This is the second part of a conversation with Dave Wennergren, the former deputy chief information officer for the Defense Department who recently joined Arlington, Va.-based contractor CACI International as vice president of enterprise technologies and services.
Dave Wennergren: As you watch the world, I’d say we’ve been on this path of change. If you look back a decade-and-a-half ago, the world was highly localized from a technology perspective. And there was an advantage to that because local area networks, local solutions, etc., had a nice span of control. Things were of a manageable size, they could be done quickly and you were close to your customer, so you could really be responsive. There was an agility to it.
Of course the downside to doing everything locally is that you do the same thing over and over again around the country. Plus, building a lot of local technology solutions back then created these barriers to information sharing. Even though technology was being put into place, we were hampering the ability to share information.
What then happened in the large organizations is that the pendulum began to swing. In the case of big places like DOD, the pendulum swung to the other pole, which was “let’s do everything at the enterprise level.” And frankly there are some things that should be done and other things that absolutely shouldn’t be done at the corporate level.
For example, the fact that we have a single DoD Common Access Card and public key infrastructure solution, instead of hundreds of disparate solutions, is important and powerful and has driven us to improve security and also get rid of labor-intensive processes.
On the other hand, because of the size of the organization, if you try to build IT systems scale across the entire enterprise, they can become immense undertakings, it takes a long time to bring everything together and in trying to delight everyone, you can end up never pleasing anyone.
The power of what is happening nowadays is this recognition that there is a polarity between local solutions and enterprise-level solutions. Some things need to be done corporately and some things are best done locally. And I think we are starting to realize that and build upon these ideas – you can see it in the model of a common infrastructure platform supporting a wide range of specific applications.
As we look forward today, I think there are two forces at work. The first one is this incredible pace of change, and you can view that as a challenge or as an opportunity. I personally view it as an opportunity and forgive me for the use of a few hype words, but the power of cloud computing, the power of web 2.0, the power of doing things in a more modular way, advances in mobility, these things are providing ways to drive the delivery of solutions so much more rapidly.
The second reality we face is tough financial times. Federal organizations are going to deal with tough financial times for a number of years to come. So, how do you take advantage of what the technology is offering you today, how do you continue to foster a culture that will innovate and deliver results quickly? It’s a moment of reflection, if you will, for organizations, and if you choose wisely you will be able to get more done – better and faster. But if you don’t choose wisely, you will fall back upon protecting the old systems that you have and that is a death spiral because the farther you get removed from where technology is headed, the less likely those solutions will work well for you in the future.
Executive Mosaic: How do you anticipate we will see upcoming leaders lead the technological enterprise in 5 or 10 years?
Dave Wennergren: Crystal balls can be a particularly cloudy thing, so, looking out more than a couple of years is challenging. But I’ll offer this; I’ve often described three spheres of leadership for IT professionals. The first sphere is about understanding the rules and regulations. Federal IT is a highly regulated industry; there are a lot of laws, a lot of regulations. There is a lot you have to understand about what has to be done. However, if you only focus on the existing rules and regulations, you won’t be able to be a world-class IT leader, because it takes time for laws to get put into place. Usually, some challenge or opportunity emerges, and then rules or regulations are written and all that takes time. So, if you are only focused on the current rule set then you are hopelessly backward looking.
The second sphere is the one that we all try to focus our time and attention on and that is delighting the customer. And oftentimes, that part of the conversation is hopelessly tied to the present, because customers see what is out there, and then they ask for that. And so while obviously delighting the customer is first and foremost on everyone’s mind, there’s a third sphere of activity that you have to also keep in mind. The third sphere is what is the art of the possible.” Good IT leaders are able to take this third sphere, looking at what’s new and how you can successfully apply new advances and approaches to today’s challenges and problems.
If you consider the DoD Common Access Card, it’s probably the largest successful smart card implementation in the world, and formed the basis for smart card implementations across the federal government. But years ago, at its inception, the customer had asked for a very specific and focused information security solution. Fortunately, there were IT leaders in place that were able to look at where the market was going, and offer up solutions that not only addressed the immediate security concerns, but offered a lot of additional value, including expanded information security features, physical security capabilities and digital signatures that were legally binding to help get rid of paper-based processes.
So, you ended up with a solution that didn’t just satisfy for a couple of years, but now, a decade or more later, it’s still just as relevant.
IT leaders need to be able to follow the rules, delight the customer, but also have an eye to the future. Today, that eye to the future should be on the nexus of cloud computing, web 2.0, social networks and mobility. Together, these things are shattering the notion of what an office is, shattering the boundaries of an organization and how collaboration gets done. People can be connected anytime, anywhere. The key is how you help people be connected anytime, anywhere and find the information that they need to get their job done.
And it’s going to require us to think differently; require us to think differently about how we use technology and how we effectively raise the bar on security. There are some great opportunities for that next generation of leaders.
Executive Mosaic: How do companies like CACI balance servicing what is currently happening and investing in the needs of the federal customer one-to-three-years from now?
Dave Wennergren: I think CACI has a really great track record of being able to not only understand the customer’s needs of today, but also in creating and maintaining a technology roadmap of where technology is heading, so that you are working on the solutions that will delight the customer for years and years to come, not just scratching at the problem at the moment.
As I look forward, for me, it was about starting a new chapter and about an opportunity to continue to serve the nation and make a difference. In making the choice to become part of the CACI team, for me it was all about who you work for, who you work with, and what do you get to work on, and CACI just perfectly fit all those points for me.
In my very first job with the Navy in Philadelphia, one of the things I got to do as a young management analyst was working with a company that was successfully implementing a technology solution for a Navy Systems Command, and that company was CACI.
And so, in my very first job, I got a chance to work with some world-class professionals that were able to really deliver the goods in a way that not only took care of the needs of the present, but also took care of the needs of the command going forward in time. Throughout my career, time and time again, I’ve seen that CACI is a company of great integrity with a strong, core value of supporting the nation, the federal government and the Defense Department and a demonstrated track record of delivering successful solutions to tough technology challenges.
I’m very excited to become a part of this great company and to help build on CACI’s past successes as the company continues to help its clients leverage technology to deliver mission