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My vision for our wireless future

General McDew's vision of our wireless future

For nearly two decades, our primary interface with the networked world has remained unchanged. In fact, desktop computers tethered to a wall almost define what we know as the office environment. This perception has been so pervasive that eight years ago when our then newly elected president said he was going to use a portable electronic device in office, his staff and many others thought he was dreaming about the impossible.

Today, it is obvious mobile computing is the way of the future. We already see this in our homes where landlines are all but extinct. Because of that, it is no stretch to assume wired computers will eventually join their telephonic predecessors. Recognizing this, and energized by an Innovation Challenge suggestion, we will soon begin the long journey to transition to a wireless future for USTRANSCOM.

To begin the transition, our first step will be to bring portable electronic devices closer to our workstations. This first step matters because it forces us to wrestle with the natural tension that exists between security and mission effectiveness. Military professionals conceptually understand the most secure approach will unnecessarily constrain an operation, while an unlimited operation will unnecessarily compromise security. The art is in dealing with the friction and, honestly, progress often comes when we create that friction. In this case, I am confident as we step slowly forward, we’ll find we’re making balanced progress in advancing our cyber capabilities, evolving for tomorrow and fostering an agile and diverse workforce.

As a means of advancing our cyber capabilities, embracing mobile computing brings real benefits. As we discovered during a recent network disruption, those people with mobile devices had access, which helped distribute our operations and provide redundancy. Not only that, portable electronic devices offer an opportunity to reduce the attack surfaces available to our adversaries. As we bring mobile devices into the headquarters we’ll be able to start blocking much of the riskiest traffic (e.g., personal webmail) currently on our networks. In doing so, we must be careful to only drawdown that capability to the extent it is replaced and immediately available to our workforce at their workstations.

Just as this effort pushes us toward greater cyber security and resiliency, it also ensures we continue to evolve for tomorrow. We all recognize the future operating environment looks very different from the current one. We expect we’ll have to be more mobile, agile and able to shift our operations rapidly. Clearly, we cannot expect to operate in that environment with yesterday’s equipment and practices.

Finally, introducing portable electronics into the headquarters is a means to continue fostering an innovative, diverse and agile workforce. We already know millennials are the largest generation in the American workforce and the centennials are not far behind. Recognizing these generations are digital natives who expect ubiquitous network access (and in the latter case they don’t even remember wired telephones) should drive us to develop processes, procedures and standards that account for them and provide an environment in which they and our many boomers can flourish and innovate together.

In my mind’s eye, the future USTRANSCOM has no wired computing and we will seamlessly move from space to space with devices that remain connected to cloud-based applications and data. Getting to that future requires a measured and deliberate approach, but we cannot get there if we don’t take the first step. Wireless router installations are already underway and more detailed guidance will follow, but I hope you’re as excited as I am to step out on this journey to advance our cyber capabilities, evolve for tomorrow and foster the innovative, diverse and agile workforce the future environment demands.


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