I think, thank you. I know Second Front has a booth out here.

[Lathan ]Yep.


We don't have a booth, but I'll be around. Thank you to Bryon to putting this on. Definitely love the idea that we bring innovators together to talk about how to get production. If you're a vendor who's seeking to get into Prod at the air gap levels, our firm's here to help. I think Second Front's here to help too because they've, you know, at the end of the day solved some of the procure, the security accreditation challenges, while we're trying to buy down the procurement challenge. And together you have a solution that an end user can pick up. So I really appreciate Lathan you joining.

[Lathan] Well thanks, Nick. Good to be here.

[Nick] Appreciate everybody else being in the audience. Awesome.