Executive Spotlight: Drew Morin, TCS SVP and CTO on His Firm’s Early Years and Mobility

Drew MorinDrew Morin serves as senior vice president and chief technology officer at TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS), and leads the business' cyber intelligence group.

He has been with the company since 1988 and was previously with BDM Corp.

In his conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Morin discusses TCS' many offerings, the procurement trends of the federal government and some of the technology projects he has worked on in his career.

ExecutiveBiz: Can you explain your role at TCS? 

Drew Morin: TCS has both a commercial and a government business. The company itself is structured with four business units; each is responsible for its own profit and loss:

  • The Commercial Software Group develops software applications for resale through operators or direct to consumers;
  • The Safety and Security Group delivers public safety and personal security applications and services;
  • The Government Solutions Group delivers professional services and secure, reliable wireless communications equipment and support; and
  • The Cyber Intelligence Group provides computer network operations technology and services for cybersecurity, as well as a broad array of cybersecurity specific training courses.

As Chief Technology Officer, one of my key roles is to support and facilitate cross-business unit innovation and product and service development by building bridges across the different technologies we have to enable them to be taken from one market to another.

For example, the Government Solutions Group has specific technologies centered on handling telecom expense management. On the commercial side, we are working on technologies around authentication within a cellular network, which is a part of our Secure the Edgeâ„¢ portfolio.

We actually brought the commercial technology over to the government side. The result is our Total Mobility Management solution. We are, in essence, bringing strong authentication with encryption and coupling it with expense management and mobile device management to offer a comprehensive, end-to-end, secure mobility solution.

I also have a direct operations responsibility as the lead of the Cyber Intelligence Group business unit described earlier.

In addition, I manage our Corporate Information Systems and lead our information security operations internally.In this role, I am concerned with the safe and secure operation of all company networks and systems. Wearing these multiple hats definitely keeps me busy.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Can you please expand on something you said about your company being half commercial and half government? What are the benefits of that dichotomy, considering much of your competition is working strictly with the government?

Morin: As I mentioned, one of the benefits is our ability to successfully transition technologies from the government side to the commercial side, and vice versa.

To give you some background, we are a leading provider in determining precise locations for mobile devices. We are a leading provider in enabling 9-1-1; specifically, wireless, VoIP and next generation 9-1-1 services for public safety.

We are number one in the U.S. in text messaging technology. We launched the first nationwide text to 9-1-1 service. We provide a turn-by-turn navigation solution that's deployed by multiple operators in North America, including Verizon Wireless, and it has just been released globally by BlackBerry.

Thus, we have a lot of mapping, location and communications offerings that integrate within the core commercial wireless network. That expertise can feed into our government solutions, for example, in the case of  supporting public safety. The Department of Homeland Security gets involved in how wireless networks can survive an event such as a natural disaster and how these networks can be best utilized to reach out to first responders and get them where they need to be as quickly as possible. Our technology helps to support these types of capabilities, not only from the commercial side; we also provide expert analysis as well as other technologies and products into the federal government that leverage what we do in the commercial networks.

Another example of the benefit is the ability to deliver solutions such as Total Mobility Management, which enables secure, multifactor communication using commercial devices. More specifically, Total Mobility Management ensures all devices on a network are properly configured and secure. It includes custom design, deployment, management and monitoring of mobility services for efficiently managing and effectively securing a broad range of device platforms across all major operating systems.

Total Mobility Management helps address the growing federal government trend of allowing workers to utilize their own commercial mobile wireless devices as a part of a policy known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). TCS, as a commercial company, provides the products and services that ensure BYOD is safe and secure for government networks.

Both “lobes of our brain“ are working. We have both commercial and government domain expertise and can bring them together to provide complete solutions to the complex problems facing the Department of Defense and other federal government customers. That is what makes us unique. There are a couple of other companies out there that do have commercial services and capabilities. But, very few companies ““ you can probably count them on one hand ““ are actually providing these products, services and technologies to wireless operators and the federal government at our scale.

 

ExecutiveBiz: You just touched on a number of products that your company offers. Is there anything you want to add that highlights any of your offerings critical to the federal government?

Morin: Let's start with some of those that are driven by the commercial side.

We have a Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), which we provide to commercial mobile communications operators. That commercial operator product technology is actually being leveraged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as an extension of their technology, and they now send broadcast alerts via CMAS.

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) is another example. It is a very interesting technology. We are actually deploying that directly with mostly state and local governments. But, we are also working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help make the idea of rich media being made available to first responders a reality. And, that is what NG9-1-1 is all about ““ looking at big Internet Protocol-based pipes coming into the public safety answering points and reaching the first responders with a photograph, or video or the medical information associated with a person, as opposed to just a phone call saying, “I am injured and I need help.“

These are the technologies that DHS is looking at to not only make first responders more effective, but also to enable other personnel within their agency to better respond to a natural disaster or even a terrorist incident. Those are some of the commercial technologies that we see as applicable with the Department of Homeland Security's mission.

