Sherman: Pentagon’s new CDAO office needs to create ‘decision advantage’

John Sherman appears in the Pentagon Briefing Room for the Cyber Beacon virtual event, Dec. 3, 2020. (DOD / Marvin Lynchard)

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The success of the Pentagon’s new office consolidating oversight of data and artificial intelligence efforts should be judged on how well it supports combatant commanders in giving them “decision advantage,” the acting head of the organization said Tuesday.

“When she or he is testifying to Congress in a couple years, say, ‘we would not have been successful in this crisis had I not had the insights that were provided to me through what CDAO and the service and other capabilities brought to the fight.’ That’s my measure of success on this,” John Sherman, Department of Defense chief information officer and acting chief digital and artificial intelligence officer (CDAO), said on The Daily Scoop Podcast.

The CDAO, created in December 2021, will directly report to the deputy Defense secretary and oversee the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Digital Service and DOD’s chief data office.

Sherman said the CDAO should “raise the waterline” across the military services and commands.

That requires “tapping into all of the department’s data and then leveraging that for really at-speed analytics to be able to give commanders, decision makers – all the way from Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin to a combatant commander to a leader in the field” – the capabilities needed to stay ahead of China, which is the Pentagon’s “pacing challenge,” Sherman said.

This means being able to use data to stay in front of an adversary’s decision loop by thinking more quickly.

Sherman cited one example in which he recently heard from teams supporting U.S. European Command during the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict where they are unlocking data as it relates to logistics.

“We really give decision advantage there for U.S. European Command and our Joint Staff and others to be able to do things that were highly manual [but] are now much more automated to be able to provide [EUCOM Commander] Gen. [Tod] Wolters and others decision advantage in this current crisis,” he said.

In the acting role, Sherman said his task is to bring the organization together.

“Start to have these individuals and their folks [and] their teams thinking as a unified organization, an end-to-end set of capabilities for decision advantage,” he said. “Then get ready for when that CDAO … who we should be naming here in the not too distant future – and I’ve actually met with the individual – to be able to hand off the flag, so to speak, so that person can run with this new leadership team and start creating that decision advantage for the Department of Defense.”

Sherman did not identify who will be tapped to be the permanent head of the organization.

However, the DOD announced a slew of positions for this new office Friday, to include Margaret Palmieri as the deputy chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Mike Groen – the current director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center – as senior military advisor, Clark Cully as deputy CDAO for policy, Greg Little as deputy CDAO for enterprise capabilities, Katie Olson as deputy CDAO for digital services and Dan Folliard as CDAO chief operating officer.

Sherman said additional positions dealing with warfighter support and acquisition will be named soon.

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CDAO, CIO, data, decision advantage, Department of Defense (DOD), john sherman
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