David Fastabend serves as ITT Exelis’ advanced information systems unit vice president, responsible for overseeing the business’ performance, strategy, leadership and customer relations.
Fastabend brings U.S. Army experience in strategic and operational focused commands.
He recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about how these experiences apply to his current position, market trends and how organizations could benefit from seeing cyber in a different light.
David Fastabend: The spinoff has absolutely transformed the autonomy that ITT Exelis can now exercise in making business and investment decisions. This allows us to leverage the legacy of engineering excellence we achieved as ITT, while focusing even more intensely on the essential mission needs of our customers. Exelis is poised for growth because of our wonderfully diverse set of technologies and customer relationships that have excellent alignment with customer priorities. If you look at the DoD R&D priorities including electronic warfare, data to decisions, ISR or cyber, we are very squarely aligned with those priorities.
ExecutiveBiz: What industry and customer factors do you take into consideration when drawing out your strategy for Exelis’ Advanced Information System division?
David Fastabend: We develop our strategy so that both industry and customer factors mirror each other. From the customer perspective first, the key consideration us what the customer needs to execute his mission today — and how that need might evolve tomorrow. Then, from an industry perspective, you have to look at what’s available and effective, not just in our business, but also across all of industry. When you go through this process, it leads you to customer solutions that are adaptable, scalable and affordable, but always focused on the mission needs of the customer.
We try to leverage our extensive mission presence with a wide set of customers, preferably those customers doing what you would consider to be essential work that’s going to continue to be necessary throughout any kind of defense downturn. Our strategy is to protect that core business and those key relationships, while looking aggressively for the adjacent and strategic partnerships that we think we can use to expand and extend our core capabilities.
ExecutiveBiz: What are a few memorable events from your previous Army experience that shape your current priorities and focuses?
David Fastabend: I’ll offer three examples. When I was director of concepts development and experimentation for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, I led a team responsible for developing the army’s fundamental war fighting concept. As you can imagine in that business, we talked a lot about the power of ideas and how a concept drives everything. Every time I read something that says ideas drive the nation or that ideas are powerful, I can relate because I’ve seen that phenomenon at work. That carries over into business when you’re looking for a solution for a customer. First you have to understand the customer’s needs, but then conceptualize how to put the solution together.
I think the next example I’d draw on would be strategy. In 2006 to 2007, I deployed to Iraq as director of strategic operations for Multinational Forces Iraq. For over a year, I dealt with some tough strategy issues, not only for the Army but also for the Department of State and the government of Iraq. The mantra I brought out of that experience is that at the end of the day, strategy is about choices: if you can’t articulate clearly the choice you’re making, then key strategic issues are being overlooked. A really good strategy is an articulation of the choices you have and the logic for the choices you’re going to make. I saw that up close and personal when I was in Iraq, and it seemed to me we were making better decisions when we were making clear choices.
My final example applies to my entire Army experience. When you start out as a lieutenant or as a captain in the Army, you rightly assume that what leads to success is a good understanding of tactics and the processes and procedures that control the organization. That’s true, but as you progress in the Army you find that all your peers have mastered the fundamentals. The people that really succeed at the senior levels are the ones that have a superior mastery of the art of relationships. A mentor of mine, told me that if you have a relationship with someone, you can solve just about any problem, but if you don’t have a relationship then just about everything becomes a problem.
ExecutiveBiz: What are the top challenges agencies face in regard to cybersecurity and how should they ensure systems are effectively secure?
David Fastabend: Cybersecurity challenges every dimension of our society in a way that almost seems overwhelming. In many ways, cybersecurity is a fundamental cultural issue. The cultural dilemma for us is that we have a default assumption that cyber problems are simply the latest phase of industrial modernization and that computers are simply machines. They’re complicated machines, to be sure, but they’re just machines. This assumption is quite comfortable for us, because all of our government, laws and policies evolved out of the industrial era, the age of machines.
However, there’s a lot of evidence washing over us that if you think about cyber systems in a broader way, they really don’t behave very mechanically. If you’re looking for a metaphor, it’s probably more useful to think of cyber systems as something biological rather than mechanical. If the fundamental assumption is wrong, if cyber systems behave more biologically than mechanically, then we should not be surprised that we have problems: government structureswill not be well aligned, the policies aren’t going to be very relevant and our responses are going to seem to be inefficient and inappropriate.
If you think of your cyber system as a machine, for example, you’re going to try to build a perfect firewall, which was our initial way to try to secure cyber systems.If you do that, you’re going to fail. There’s a term for biological systems that try to protect themselves by firewalls: they’re called extinct.
Although we have cybersecurity firewalls, we don’t assume that they alone will work. You have to fight cyber threats both externally and internally, hunting throughout the network and within your network. Even with all these internal scans, you don’t assume success. As in many biological challenges, the only time you know for sure that you have a problem is with unexpected emissions. For cyber problems it’s unexpected data transmissions.
If you’re really going to be prepared for a cyber threat, one of the best things you can do is external scans outside your network to see what the problems are in other areas, looking for the future epidemic. I find it very useful to think about cyber problems biologically.
ExecutiveBiz: How can technologies such as GPS aid military operations?
David Fastabend: The ability to understand your geolocation with relative ease takes away so much overhead of the command and control problem that it is absolutely revolutionary. It has allowed us to very quickly locate virtually anything. You can associate information with a location. Targeting is incredibly easier as well as accuracy and speed of analysis correlation.
Before GPS, you cannot believe how much time was spent in military operations simply understanding where you were. That was a large percentage of the job of a lieutenant: to understand where he and his unit were and where they were going. When you don’t spend so much time and energy trying to understand where you are, it simplifies everything else. I can’t imagine military operations without it now. GPS is a key asset that has to be protected; our adversaries are always going to try to deny us that capability when they can.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any technology applications on the horizon you’re looking forward to?
David Fastabend: There are five moving factors that stand out in my mind. One of the more obvious ones is network consolidation because of the efficiencies you get from collapsing networks. We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of network consolidation on the part of the government and they make every indication that they’re going to continue to do that. The companies that can provide enterprise level or enterprise capable solutions are going to have something very useful to offer the government.
The transition from network models to cloud models for cyber solutions is also significant. This is an entirely different model with different trade-offs for efficiencies and network security. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities in cloud infrastructure, cloud security and cloud enabled solutions.
The third factor is mobile cyber. We want more and more mobility solutions available on a device that is location-enabled by using your mobile device as a sensor. The whole notion of mobile cyber is going to be a driver of change for us in the near future.
Big data analytics also has a lot of opportunity. We’re just beginning to understand its potential and how it can be applied across the mission spaces of almost every customer.
Finally, it’s not unrealistic to consider that in the near future we may begin to view cyber threats not merely as an asymmetric threat or as a threat from an individual, but perhaps even threats approaching nation state status. That’s going to put dealing with cyber threats into a whole new class. There’s going to be opportunities and demand for people that can provide security as a service and trusted identity and even security assurances for their entire supply chain.