The Army’s CIO has defended his decision to buy fewer Microsoft Office 365 licenses than the number of people in the Army, saying that no one will go without email services and that the move could save the branch $150 million.
Army CIO Raj Iyer told FedScoop that the service is working on alternative solutions for junior enlisted members and others who will not get access to the full suite of services in the Army’s transition to a new Microsoft Office 365-based back-office enterprise cloud system. He also said the decision to buy only 1.2 million licenses for the roughly 1.4 million people who work in the department was intentional to save money and buy only what he said will be used.
“Every user in the Army would have access to some form of communications,” Iyer said of the decision.
The Army is transitioning away from the current Defense Enterprise Email system that is set to expire in March 2022 as the Department of Defense adopts remote work-capable back-office enterprise systems across the military. It’s been branded as DOD365 — and Army 365, in the Army’s case — as the system is largely based on Microsoft’s popular Office 365 product, but with additional cybersecurity measures in place.
The DOD created its first remote work platform based on Microsoft cloud software with the creation of the Commercial Virtual Remote environment, a temporary measure to allow remote work during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition to Office 365 tools was started years ago through the development of the Defense Enterprise Office Solution (DEOS) cloud contract. The DOD sunset the CVR environment over the summer in anticipation of moving users to the more robust 365 environments.
Iyer said he came to his decision to buy fewer licenses than the number of personnel after he spoke with enlisted soldiers on his recent travels, concluding that many in the Army don’t use their email tools or prefer other communication methods like chat. Iyer said data shows that about 150,000 Army email inboxes had not been accessed by users over the past six months.
“Giving everyone a full-fledged Office license is not the best way to go, because it is way too expensive,” Iyer said. “Depending upon the role that you are in, you are going to get a certain type of software to get your job done.”
In the place of Office 365 licenses, the Army is working on an alternative email-only solution to provide email services to anyone who wants them, he said, adding that those alternatives might not be Microsoft-based.
Iyer estimates the Army will save $150 million by segmenting which services users are given. That money is going to be redirected to implement the service’s zero-trust strategy and new cybersecurity tools to allow users to access email and office tools from non-government devices.
While some users will be on different email systems, especially until Defense Enterprise Email sunsets next year, “there should be no issues with them communicating with each other,” Iyer said, because the Army established a global address directory database to ensure seamless connections across the different systems.
In November 2022, the Army is going to be moving to a consumption-based pricing model for services that Iyer hopes will save even more.
Iyer told FedScoop the Army is also developing a Bring Your Own Device policy that will allow soldiers, civilians and contractors to use their own laptops and phones to check email when working remotely. The Army is going to prioritize reservists and National Guard members in fiscal 2022 so they are not forced to report to a government building just to check email.
By moving to a BYOD policy, more people will have access to email and collaboration tools, and save money on device purchases, Iyer said.
“Once we get a BYOD solution in place, we no longer need to procure laptops,” he said.
On top of this, the Army is moving its email infrastructure to the cloud. Making these new systems cloud-based means the service’s email can bypass the DOD’s Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet), Iyer said.
Instead of in on-premise data centers, the systems will be hosted on the Army’s cARMY cloud system, supported by the Army’s Enterprise Cloud Management Agency (ECMA).