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PEO Digital News

Flank Speed: Past, Present, Future

01 February 2023

From Lindsey A. Phillips, PEO Digital Public Affairs

The coronavirus and subsequent pandemic accelerated the need for the Department of Defense to find new ways to operate and communicate in a distributed environment. The Navy was already testing and utilizing virtual cloud networks but needed to quickly scale to meet this new demand.
The coronavirus and subsequent pandemic accelerated the need for the Department of Defense to find new ways to operate and communicate in a distributed environment. The Navy was already testing and utilizing virtual cloud networks but needed to quickly scale to meet this new demand. Initially, the Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Microsoft Office Teams environment, the DoD’s pandemic-induced temporary measure to support mass teleworking, was implemented. As the need for increased access and cloud-based operations emerged, CVR was officially shut down, allowing the transition to a more permanent, secure cloud solution for the Navy: Flank Speed.

While Flank Speed was expedited and made possible through pandemic relief funding, few know that it was a work in progress since 2018, two years prior to the pandemic. Program Executive Office for Digital and Enterprise Services (PEO Digital) Deputy Technical Director Bradley Punch explained, “The foundation of Flank Speed, driving towards a Modern Service Delivery approach, was in place; however, we needed a common enemy to get all stakeholders on the same page and focused on making a hard change toward delivering services in a modern way. COVID-19 gave us the enemy, provided synergy among the workforce and injected the cash needed to move us at the pace of flank speed.”

Combining ongoing cloud research and testing with six months of Agile planning and preparation, PEO Digital launched Flank Speed on June 8, 2021. Initially delivered to 266,000 Navy customers, there are now over 500,000 users with Flank Speed accounts. The
continuous phased rollout may eventually lead to over 750,000 users in the environment, with a goal to further increase user adoption in the future, far surpassing Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), which served around 344,000 customers. User adoption at all levels is critical to the ongoing success of Flank Speed, with dedicated efforts made to capture the Voice of the Customer (VOC) and adjust delivery and capabilities to meet the operational needs of the naval workforce.

Flank Speed’s rapid deployment was made possible using an Agile software development framework, a dynamic approach that continuously adjusts a phased strategy based on inputs.

“It is impossible to treat the information technology acquisition process as one and the same with ship building; ships are in service for 25-plus years, while IT is continuously evolving. This means that the services to support changes in the IT industry must be acquired and implemented quickly. The Scaled Agile Framework® [SAFe®)], a set of organizational and workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale, has been our answer to that dilemma, as we are able to remain innovative and rapidly identify potential challenges by frequently engaging our users throughout the process,” said Flank Speed team member Curtis Berry, a certified Agile coach support contractor. “New, self-organized teams are continuously formed to resolve challenges that previously went unnoticed, due to iterative engagement with the user community.”

To identify and mitigate challenges, the Flank Speed team regularly engaged with customers and stakeholders, captured the VOC and endpoint users, added their concerns to the backlog, and formed teams and priorities around the largest pain points.

Flank Speed is also fully integrating with the Naval Identity Services (NIS) authentication and authorization platform in order to provide customers with a more expansive and comprehensive authentication and authorization solution. This is a critical effort, as both Flank Speed and NIS are major milestones on the path to Navy’s larger technical initiative for a Naval Digital Platform (NDP).

Despite the benefits of the Agile process, there were still challenges faced in order to provide a final Flank Speed solution. One such challenge involved transitioning a customer base that was accustomed to the CVR collaboration experience to a more secure, integrated and capable service, while still meeting the needs of a very diverse base of Navy users. A priority in achieving the ultimate Flank Speed solution was ensuring secure access to data and collaboration tools directly, without the need to connect through the Navy’s virtual private network (VPN). Using previously tested efforts from 2018 on Flow 3 – a term used by both Navy and Microsoft when referring to direct, non-DoD Information Network (DoDIN) internet access to secure cloud-based services – proved invaluable in delivering this capability.

