Cora Carmody serves as chief information officer and senior vice president for global information technology at Jacobs Engineering.
The 35-year industry veteran began her career at Litton PRC, where she rose to chief information officer and later worked for SAIC as SVP and CIO from 2003-2008.
Jacobs was the recipient of ComputerWorld’s first Engaging Youth in IT Award for Carmody’s Technology Goddesses program, which has provided IT programs to nearly 3,000 Girl Scouts over the past decade.
In her chat with ExecutiveBiz, Carmody discussed her work in STEM, the public sector projects she has worked on in her career and her work with BYOD before it became a hot topic in contracting.
ExecutiveBiz: Please Discuss some of the IT and engineering work Jacobs is doing for the public and private sectors.
Cora Carmody: A good way to start about talking about some of the work that we’re doing in IT and engineering is to think about at the core of our IT is our enterprise architecture. And a piece of that is an applications rationalization. And by that, I mean, we look for opportunities to rationalize our applications. We’re in the process of retiring 21 of our legacy project control, project management applications and putting one in that satisfies the business processes that we all follow. That project supports, in turn, all of the engineering projects that we’ve got around the world. We have a highly diverse industrial base in the projects that we support, both public government, oil and gas, pharma and bio, all around the world.
And so we’re trying to approach that work with common values and principles through that project operations and management system. But also, it helps us wheel work, to move the work to where the skilled people are. So we have a concept called Work Share that is critical to support. Sometimes, work that is being done in one part of the world can be best supported by engineers in another part of the world. Or sometimes, if work is flowing in one part of the world, we can extend those services to our customers by Work Share. It helps to have a common set of business processes and tools, both engineering, design tools, project control tools, to support that work, wherever in the world we do it.
Cora Carmody: We have a pretty studied approach to growing, and growth is an imperative as one of our core values. In recent acquisitions, we’ve grown substantially in Australia and in South America. We continue to grow in the Middle East, and we’re growing in China as well.
One acquisition we did a few years ago covered a whole lot more ground in India than we had covered. We are right now the largest on the ground engineering provider of services in India. We have a risk adverse culture. So there are some parts of the world where we don’t think we’re ready to move to because of safety hazards.
ExecutiveBiz: To get a better idea of where your role in the company, what made you join Jacobs and what are some of the responsibilities your job entails?
Cora Carmody: I am the head of global IT for Jacobs. My staff is over a thousand IT professionals in over 24 different countries. So we support the world of Jacobs, wherever in the world Jacobs is. So although that may sound like an inwardly facing role, and it is, to a large extent, but in addition, I have collateral duties in mergers and acquisitions. And I’m working with M&A candidates for acquisition, especially in IT or the federal IT services market, but sometimes engineering companies as well. We support those in different ways through the due diligence and the integration process. But that’s a key part of the role.
In addition, I interface with our external customers when they’ve got particular areas of interest that they want an outside view on or additional help on. Now, what made me join Jacobs and it’s interesting. It’s a large Southern California engineering professional services company. When they approached me in 2008, I actually hadn’t heard of them. But as I went through the interview process, I really became engaged with both the size of the company, the global diversity, as far as geographies go, but the diversity of work that we do around the world in many significant areas. But at its core is a very simple approach to management and management of people. We have a culture of caring, which I find very attractive. It’s synergistic with my own values. And we center our work around three core values. People are our greatest asset. We are a relationship based company, and growth is an imperative. And we strive for 15 percent growth year over year. And those three values really drive our behavior, and they drive our strategy in a lot of different ways. We believe in relationships to grow our work but also relationships internal to Jacobs. We have a concept called adjacencies that the relationship based approach can really help.
