Q&A: Microsoft’s new Army Director Jim Kelly discusses key IT challenges and more

The following post is from Tim Solms, General Manager, Defense, Microsoft.

The U.S. Army is a truly unique organization, and because it’s one of Microsoft’s largest customers, the company needed someone just as unique to help provide strategic counsel and advice on what technology can enable. We also needed someone who knew the U.S. Army and who already had solid relationships and experience working with this complex organization. Microsoft was lucky to find such a person in Jim Kelly, who was recently hired as senior director for the U.S. Army at Microsoft.

I wanted to take some time to get to know Jim better, so I sat down and asked him a few questions about this new role:

Solms: Jim, we’re glad to have you on the team. As you step into this role, what key IT challenges does the Army face? 

Kelly: For the U.S. Army, it all comes down to efficiencies. The Army, like all of our Department of Defense (DoD) customers, is facing tremendous pressure to reduce spending, reduce headcount and gain efficiencies. The Army in particular is being asked to reduce headcount by 25 percent over the next few years. At the same time, threats to our national security are not going anywhere; they are just changing. So the challenge the Army faces is how to continue to defend our country while reducing costs.

The organization needs to be more efficient and needs IT tools to drive those efficiencies. Efficiency is going to be at the forefront of everything it does: efficiency in how it collaborates with an ever-dwindling workforce; efficiency in talent management and how it retracts, retains and draws in talent; efficiency in how it collaborates across other services in an integrated environment.

Solms: How can Microsoft support the Army in addressing these challenges?

Kelly: I truly believe that the cloud is the key to the Army’s future. It’s already started to move to the cloud with enterprise email, but that is just a stepping stone. Now it is poised to integrate collaboration services and help connect various roles in a seamless way. Once the door to the cloud is opened, the opportunities that become available are amazing.

Solms: What is it that you bring to this role specifically?

Kelly: I have been working with the DoD and the Army for almost 20 years. In that time I have seen computing go from standalone, unconnected systems with little or no connection points, to a world where people are constantly connected and able to access data and information from anywhere. The Army has moved into a production environment where those old standalone stovepipe systems are now becoming connected and you’re able to share information across job category. Logistics, transportation and finance are all now being connected in such a way that you can enter it once and it can be populated across databases.

It’s an amazing transformation, and I’ve been there every step of the way. I also bring the experience of previously working with one of the Army’s largest security providers and one of the Army’s largest hardware providers. So I bring together both pieces of the puzzle. I understand what our defense customers need, the pressures that are being placed on them, and the historical context around the systems they currently have. All of this will help me work with the Army to move it into the future.

Solms: What is your vision for where the Army needs to be going?

Kelly: The Army really is a leader when it comes to the use of technology, and it has a tremendous opportunity to show other agencies, and even other companies, how to use technology in a smart, efficient way. Not many organizations in the world face the complex challenges the Army does. It has troops deployed around the world, from areas where there is little or no Internet access to areas where things are always connected. It needs to be able to provide the same level of tools to its personnel no matter where they are.

That’s my vision. A world where no matter who or where you are, you have access to all the information and tools you need to do your job correctly. I believe Microsoft can help the Army do just that, and I’m excited to help it move in that direction.