He previously served as CIO for Reston, Va.-based Transaction Network Services where he led IT projects in telecommunications and recently completed an 18-month Executive Masters Program at George Washington University.
In his conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Martin discusses how LGS unique heritage helped seal him on the role, his transition from the commercial to the federal sector and meeting the IT needs of customers in a security‑conscious environment.
Can you give some background on the LGS organization and how it partners with the federal government?
LGS was formed in 2006 when Alcatel merged with Lucent Technologies. Because Alcatel was a non-US company and LGS does so much business in the DoD and Advanced Programs communities, the U.S. Government asked us to form a separate, independent subsidiary that is not under the control of Alcatel‑Lucent. We have six board positions. Two of them are Alcatel‑Lucent positions and the rest of them are either outside directors or internal to LGS.
Our chairman of the board is William Perry, who was Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense. We have a couple of other board members out of the NSA and the Navy, as well as our CEO Kevin Kelly.
LGS has three primary lines of business including technology solutions primarily around the Alcatel-Lucent product suite, network integration and professional services, and applied research and technology. We sell only to the U.S. Federal Government; about 80 percent DOD and Advanced Programs and the rest civilian. The civilian market’s been growing pretty rapidly for us for the last several years.
Bell Labs is owned by Alcatel‑Lucent, but, as we formed a separate company, we took those Ph.D.s and engineers that were doing business with the U.S. Federal Government and incorporated them in our government communications lab. As a result, we have a fair amount of talent and incredible brain power from Bell Labs within LGS Innovations.
ExecutiveBiz: What compelled you to join LGS and what are your responsibilities as CIO?
Rich Martin: When I first learned of the opportunity at LGS, I told my wife how excited I was about it.
There are many reasons for that, not the least of which is the Bell Labs heritage. I’ve always been a technical geek type of person and Bell Labs is well‑known throughout the industry. Having been within the telecommunications industry for pretty much all of my career, and being interested in technology, it was a natural fit to me.
Beyond that, the mission that LGS serves was very enticing to me. I’ve worked in the commercial space for the majority of my career, which is great, and I’ve had a lot of great experiences. But, the mission in the commercial space was always to make money.
That’s not a bad mission, but working with a company like LGS, the mission is much larger than that where you can really make a difference for this country. That was something that was incredibly exciting to me and another reason why I felt this was a great opportunity for me to expand my personal experiences and really make a difference in a bigger context.
ExecutiveBiz: As you pursue those larger goals, what are your immediate priorities and how are you positioning yourself now to tackle those?
Rich Martin: I’ve been here a few months and my initial priorities were to learn, to really understand the substance of the IT infrastructure and the architecture at LGS and to determine how I can make a difference, how I can help lead the team within IT.
I’ve always looked at IT from the perspective of, ‘I don’t want IT to be a cost of doing business.’ I want IT to be a value add to the business and to really help drive the business forward. As part of doing the initial IT assessment, which I’ve been focused on for a couple of months, we found various areas that we need to focus on to really drive things forward.
Some of them have to do with mobility, which is a key need in any business today. Others are reinvesting in our infrastructure to build a platform through which we can drive the business forward long‑term. Many of the details of that are still in the works, but we have a talented IT team, not only from an internal IT perspective, but also resources as part of our Bell Labs heritage.
There are some incredibly brilliant people throughout this company. One of the things that I want to really focus on is leveraging that talent within corporate IT. We have the benefit of a tremendous breadth of experience here with the engineers and Ph.D.s that can be a real value‑add to getting the most out of the internal IT infrastructure.
ExecutiveBiz: How has the transition from working in the commercial to the federal sector been? You’ve mentioned some overlaps and parallels, but what things have been more challenging? Have you had to learn anything from scratch?
Rich Martin: One is terminology. The terminology is different anywhere you go, but it’s been especially challenging for me to learn some of the ways the business is represented here from a terminology perspective and how that compares to the commercial space.