For example, our global buildings group builds mission critical facilities, like data centers. Well, that’s kind of adjacent to the work that we do internally, so we have partnerships that way. When our infrastructure, our North America infrastructure group had work with a customer at a state Department of Transportation, they were dealing with an architectural issue in a complex toll system, and they needed some IT help. So through adjacencies, we lent them our support, in terms of enterprise architecture and project management. Again, those three very simple values drive our behavior, and it’s a simple model. It’s a simple approach to business that has worked through the years. And you can just look at Jacobs’ growth and performance since we were founded in 1947. And it’s an intelligent but simple strategy and very
ExecutiveBiz: It obviously is a very competitive market right now, but the federal government is still spending money on IT. Even under the current budget restraints how are you accounting for smaller federal budgets in your role?
Cora Carmody: I think the values work to our advantage here. When I say that growth is imperative, that means two things. It means top line growth by working in growing markets, but it also means taking market share. Growth is imperative means that we watch bottom line growth and are very cost conservative. If you take the federal government and the IT and professional services, we have a lot of head room to go, as far as taking market share goes. So that’s part of the strategy. But when you take our cost performance and our cost conservative performance, over the years, that kind of poises us to really make a splash in the low price, technically acceptable model.
We don’t necessarily waste money on technology. We have a track record within IT here and shows through the years that we continue to find cost improvements while we’re bringing new technologies in. One of those new technologies most recently has been our internal social network, Jacobs Connect. So we’re building relationships around the world but keeping our low cost profile. We’re doing what’s important. But we don’t believe in frills or proprietary frameworks to build systems. We’re pretty
pragmatic and conservative when it comes to that.
I believe that the diversity of our business means that we have a view of best practices in IT and engineering around the world in a lot of different kinds of businesses that will help us help the federal government with their cost challenges, with their system interoperability challenges and with their application redundancy challenges.
ExecutiveBiz: We wrote an article about your work in STEM education. Specifically, the award you won from ComputerWorld. Can you talk a little bit about that award and some of the work you did for it?
Cora Carmody: I’ve given some outside presentations, a couple just within the last few months, on closing the IT skills gap. The growth of jobs will continue in STEM related, STEM literate jobs. And it’s incumbent on corporations, organizations and the government to do what they can to close those gaps. Now, there’s really four skills gaps: Getting qualified students in the K 12 area interested and engaged in STEM activity, then getting them into college in STEM related majors. But a lot of those students are choosing non STEM related jobs. So, as corporations and hiring entities, we need to attract them into entry level positions and then we need to sustain and retain them within our company and enhance their talent.
So the key part of that, there’s a lot been written about STEM, and there are a lot of organizations that throw a lot of money at it. It’s starting, in a lot of cases, at the high school level, which is admirable. But I found that the high school level is, really, too late to start engaging students. You really have to start much younger. After 25, 24 years in systems, I started the Technology Goddesses to start tackling the problem of why more girls aren’t in technology and analyze the nature of the problem, and defined a program that I work with, consistent with the Girl Scouts, for a lot of the reasons. They have same common values. They’ve got technology badges. But they also teach girls leadership and pragmatic skills.
So I started this program 11 years ago. And, in fact, I started it in the northern Virginia area. Two of those first girls, who were 7th graders when I started the program, graduated from college last year and are member of Jacobs IT in northern Virginia. And that’s really taking the long view of STEM starting in the junior high, elementary and even preschool levels. But you have to get them early and keep them. A 3rd grader doesn’t know any better, but if they see a 5th or a 7th graders who says that technology is cool, then they’re more apt to listen. And if you can build a program of sustaining mentorships, with interesting, fun, and relevant activities that lead them up to programming, program management, there’s a vast array of technological jobs that they can get, whether they go to college or not.
The income level is higher, and the unemployment is lower if they opt into STEM. So that the award that you mentioned was given to Jacobs, not just for the Technology Goddesses program, but for the other things that we do worldwide to attract students in.
ExecutiveBiz: You’re in charge of a very geographically diverse groups of employees and you wear many different hats in your role. At some of your previous managerial positions, what lessons did you learn to prepare you for this responsibility?
Cora Carmody: I have been in systems for 35 years. In the first 18 years, I was on government projects, Navy projects, air force, joint projects like JINTACCS (Joint Interoperability of Tactical Command and Control Systems) and classified intelligence community projects.
