Digital Transformation Is Not Just About Technology

Real change only comes through a holistic approach

Josh Jackson

We've all heard the promise: by applying digital technology solutions to our IT infrastructure, we can perform processes faster, take humans out of the loop in many cases, or integrate machines to wrangle complexity. Each is technology-enabled transformation on its own. Moreover, while digitizing something is often necessary, it is, by itself, insufficient to transform an enterprise. Witness the recent rapid IT modernization efforts wrought by government and industry as it adjusted to work-from-home requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, digital solutions have mitigated the challenges of those requirements, but they fall short of transformative changes to enterprise IT.

Fundamentally transforming an organization or operation requires a holistic approach based on thoughtful planning, leading change, and creative thinking. Further, successful digital transformation (DX) occurs when combining the technology, the people, and the organization in ways that maximizes efficiency and effectiveness into mission results. Ignoring the challenges from any one of the three dimensions (mission, technology, and people/organizations) results in failed transformation  which is why more than half of DX efforts do not yield promised returns. In addition, simply putting digital in front of the word transformation does not make it faster, better, cheaper, or easier. After all, DX is about more than just applying technology.

While benefits are now being felt in some instances, tangible DX is truly realized when we consider not just our information technology domain but everywhere technology is utilized to achieve the mission. From people, to software, to hardware, to policy, doctrine, processes, leadership and organizations, practices, requirements, and activities, real transformational change cuts across every aspect of an enterprise.

For national security missions, we must modernize IT while simultaneously leveraging the power of digital engineering to yield mission-enabling DX. As expressed in the Department of Defense's 2018 Digital Engineering Strategy, the “DOD vision for digital engineering is to modernize how the Department designs, develops, delivers, operates, and sustains systems.”

While shifting the acquisition and procurement process from an antiquated model to one that leverages technology instead of being held hostage to it will not be easy or cheap, anticipated investments should be covered by savings in streamlined research, development, testing, and evaluation. Incorporating cutting-edge methods like model-based systems engineering (MBSE), along with a modular open-source system approaches, will allow for rapid prototyping and testing in mission-relevant virtual environments before allocating dollars and authorizing work.

To reach that nirvana of real, tangible, impactful DX, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach that fuses mission objectives, technology, and organizational change.

How to digitally transform

An organization should begin with an existential question and completely understand and embrace its answer. Assessing and understanding why an organization exists sets a solid cornerstone in the foundation for success. Crystalizing awareness with a mission focus will make efforts toward implementing evolutionary approaches have the profound and desired effects in the end.

For the U.S. Navy, its end state, as stated in the Chief of Naval Operations December 2019 Fragmentary Order 01/2019: A Design For Maintaining Maritime Superiority, is “a Navy that is ready to win across the full range of military operations in competition, crisis, and contingency by persistently operating forward with agility and flexibility in an all-domain battlespace.” While progress is being made by the Navy and Marine Corps to as stated in the same document  “deliver decisive Integrated American Naval Power,” concepts such as Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) can only be successful if technology and organizational change are woven into applied solutions from the start. The bottom line is the process is not just about application modernization but also well-informed rationalization.


Josh Jackson Digital Transformation blog_body 1


Implicit in effective DMO and its corresponding force structure platforms, weapons, and sensors is an ability to operate within, and harmonize information to joint all-domain command and control (JADC2). JADC2 is an emerging strategic concept that essentially links every U.S. and national sensor to every shooter, from all services, across all domains, allowing rapid targeting of enemy forces no matter where they are, around the globe. Integrating all the pieces that will move JADC2 from concept to reality is a complex undertaking for all services, but it is an imperative if the Navy is to retain an asymmetric information advantage. Embracing that complexity, though, with a fixed eye on the desired end state is critical to setting the proper context upon which technological solutions will be introduced.

RELATED: SAIC wins Air Force contract to support development of JADC2

Technology that enables DX surrounds us and, yes, sometimes confounds us. However, the benefits have arguably been worth every ounce of mental investment. For example, cloud environments that enable elastic computing and advances in digital communications allow for increased power "at the edge," which in turn unlocks our ability to process vast amounts of data closer to the point of need. Advances in digital engineering and modeling and simulation similarly help us build “digital twins,” shrinking capability development and fielding timelines in supporting real agility in modernizing legacy systems.

SAIC has been able to use multiple repeatable solutions to accelerate cloud migration for one of our government customers, enabling an automate-everything approach that reduces personnel, risk, and cost across the enterprise. In doing so, we provided a unified, central dashboard and platform for IT modernization that was minimally disruptive, and we provided a highly automated, efficient path to cloud adoption for a wide variety of legacy applications. At the same time, we maintained cybersecurity readiness early and throughout, using a single sign-on, zero trust model.

Those technologies cloud, digital communications, data at the edge, digital engineering, model-based systems engineering, and IT modernization will all play central roles in instituting DX but will be ineffective without organizational change and talent alignment.


