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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks' Virtual Remarks at South by Southwest Kickoff (SxSW) at the Army Software Factory (As Delivered)

Hello, I’m Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Kathleen Hicks.  It is great to be joining the South by South West Kickoff at the Army Software Factory and Austin Community College. Thank you to everyone who made today possible.  

Last year I had the chance to travel to Texas and see the dynamic and innovative ecosystem that is thriving in Austin.  It is exactly the environment the Army was looking for when standing up Futures Command several years ago.

The forward thinking work being done here by the Army – and by our other Services in other innovative hubs across the Department of Defense –  is critical to DoD. 

Today, the Department of Defense faces a myriad of challenges.  China is rapidly modernizing its military. Russia’s aggression threatens European stability.  And we face advanced and persistent threats from Iran, North Korea, and non-state actors.

Meeting these challenges will require the Joint Force to implement highly advanced concepts and capabilities, such as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.  But our leaders’ need for immediate, real-time access to data extends further – across everything we do, from financial transactions to global logistics. 

The Department needs to continue transforming into a digital, and analytically-driven organization.    

At times, this won’t be easy – especially at an institution with over 2.9 million employees and personnel spread across more than 160 countries. 

But thanks to the hard work and leadership of people like our software factory directors and chief information officers, we continue to make real progress.

To date, we’ve moved out on a number of efforts, and I’d like to highlight several of those here.

First, at DoD, we know that data is a strategic asset.  It enables the creation of algorithmic models that transform concepts into reality.  That is why I’ve set forth a series of “Data Decrees,” which make sure that our data is visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure.

To leverage data in support of the warfighter, we’ve rapidly moved forward with our AI and Data Acceleration Initiative, or ADA. 

By dispatching teams to our Combatant Commands, ADA looks to generate foundational capabilities through a series of implementation experiments or exercises, each one purposefully building understanding through successive and incremental learning.

This software engineering approach will be critical to advancing our data-centered capabilities.

Second, we’ve also established a Chief Digital and AI Officer at the department.  This position is about speed and scale.  The department’s CDAO will galvanize our people, processes, and resources to leverage artificial intelligence, data, and digital solutions.   

And third, secure, rapid, and resilient software capability means that the Joint Force both remains adaptable and evolves quickly.  That is why the Department recently released its DoD Software Modernization Strategy.

The strategy sets forth the process and technology transformations DoD needs to deliver software at the speed of relevance. 

That includes establishing a department-wide software factory ecosystem. 

We will need to capitalize on investments that our Military Services have already made, and scale successes across the enterprise.

While efforts like these are marks of real progress, we know that more work remains. 

Of note, we know that we need more people in the department with modern digital skillsets.  This includes software developers, data scientists, and machine-learning experts.

We also need more individuals who are fluent in data and digital concepts, like our acquisition professionals, contract officers, and human resources professionals, all of whom are critical in delivering the systems and people needed for a digital enterprise.

That is why I am prioritizing building the foundations for a digital workforce and exploring different career pathways for those who have the key skills we need.  

Our commitment goes beyond hiring people.  We must also ensure they are fully integrated into critical functional areas across the Department of Defense. 

In closing – at DoD, we continue to make progress in transforming ourselves into a digital, and analytically-driven organization.  I am proud of our effort to date.  And while I know work remains, I am confident that our civilian and military personnel are ready to make the progress needed to ensure our national security.

I encourage you to be open and candid during your discussions today.  Your conversations will assist us in scaling these ideas and efforts across the entire department.

And let me once again thank the Army’s Software Factory and Austin Community College for making today possible.