Biff Lyons oversees the national security division of Parsons Corp.’s government services segment in his senior vice president role at the Pasadena, Calif.-headquartered engineering contractor.
Lyons joined Parsons in 2011 upon that company’s acquisition of SPARTA, where he held a 13-year career in roles such as VP and operations manager of advanced systems technology operation, as well as general manager for defense.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Lyons offers his outlook of how the cyber landscape could evolve in the year ahead and how the convergence of infrastructure systems with the Internet will affect that evolution, as well as perspective on efforts to build the next generation of engineering workers.
ExecutiveBiz: How has Parsons evolved since the SPARTA and Secure Mission Solutions acquisitions?
Biff Lyons: Since I came to Parsons with the acquisition of SPARTA in 2011 I can’t look back too far on the evolution of the business. However, the vision for these two purchases was to enable Parsons to transform itself into a national security and defense services provider. For more than 70 years, Parsons has built a strong reputation in the infrastructure and environmental markets, both of which remain key aspects of our business.
The SPARTA and Secure Mission Solutions acquisitions helped expand our federal government business with a national security flavor, which has worked out very well for Parsons. The acquisitions were healthy for all parties, providing benefits such as access to the resources of a larger company and a larger reach to additional customers.
We can provide our customers with a broader range of services and more comprehensive solutions to fit their needs. The corporation saw its vision come to life — to continue growing its government business in order to maintain a diversified and balanced portfolio.
ExecutiveBiz: What cyber challenge will become most prominent within the year?
Biff Lyons: Cyber will continue to be a challenge for everyone. It is hard to pin one thing down as being more important than any other. Due to the company’s global position, our perspective and focus are on the protection of critical infrastructure and providing mission assurance in the face of a dynamic threat. In fact, in support of our focus on cyber protection of critical infrastructures, we recently opened a new Cyber Solutions Center in Centreville, Va.
With the evolution of the Internet of Things, more and more of our critical infrastructure is connected to the network. There is an additional risk every time a network connection is made, and if people don’t take the right steps to fully understand the threats and implement protections to mitigate those threats, there could be significant damage to their enterprise and its ability to perform its mission.
We anticipate that there will be a continued and accelerating emphasis on the protection of critical infrastructures in the cyber area.
ExecutiveBiz: What trend within converged security should we watch?
Biff Lyons: Converged security is defined as the nexus of cyber protection and the physical protection of our infrastructure systems. All our information systems, networks, and data are on computer networks or information technology systems. The systems that run these infrastructures — office buildings and water treatment plants — use operational technologies that are controlled and monitored over networks and the Internet.
Across the market there will be a continued emphasis on security and the convergence of those operational technology systems with the network and the cyber protections required as a result of that convergence. You are going to see more money, focus, and attention on this going forward.
ExecutiveBiz: How should GovCon firms such as Parsons tap into the next generation of STEM workers?
Biff Lyons: Parsons understands the value of introducing students to STEM and helping to keep students in those fields. There needs to be more outreach from GovCon firms to higher educational institutions and down to the high school arena to help ensure that there are programs in place that are funded and supported. These programs have to motivate, convince, and excite people to get into the STEM fields and graduate with STEM degrees.
We have a number of internship and in-school programs that include working with the University of Maryland Honors College Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students Program. We have some scholarships there and we are just one of their corporate partners. We also work very closely with Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. on their cyber initiative.
We are looking at other relationships and making additional investments to help encourage and support these educational institutions to put together programs that educate our next generation of leaders and technologists. They need our support, so we need to be involved.
We can’t hope that somebody else is going to do it or that the schools will come to those solutions on their own. We need to play an active part and reach back as far in the educational process as possible. This is something we are doing and we are not the only one out there. There are a lot of good models and ideas and various levels of investment that firms of all sizes can take part in.
ExecutiveBiz: Where can educational institutions help in that effort?
Biff Lyons: There are several educational institutions that are doing a great job of reaching out. There is a real balance between providing a basic education — all the fundamentals of the engineering and science disciplines we are trying to teach these young people — and helping them to be ready to take on the challenges that they’re going to face when they leave school. There are cases where educational institutions — universities, colleges, or engineering schools — require an internship of some sort as part of the degree program.
We work very hard to have a fulfilling internship program and work with many universities and colleges in this capacity. We get the benefit of their good work and it helps in recruiting as well. Some institutions of higher learning invite companies to come in and provide guest lecturers or ideas for class projects, to help shape curriculum in some areas and to ensure that young people are coming into the workforce prepared for the available jobs.
A lot of schools are taking those steps. It is a challenge that everyone recognizes and wants to take part in. We’ve approached several institutions and had a lot of very good responses. The key thing is that there is such eagerness within the schools and even with our customers, to help prepare students. There’s a program for just about everybody. One doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest company with the deepest pockets to participate.
There is a level of participation for everyone to be able to make a difference and almost all the schools are willing to have this kind of conversation. It is a national challenge for us all, so I’m grateful we’ve got a lot of energy in this critical area.