Among the other technologies that are critical to the federal government are our secure, reliable, wireless deployable communications. TCS has provided this deployable, end-to-end communications capability to the federal government for over a decade.

The TCS TotalCom® portfolio provides mission-critical communications capabilities over any type of network, whether mobile, fixed, static, terrestrial, marine, airborne or in space. This enables individuals on the ground, vehicles, aircraft and command centers to shape collected information into a coherent, accurate situation assessment.

We also provide highly ruggedized solid-state drives and other equipment that is actually embedded in more than 100 different government programs. In essence, we are providing specific, high-reliability, engineered components into larger-scale government programs.

Finally, I also want to highlight the services we provide to the federal government. Our Cyber Intelligence Group provides computer network operations support through a team of highly trained experts who know how networks are attacked, exploited and defended.

We also provide training to the cyber warriors of the future. We train about 1,000 Department of Defense employees a year. We are arguably one of the leading trainers of that elite group.

Our Professional and Technical Services team provides field engineering services to support communications systems around the world, including those in some of the most harsh and hostile environments.

So, these are the products and services that we provide to the federal government and the Department of Defense that are critical to their ongoing operations for providing the secure, reliable communications they depend on.

 

ExecutiveBiz: You have been with TCS for quite a while ““ since 1998. Could you talk about the development of TCS' federal business and how the company came into being?

Morin: TCS was founded back in 1987, and I am employee number three. Our CEO is a Naval Academy graduate and former naval officer, and he started TCS around the time when we started to see the mainframe go down to the microcomputer. We were in the vanguard of distributed computing. We saw opportunity, as we believed that the computer was going to get smaller and become more accessible. We started with how we were going to enable these large-scale computer systems to become distributed and available.

That was what we cut our teeth on. We spent the early years in support of the special operations community, where we designed, furnished, installed and supported communications requirements for almost all of the different component commands ““ Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines ““ as well as the command headquarters.

It was the beginning of our government business. And, as we progressed and grew, we started looking at where we were going to branch out, because we are always looking at how to solve more challenging problems.

The company started to branch out in two parallel directions. One was continuing to look at how we can extend communications further and further out, which basically got us involved in celestial communications and developed our deployable very small aperture terminal (VSAT) expertise.

But, we also looked at the telecom network itself and how technology was going from big, iron switches down to an multi-tiered architecture, as well, which is pretty much what we have today.

 

ExecutiveBiz: What are the procurement trends you are seeing right now? As a CTO, how do you stay ahead of the curve and know what the federal government is going to want next?

Morin: At this moment, the first comment everybody says ““ and I am going to say it just in passing ““ is that everybody is looking at procurement trends, and on the top of everybody's mind is sequestration. Now that's not necessarily a technology procurement trend; it is a government procurement trend, period. Now that I have thrown it out there, I am going to move on, because we all know it has created uncertainty and a lot of challenges.

But, what we do see in terms of technology procurement ““ and where the money is going and where the funds are going ““ is C4ISR ““ anything that has to do with communications or infrastructure for getting data from point A to point B. C4ISR is continuing to be a requirement, as we become more and more reliant on a connected military.

We are seeing more and more technology being pushed down further and further to the “boots on the ground,“ which is where it belongs. One of the recent awards we received was a Company Command Post contract, which actually takes some of this celestial communications capabilities, the secure reliable communications that we have at the brigade level, and puts it down into the company level. We think that is going to be an ongoing trend.

Our belief is that technology and procurement within the Department of Defense are going to continue to try to put communications ““ better communications, faster communications ““ in the hands of the soldier. That is why I think C4ISR will continue to be funded.

Then, there is cybersecurity. Nobody can really point and say, “That's a cybersecurity and I want three of them,“ but everybody is allocating funding for it, because we all know that it is going to become the next area that you must have dominance in, or you are going to lose. We are focusing our efforts in preparing the cyber warrior through training in the areas of exploitation, defense and forensics. We also provide training for managers assigned to the cybersecurity effort to enable them to develop the programs that will improve their ability to protect critical information and infrastructure.

Another technology procurement trend we are seeing is commercial products and services ““ such as BYOD ““ coming into the federal government and not having to be modified. This plays right into a key focus area for TCS that I described earlier ““ Total Mobility Management.

To keep ahead of that curve, we are investing in research and development (R&D). That is where our ability as a company to have a commercial, as well as a government business really works to our advantage. We are investing in specific technologies that we are going to deploy commercially, and we see these same technologies as having an opportunity to forward the agenda of the federal government in terms of its capabilities. This includes multilevel authentication for securing the edge that plays into BYOD. But, it is not enough to just secure the device. I need to know that you are truly the user of that device. That is why we're also developing multifactor authentication and similar technologies.

