Susan Nolan, CIO of Perot Systems

Susan Nolan, CIO of Perot Systems - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Susan Nolan, CIO of Perot Systems - top government contractors - best government contracting eventThis is an exciting time for Perot Systems. Susan Nolan, the company’s CIO, knows all about it. Her team just celebrated the company's 20th anniversary and launched the its newly redesigned public website, In her position Nolan oversees these initiatives and more, while making sure everything launches smoothly and on time. So, how does Nolan, one of the few women CIOs in the industry, manage to stay up to speed? In the following Q&A, Nolan talks about her background, upcoming ventures for Perot Systems, and how she manages to find time amid her busy schedule for a little piano practice alongside her kids.

Q: Tell us a bit of your background and what led you to your current role today at Perot Systems?


Susan Nolan: Unlike many, when I selected my first career field, I chose to remain there. I have a Bachelor of Science in computer science from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science in engineering from the University of Tennessee. I grew up working for Bechtel in various analyst and technical supervisory roles. Following that I came to run Soza & Company's internal IT. Perot Systems made several acquisitions in 2002-2003, including Soza, to create their Government Services division. Prior to being named CIO for the entire company I was the Vice President for Government Services' Corporate Information Technology group.


Q: So the company is mostly in commercial and federal work, how would you describe your current day-to-day responsibilities?


Susan Nolan: The majority of my time is really focused on corporate initiatives. A portion of that time is focused more on government-related initiatives, for federal work comprises 20 percent of our market share. While we're reviewing our IT security solutions, there are additional requirements specific to government classified information that require additional attention. We just celebrated the company's 20th anniversary and launched our newly redesigned public website,, and re-designed intranets as part of the festivities. In my position I oversee all of these initiatives and make sure they launch smoothly and on time.

Q: What are some interesting projects and trends that you are seeing in your current customer base in the federal government?


Susan Nolan: The federal government is similar to the commercial side in that they want greater value for their money. A lot of attention is being put on virtualization “” using virtual servers, as opposed to separate physical entities. There is a great deal of focus on green initiatives too, whether it is your car or your data center.


Q: Does Perot have any green initiatives? Or are you looking at that as potential in the future?


Susan Nolan: Absolutely. We're doing a lot of work with virtual servers both internally and for our clients, so that's a major focus area for us right now. Design for the new data centers that we're opening and consolidation of existing centers focus on heating and cooling energy efficiencies and new product lines that support these goals.

Q: Are you going to talk about the education program? And what is the company's goal in supporting the Department of Education?

Susan Nolan: The Department of Education awarded Perot Systems a $400 million contract late last year, and for the first time ever outsourced their IT operations under a COCO ““ contractor owned, contractor operated agreement. Today the Perot Systems team not only hosts the Department of Education's servers and infrastructure, but we also own the equipment and provide associated support via service level agreements. This new arrangement offers Perot Systems the opportunity to really focus on and understand our client's needs for what we hope will be a long-term engagement.


Q: Are you doing anything in the Web 2.0 space at all? What's the battle and what's your view on that?


Susan Nolan: Everyone is looking at Web 2.0 as a hot topic that can offer cost savings, foster a collaborative work environment, and join together disparate teams. We have a dispersed workforce. We've got a large number of associates within Perot stationed worldwide “” folks in India and Guadalajara. Some of our Government Services associates are stationed around the world at military bases we support. The tricky part is determining how companies go about implementing a solution that is much more free-form than we've seen in the past. Some of our time tested rules on office behaviors will be turned upside down as we employ a more tech-savvy workforce and the tools they grew up on. It's an exciting time.

Q: What's your opinion on what it takes to be a good CIO for a company today?


Susan Nolan: I think understanding that technology is not the be-all and end-all solution. There are people involved, and you have to factor in the personal aspects of the problem you are trying to solve. This takes a great deal of collaboration, in the sense that today, everybody uses information technology. It's not a differentiator. The differentiator is how you choose to employ information technology, and, in my case, what we look to do is help folks collaborate and work together. To knit the organization together, there has got to be something tying these different groups to one another, and I believe that IT can play that role.

Q: What is the best part of your job?


Susan Nolan: The best part is working with different people and trying to solve problems the company faces from a more strategic viewpoint. What are the big pieces of the puzzle that need to fit together? How can IT help those pieces slide together more easily?


What is your biggest challenge in business today?


Susan Nolan: Keeping up with and completing my travel expense reports! I am stationed here in Fairfax with the Government Services division, but the majority of my team reside elsewhere.


What does the future of your job look like? How will it change in the next 12 to 18 months? Or will it be the same?


Susan Nolan: There will be more focus on integration, whether it will be through acquisitions or mergers or building close client relationships. We pay or gain a certain fee for each deal and, whether it be through acquisition or a new account, people bring talents, skills and expertise to the company. In order to utilize these talents and make it easier for everyone, we need to be on the same system or a shared system. Whatever the project, there needs to be a shared goal. Integration from both a systems perspective and a team perspective remains a top challenge.


How would you describe your leadership style?


Susan Nolan: I tend to focus on the collaboration aspect of my work. Being geographically distant from my team, I am on the phone a great deal. Typically, I would walk down the hall but it's a long walk (laughs). I try to reach out and build alliances so the team can focus more on getting involved with our customer and their work. We need to understand their needs so we can help meet those needs.


In terms of being a CIO as a woman, in general, have you faced any specific challenges? Any advice you can give to other women executives looking to look you as a role model?


Susan Nolan: Many more women will have similar opportunities to the one I have been given at Perot Systems. The climate is changing. We recently saw a woman make a serious run for the presidential ticket. It's important, probably more so for women, to achieve a satisfactory work-life integration and to have a good support network to help make that happen.


Just talk a bit about what you do to encourage women at Perot Systems.


Susan Nolan: Recently, we started a women's networking group. It's very informal, there are no requirements, and, technically, you don't have to be a woman to attend. It's focused on getting the women in the company to meet each other, get to know each other better, and perhaps develop more one-on-one relationships. Once women know one another within the company better, we think they'll be more likely to encourage each other to grow and succeed professionally.


What is something most people don't know about you personally?


Susan Nolan: I started taking piano lessons a couple of years ago with my kids. I thought it was very important they have the opportunity to learn an instrument, something my parents never pushed me to do. My piano teacher is of the stubbornly opinionated old-school variety. When I tried to secure lessons for only the children, her response was, “You can learn too.“ I thought “Yeah, you're right, I can!“ I thought I would be a better role model for my kids if they saw mom practicing and struggling too.

Interview with Susan Nolan conducted by JD Kathuria

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