I spent time on NASA’s first space station program, the space station Freedom, and became a CIO in 1996. And seeing as there are a lot of common things across both the systems and being a CIO, the value of enterprise architecture, a pragmatic, risk based enterprise architecture, where you can describe and depict the needs of the organization so that executives can make intelligent business decisions on investments. No one has unlimited funds to invest in replacing systems. So you really have to have the ability to focus in on where that next rare investment dollar has to go. If you do a risk based approach, you can kind of quickly find, if you’re spending money in the yellow or green areas, that you have the means to divert the funds into the red, or the higher risk areas.
So, certainly, over the years, what I’ve learned in putting systems together, systems integration, systems interoperability, has helped me understand the world of systems and the best way to put systems together.But the other key things that I’ve learned through the years are the best ways to lead people. And, in fact, the first time I was a leader, a manager, was about 30 years ago. I was a task order manager on a program started with four software developers. And by working relationships with customers and working with the recipients of our systems, was able to migrate that team, get more task order work, to move it from four to 12 people, which sounds kind of small, when you think that I’m leading one thousand people now.
But that was 30 years ago, and that still represents 300 percent growth. And that growth was possible through very simple concepts, the leadership principles that are depicted in the book, “The Leadership Challenge“, are as relevant now as 26 years ago when that was first published. And even simple books, like the Power of Positive Thinking, when you’re working with people and with customers, can really pay off. Simple is good.
ExecutiveBiz: Going forward in 2013, what are you most excited about in your role?
Cora Carmody: A couple of things. Three years ago, in my role as CIO, I went to the CEO and said, Look, I want to straighten out the phone bills. I’m tired of paying everybody’s cell phone bills. I just want to straighten out the accounting so it goes to where the costs are incurred.
And he said, “Well, why don’t you give them back?“ I go, “Excuse me?“ He said, “Give the phones back to the employees.“ And then I go, “Okay, wait, I’ll be right back.“ Then we spent some time looking at best practices, putting together a policy, looking at the architecture. And this was before the phrase BYOD was born. But that’s what we did so we gave people back their cell phones. We expanded the phone support, where the data over phones, to beyond just Blackberrys and feature phones, to include Apple phones, Microsoft phones, and Android phones, and put a policy in place where, if they have Jacobs data on their phones, that we reserve the right to remotely wipe the device, and that it has to be a certain level of encryption.
That was, as I said, before BYOD was born. Now that, coupled with a mobile strategy, we’re looking at more and more of our applications to go mobile, still in a secure or known environment, but we believe that that even starting simple with a time card and expense approval mobile, that we can cut out the time that managers spend approving those things. And that should have a good impact on our DSO, our days sale outstanding. We started BYOD with phones and tablets. What we’re doing is studying our application infrastructure. At the back end, we want secure data storage and application access that we can believe in.
That is, we want it secure and authenticated. But with the right applications infrastructure, using applications, either mobile aps or HTML 5 open source approaches, in moving away from some of the plug ins, then it matters less whether our employees are on a PC or a Macintosh or a phone. And so that’s really getting at, I think, some of the intention of the Cloud. Authenticated and trusted data and yes, ubiquitous access. We recently put in a worldwide unified capability for collaboration. We had the global launch a couple of weeks ago. Now Jacobs engineers all around the world are able to find people like them, working on projects like them, and it lets us get the word out quicker but find other people who are using best practices, and we can learn from each other.
And it makes the company a smaller place. In thinking about rationalization in the federal government, the federal government has some excellent examples of collaborative spaces like that. The A-space, the analyst space, that the CIA put up several years ago, tools such as Army Knowledge On-line, AKO/MilBook, both of those are based on a similar platform to our Jacobs Connect. We find that, as opposed to more of a file based collaboration approach, when you come down to it, it’s the people that make the systems and capabilities happen, and not the documents. So it makes sense for people, whether they’re at the lowest architectural or programming level or whether they’re at the strategic decision making level, we all like to connect and find people like us.