The trends are C4ISR, cybersecurity, BYOD and deploying commercial technology that does not have to be customized to be integrated into the federal government. That, and our ability to continue to invest in commercial products and services and have them cross over into the government domain, is what is going to help us stay ahead of that curve.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Turning the focus on to you personally as an executive, what is your experience with integrated voice, data and video communication systems?

Morin: I began in the early '80s, working with a systems engineering firm, and my focus there was communication systems engineering.

Some of the work that I was involved with early on was ““ and it's interesting to see how things come around ““ research and development to try to figure out how to get some of our new and emerging commercial technologies into the Department of Defense. I was involved with a program that put some of the first laptops out in the field. My team designed the communications interface between the crypto gear and the computers. It was a very exciting time for us. We were demonstrating the ability to send anything in a digital format at 16 kb/s frequency hopping over fully encrypted VHF radios.

One day, while supporting a the military exercise, I recall a colonel coming in at the end of the day, throwing his clipboard down and cursing up a storm about how he couldn't communicate to any of the units in the field, but that his contractor team ““ meaning us – was sending data everywhere.

We were very much ahead of our time in what we were doing. And, that product actually did end up getting smaller and smaller over the years. By the time I left, around the mid-'80s, it was about the size of a USB stick. We took something that was the size of a shoebox down to that size in the matter of a two- or three-year time frame. It was a very interesting technology and a very exciting time.

From there, I actually got involved in a couple of different programs that had to do mostly with network management, integration and different types of voice data systems within an IP domain.

I was also involved in some of the early, secure local area networks (LANs) within the Pentagon. I became involved in TEMPEST certification of certain workstations, as well as how to integrate them and demonstrate that you can actually build out a secure LAN that would meet all the TEMPEST requirements.

I also helped develop an architecture for a global network's management system that was operated by the federal government.

After this, I was approached to help start up TCS. At that point in time, with all of this experience in different types of networks and communications, I decided to put those skills to use with this new company.

 

ExecutiveBiz: You went to the University of Virginia and George Mason University, making you a Cavalier and a Patriot. Does going to local universities like those help executives in government contracting get their start? Does that help them go further in the industry?

Morin: Yes and no. I think it is going to help automatically, because typically you are going to be tied in and know people in a local area who are already in federal government contracting. Thus, in that way, it does help.

But, in another way, it was just an education. I obtained a great education. I was very, very fortunate in the education I received and some of the people I was exposed to at that time. But an education is ultimately what you make of it. One could say I went to a local college. I grew up in Virginia. I went to my local university, etc., etc. I was not a very well-traveled young man by the time I got out of college. However, I was surprised that by the '90s I was in China. And, I was thinking, “Wow, I would have never thought that I would be here.“

So, I think it helped more because we have such excellent universities in our local area, rather than because of the proximity of the federal government to the university itself.

 

ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about? What are you are most concerned about for 2013 and beyond?

Morin: What we are excited about is the convergence of commercial communications ““ voice, video and data ““ all of these technologies we see as being critical to the future of federal government operations.

Again, we are excited about Total Mobility Management ““ the idea of a single, integrated solution that enables the management of my emerging mobile enterprise. I want to have a complete experience: I want to have a convergence of my expense management to handle the financial side of it; I want to have authentication device management; I want to have access to manage my services; I want to have applications; I want to have security; I want to have multifactor authentication. It's all of these types of technologies coming together and converging into a complete, end-to-end solution for the federal government. As the government is openly adapting and accepting commercial products and services, it is a very exciting trend that I see evolving into the future.

Something exciting that I think we will see for the rest of the decade relates to total voice, data and video communications for public safety. It is about the capabilities that are coming to our devices and taking those capabilities and making them available to help first responders, to help the DHS, to help the community at large and, specifically, the federal government to provide better and richer information, all at the fingertips of the public safety and emergency management community in order to help them execute their mission.

Those are two of the trends I am most excited about and some of the technologies where we have focus – the specific technologies around total mobility management, as well as rich, IP-related communications.

And, of course, overlying all of that is the security aspect, which is why we have a Cyber Intelligence Group and why it is filtering in and touching all the different activities we do and solutions we create as a company.

For 2013, my primary area of concern is the current state of the federal government. It is filled with competent, capable, dedicated staff, employees and managers. They are a great team that is trying to execute. However, the current budget stalemate in and between the legislative and executive branches is precluding them from receiving the necessary guidance that enables them to effectively execute. It is also creating the inability to plan and execute, as well as creating pressure on research and development. We are currently unable to take a long-term view. In the meantime, our adversaries are looking 10 to 15 years out.

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