Also instrumental was the emerging concept of Zero Trust, which necessitates every request to be evaluated based on the device used, the identity of the requestor, the location of the requesting device and multiple other factors. This approach shifts from the traditional boundary-based model to one that protects information itself directly by improving the overall security posture, while simultaneously increasing flexibility for those trying to accomplish their day-to-day missions. PEO Digital, Fleet Cyber Command (FCC), Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC), Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC) and many other Navy organizations collaborated to ensure the security of the solutions delivered through Flank Speed and identify additional ways to access data. This required significant testing, which still occurs on a daily basis, to allow for new cybersecurity tools, more automation and visibility, and a Navy that can respond faster to IT threats.

Additionally, to deliver modern services, collaboration between Department of the Navy (DON) and DoD on multiple Exceptions to Policy (E2Ps) has allowed for vetting, verification and implementation of new capabilities, as well as increased cybersecurity and information sharing across services. E2Ps were deemed necessary as the team recognized that while the services being delivered allowed for enhanced security and capabilities, existing policies for previous solutions did not address the new approaches to solution delivery.

Another challenge involved ensuring that Flank Speed is much more than virtual, secure access to Microsoft Office 365 (O365). It was important to incorporate various services, tools and functionalities that are compatible with O365, such as Microsoft Azure cloud-based hosting, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD – deployed in the Navy as Nautilus), the Intune device management solution, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, and more. These tools give Flank Speed customers access to new services and capabilities, equivalent to what they receive in their personal lives, but with more cyber rigor and visibility to meet Navy standards.

From the very beginning, the Flank Speed team was a badgeless team focused on common outcomes, allowing them to overcome the aforementioned challenges, among others. The team considers themselves badgeless given that despite their various backgrounds as government, contractor or military employees, they remain focused on delivering ever-improving, value-added services to the customer. Essential to the success of Flank Speed was the ability to create agile, self-forming teams that thrive off the culture and mentality to continually evolve and grow as a workforce, aligned with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Get Real, Get Better call to action.

The team has already migrated most shore enterprise users within the Navy to Flank Speed but has many other parallel efforts in play to ensure continued growth in the delivery and adoption of modern services as well as a specific focus on customer experience. New services and capabilities allow every Navy civilian, service member and contractor to evolve their job duties. With significant strides in the Flank Speed Hub, user guides, the training portal, town halls and more, the Flank Speed team continues to help educate the workforce on how these new services can influence day-to-day business actions in a positive way. The Flank Speed team has fostered a two-way form of communicating by capturing the VOC and user experience in order to evolve the environment and service offerings to meet user needs. In the future, efforts will continue to mature Navy’s Zero Trust foundation and lessons learned will be shared across DoD in an attempt to increase collaboration across the department as a whole. Flank Speed truly is a leap forward in technology delivery and implementation, as it enables the Navy to accelerate our warfighting advantage.

Keep an eye out for future PEO Digital articles on the following:

Flow 3: Direct internet access without the need for VPN or DoDIN connection, enabling secure access to Microsoft 365 and other cloud capabilities through web or managed applications.

Exceptions to Policy (E2Ps): Exceptions provided by the respective authority to test and validate a service or capability that currently does not fall within policy guidelines. These exceptions typically allow for additional capabilities and/or security to be delivered to the user or operators in a modern way. E2Ps also allow for a deliberate and well-communicated method to affect change in policy.

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)/Nautilus: Providing full desktop capabilities anywhere, regardless of device or operating system, the AVD/Nautilus capability opens the access methods to a user’s data.

Navy Identity Services (NIS): Navy’s future enterprise federated identity platform for authentication and authorization. This service will be consumable across multiple applications and systems, and ties into the authoritative data sources that make up an identity.

Naval Digital Platform (NDP): A massive Navy and Marine Corps initiative that makes up our overall vision for modern IT systems delivery. The long-term plans of NDP define how all Digital Enterprise Services (DES) will be hosted within Naval environments. Flank Speed, NIS, INOCCS and more will be made available through the successful execution of the NDP vision.

Originally published in CHIPS Magazine:

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