Josh Jackson Digital Transformation blog_body 2


A common phrase heard in the military is ”Our people are our greatest asset.” With any effective DX plan, the axiom rings true. You also need organizations that are aligned and agile to effectively, and efficiently, implement DX. People, and the organization that supports them, must be synchronized and aligned to employ technology in ways that enable mission success. The fact remains that until machines take over, people and organizations will oversee the implementation of technology and processes. This is an oft-skipped or artificially accelerated component of DX. This is messy and difficult, as it involves non-binary decisions about people, effectiveness, and organizational design. These decisions, however, cannot be wished away. Organizations must evolve to embrace new ways of working and how they execute missions. Implementing DX requires leaders who are driven by the mission and can artfully bend technology to their will to enable achievement of objectives and goals, removing constraints on human capability and decision-making.

Crossing the DX line

Successful DX occurs when, into the context of a mission, technology aligns with people and organizations. This alignment is enabled, in part, by harnessing the power of digital engineering and IT modernization to affect a reimagined and agile organizational framework that effectively and efficiently executes a solution. DX is more than just IT, and it must be driven by mission.

Recent changes made by the Navy are encouraging as it considers these dimensions in its digital transformation journey, with a reimagined CIO, cross-cutting transformation organizations like the Digital Integration Support Cell, and establishing ecosystems like NavalX and Tech Bridges. The Navy obviously learned that just because you can put digital in front of transformation does not make it easy.

Tell me what you think about digital transformation and share your thoughts with me at


A Case In Point: Holistic Digital Transformation in Weapons System Modernization


At SAIC, we use a holistic digital transformation approach, developed through investment, successes, and lessons learned. For one government customer, all dimensions harmoniously came together in a weapons system modernization program.

To start, an integrated group came together to work across disciplines and collaborate on data, process, schedules, and project management. Then, the large-scale engineering and integration work leveraged DX tools and MBSE skills to develop a system architecture with technical management and modeling and simulation features, allowing contractors and the customer to track progress in a shared system model. With all key stakeholders having access to distributed data in real time from the same central, authoritative source, against program objectives, this facilitated agile decision-making against system performance, risk, schedule, and budget.

We specifically integrated modeling and simulation with the system model to analyze and specify the system functions and interfaces well before hardware or software development started. This allowed us to experiment with the functionality of the system and fully simulate those functions to verify the desired mission outcomes before development. In the end, those simulations provided a quick start for the system control software development, since the DX tools supported direct porting to embedded code — the same code that enables rapid hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) and software-in-the-loop (SIL) development using the same simulations.


Posted by: Josh Jackson

Senior Vice President of Operations, Defense Systems Group

Josh Jackson is senior vice president and operations manager for SAIC’s Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Information Warfare Operation within the Defense Systems Group. He is responsible for leading strategy, market growth, profit and loss, and program delivery across all USMC and Navy Information Warfare organizations.

With nearly 2,000 employees, the organization brings a wide range of mission-oriented skills and capabilities to Navy and USMC clients, from artificial intelligence to systems engineering and integration. His passion is solving complex mission challenges for clients using a diverse team while leveraging emerging technologies in smart and unique ways.

Jackson joined SAIC in 2002 and during his tenure has held positions of increasing authority and responsibility. He began as a program manager and then became a division manager, chief engineer, and operations manager before joining the top business leadership of the company. Josh has supported the U.S. Army, Navy, USMC, Combatant Commands, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health among others.

He has led the development of programs in test and evaluation, experimentation, simulation, analysis, training, and assessments. Jackon has also worked on both large and small scale kinetic and non-kinetic weapons systems, and has a track record of business growth through enabling client mission success and innovation.

Prior to SAIC, Jackson led an engineering team at Huntington Ingalls Industries to design the shock and acoustic systems for the VIRGINIA class submarine. Leveraging state-of-the-art technology, this team devised several innovations that enabled mission efficiency and effectiveness. While leading this team, he became fascinated with leadership and culture as critical elements of organizational success.

Jackson is an active leader outside of SAIC. He is currently a member of the AFCEA International executive committee board chartered with fostering government and industry collaboration that drives innovation. He served as the chairman of the industry advisory board for the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) and several committees within National Defense Industrial Association and National Training & Simulation Association previously. He is also active in several non-profit organizations that support community development, food causes, and homelessness.

Jackson is a founding member of SAIC’s Inclusion and Diversity Council, and the executive sponsor for SAIC’s STEM Business Resource Group.

Over his career, Jackson has authored numerous technical papers and journal articles in the field of engineering, modeling and simulation, workforce development, acquisition and innovation. His current areas of research interest are public private partnerships and models that drive innovation ecosystems.

Josh holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a Master of Business Administration from the College of William and Mary. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society and a certified Project Management Professional.



Read other blog posts from Josh Jackson >

Connect with Josh Jackson: linkedin icon

< Return to Blogs