That’s something that just takes some time to get used to. Another big difference is the driver of what we do. As I mentioned earlier in our discussion, in the companies I’ve worked at in the commercial space, it’s pretty much about making money. Again, that’s important‑‑ we need to make a profit – but, the mission here at LGS is very different. It’s not all about ‘how do we make a buck?’ It’s about ‘how do we do the best for our customers and how do we really serve the mission of the federal government.’ That has been a very different and very positive experience for me.
It’s a very noble goal and it’s one of the reasons I’m here—that bigger picture that was really missing in the commercial space.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of those agencies’ structural needs? What major challenges are they facing right now?
Rich Martin: A lot of the challenges have to do with the explosion of technology for the consumer base and the fact that many people have tremendously high‑speed access at home. There’s public Internet and cloud and all of these technologies are readily available to users at their homes.
The challenge is how to leverage those types of technologies and that vast technical back‑end availability in the government space. How do you leverage that within a much more secure environment? It represents a variety of challenges, which are tough to deal with, because you don’t want to slow down the business. You don’t want to be in the way of getting the job done.
It’s a little bit different operating in an environment where you have to be so security‑conscious, versus being at home, or in the commercial environment, where those things aren’t as critical. I view that as an area that is really a differentiator and something that’s a challenge to anyone working in the federal space.
From a core IT perspective, our diverse customer base raises some interesting challenges. There are certain aspects of our IT infrastructure that we at LGS need to be consistent about and provide a common platform to build upon. But, given the fact that we have these three divisions that have somewhat different focuses, that presents some challenges from an IT perspective that we have to be flexible in supporting.
The other challenge is running an IT department in a company that makes widgets is somewhat easier compared to being in an IT environment that is laced with highly technical and sophisticated end users who have big demands on the environment.
Not only do we have the different challenges that the business units have with the different customer bases, but this user community also requires a level of support that varies quite a bit, which changes the model a little bit from an IT perspective.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about moving forward?
Rich Martin: There are lots of opportunities here to really help drive the business forward. I mentioned mobility earlier, like bring-your-own-device strategies. That’s a huge opportunity that I’m excited about.
I’m really excited about working with some of the people that are here. I mentioned a couple of times the highly technical work force that we have here at LGS that are focused on delivering for our customers. I’m excited about being able to leverage our technologist’s expertise and I’m excited about learning from them about how we can think differently about IT.
ExecutiveBiz: Is moving into the federal space something that you had previously considered, and how does it fit into your personal trajectory?
Rich Martin: It is something that I considered in the past. I live in the D.C. area, but in my 20‑some-year career, I’ve not spent a significant amount of time working in the federal space. But, that wasn’t by choice. It just happened to be the way opportunities presented themselves.
Being from the D.C. area, that’s unusual, of course. When I was considering making a change, I was specifically targeting companies in this space, such as LGS, because of the ability to make a difference.
This fits right into the wheelhouse of where I wanted to go professionally. I’m a highly technical guy. I love to roll up my sleeves and code or put things together. But, equally as much, I enjoy the business aspect of things.
On a personal level, I spent the last year and a half in an executive masters program at George Washington, which I just finished up recently. I did that to prepare myself to broaden my horizons from an executive leadership perspective. And this fits right in with that perspective as well.
ExecutiveBiz: What did you take away from that program?
Rich Martin: Probably one of the big takeaways, other than the great general experience, were the relationships. The program was a cohort style program, so I had about 25 people in my class. And those are the same people I was with for 15 months during the program, and it gave me some more insight into the federal space.
I had some senior US military people in the class with me as well as other federal agencies. It really helped me get a better understanding of how work gets done on the federal side, and it really helped me bridge that gap.
Those relationships are pretty strong for me, and I look forward to leveraging those relationships and working with those people and bouncing things off of them as time moves on. So it was a great experience.
I really enjoyed it, but I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when committing to the program as the time commitment was tremendous. It was 15‑month program and it’s basically fitting two years of full‑time student activities into a very short timeframe. Doing that, along with trying to spend some time with my family, along with working a full‑time job was challenging, as you might expect. But it was a great experience.