by Aparna Kumar for National Defense

The Pentagon is creating a new position — the chief digital and artificial intelligence officer.

Intended to be the successor to the Defense Department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the new office will better align data, analytics, digital solutions and AI efforts across the department, reflecting a "shift in organizational concept," according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.

The department's Chief Information Officer John Sherman has been named as the acting chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, while the search for permanent leader continues — targeted for June 1 hire or earlier.

Whomever takes on the permanent role will face an enormous task: establishing foundational analytics goals for the Defense Department, helping it better define AI for its enterprise operations, and providing best practices for building out tools, processes and reporting to drive toward those goals.

Some distinct skills and strategic actions will be needed not only for the new director but for the estimated 200 to 300 individuals who will work under this office. Those are aligned to four domains: the director themself; the team they will build; the policies that will need to be implemented; and the tools and technology to get there.

Whomever takes on this role needs to build a strong foundation for the work. Perhaps the single most important step will be building relationships with the massive and complex Pentagon procurement structure from Day 1.

After going through the heavy lift of determining what will be needed to achieve objectives, it will be essential to ensure that carefully made plans are not unexpectedly altered because procurement takes a different acquisition direction. Pre-establishing dialogue and building trust will go a long way in the skillful negotiations that may often be required.

So will having prior understanding of all contract vehicles that are available to the office for consideration. Someone new to a role such as this usually does not have those relationships, so the effort should be undertaken as early as possible.

The director will potentially be responsible for disseminating information to four-star generals and other very senior stakeholders. The individual must be someone who can look at a large volume of data, interpret the information according to Pentagon objectives, and provide data visualization that is meaningful to those who need it.

Given the breadth of potential applications, it is necessary to get very focused on the high-level strategic goals of using that information.


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