The JEDI contract: We don’t see the force; do you?

Considerable ink has been sacrificed parsing both the wisdom and the potential winners and losers of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract award, which is estimated to be worth up to $10 billion over 10 years. TBR wrote two commentaries around the topic in June that handicapped the potential bidders and outlined the fundamental consumption model shifts triggered by continued technological innovations changing public sector procurement factors from affordability to governance compliance — or from “wallet to will.”

The impetus for revisiting the contract flows from the Pentagon again pushing back the timeline on submitting proposals by three weeks. That the Department of Defense once again pumped the brakes despite a desire to accelerate modern technology procurement, while simultaneously ending the Q&A portion of the solicitation period, highlights the tensions and challenges created by the shift from wallet to will.

At TBR, we continue to question the efficacy of a single-source contract for cloud infrastructure services. This concept of working with one cloud vendor for compute was leading edge in the commercial space about a decade ago as enterprises wrestled with how to automate the seamless movement of applications and data between on-premises and cloud compute instances. With this technological problem largely addressed in the hybrid cloud era, the new technological challenge facing leading enterprises is automating that seamless deployment across multiple cloud environments.

In this adoption of new, consumerized technologies, we see the disruptive forces aiming at the public sector IT market opportunity. The Pentagon seeks a single-source captive solution, betting on one firm’s ability to stay ahead of the market on innovation for a decade. Such a bet makes little sense to TBR or to the industry executives with whom TBR has discussed the JEDI contract structure. Furthermore, much has been written lately about the concept of asymmetric competition, which postulates that open platforms actually shorten the competitive advantage windows technological innovations provide to technology vendors. In short, being able to exploit leading edge technology requires that companies lessen their reliance on single-source vendors rather than doubling down on them.

It has been argued that military strategists plan how to fight battles without fully appreciating the changes in warfare they will face going forward. Awarding a single-source, 10-year contract for technology innovation sounds like a continuation of that misaligned planning process. In the private sector, such deals trigger business exits from improper planning. In the public sector, the exposure to lagging strategic planning manifests in threats to national security.

Public sector struggles with tech’s shift from wallet to will manifest in JEDI RFP woes

Any follower of technology knows it has been radically transforming private enterprise and social interactions, as outlined in a TBR special report on a concept we call the “Business of One.” A more aggressive piece on the impending Digital Dust Bowl discussed the increased polarization of public policy triggered in part by technology. In investigating the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) request for proposals (RFP) TBR analysts spoke to a number of representatives from technology suppliers that service the public sector who could not discern the value of a single-source cloud contract with a potential 10-year term when early adopters in private enterprise have moved beyond that concept into a multi-cloud environment. Furthermore, a fixed term of a decade for leading-edge technology adds to, rather than mitigates, risk based on the increased rate and pace of change. In short, TBR believes the DOD’s decision to delay the JEDI RFP is an encouraging, rather than discouraging, sign, as it speaks to the importance of consensus building in a post-Moore’s Law world.



JEDI is the force leading AWS’ charge into the U.S. Department of Defense

Central governments, even more than the largest commercial enterprises, struggle to keep pace with the current rate of technological change. Many times, major decisions do not occur proactively, but rather are made in response to gaps in capabilities that become matters of national security. The U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract indicates the DOD finds itself in that very position, spurred by a need to address technology gaps resulting from a decades-long lapse in investment that started with the end of the Cold War. Since that time, near-peer rivals such as Russia and China have developed advanced capabilities in anti-access/area denial electronic warfare, state-sponsored cyber, and other technologies that make space and cyberspace contested warfare domains, eroding the U.S.’ traditional advantages in unassailable power projection on a global scale and increasing its vulnerability.