Executive Spotlight: Interview with Ray Spicer, Director of Defense and Intelligence for IBM U.S. Federal

Artificial intelligence has seen a massive uptake in the past decade, as major tech companies and up-and-coming start-ups plant their roots in AI-related disciplines like machine learning, natural language processing, image recognition and neural networks. As of 2018, the seeds of innovation are blossoming as human interest in the nonhuman continues to grow. There is danger, however, in being more human than human. The appearance of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey and “I can’t do that Dave” was just a phrase uttered as part of the larger conversation on technology’s interaction with semiotics. IBM’s suggested term “augmented” intelligence, on the other hand, avoids the suggestion that technology and cybernetic enhancements are intended to act as surrogate to human involvement, that artificial intelligence is an opportunity for “higher productivity, higher earnings and overall job growth.” To comment on the state of cognitive technologies, ExecutiveBiz asked Ray Spicer, director of defense and intelligence for IBM Federal, for his thoughts on the fast-approaching future and where he sees the federal space going forward.

“‘Augmented intelligence’–it’s about using machines to enhance and scale human expertise, enabling them to make better informed decisions more rapidly than ever before.”

Ray Spicer

EM: You’ve been at the intersection of defense, military and business development as a professional in the federal space for nearly a decade. How does your background play into your current role? 
Ray Spicer: 
Having spent most of my adult life in the U.S. Navy in key command and leadership roles at sea, in the Pentagon, on major staffs and even in the White House, I feel I’ve developed a solid understanding of our defense and intelligence clients’ mission sets, strategic imperatives and challenges. Couple that Navy experience with several years in industry, initially running a services division of Boeing Defense, Space & Security responsible for delivering intelligence analytics to government clients, and it has prepared me fairly well to support and deliver solutions to IBM U.S. Federal’s clients in the defense and intelligence industry.

IBM excels at delivering strategic technology solutions and services to national security agencies throughout the Federal marketplace. What is the most effective way to establish working relationships with national security agencies, in your experience? 
Without question, the best way to establish strong working relationships is to earn the trust of your clients. You do that by demonstrating an understanding of their requirements, listening to their challenges, and proposing solutions to address those challenges. Ideally, you’re asked to implement those solutions. But we’re in it for the long haul as well – we don’t just sell our products and walk away. Our national security is a priority for us, and we’re both grateful for and deeply honored by the opportunity to partner with our federal clients to deliver solutions and services that enhance their capabilities.

During your time working with the federal government, how have you seen it evolve and it what ways do you think it could become better? 
I see more willingness on the part of the federal government to partner with industry to develop and implement solutions to address their challenges. I think there has been reluctance in the past to outsource critical work owing to classification levels, security requirements, and a sense that government challenges are somehow different than those in the commercial world. In reality, the challenges often are quite similar, if not exactly the same. Take, for example, the fact that IBM provides security and other solutions for 90 percent of the world’s banks. Our commercial partners in that industry face many of the same challenges as our government clients in securing personally identifiable and other critical information of their customers, and they trust IBM to help them keep that information secure. Those same solutions are often directly applicable to our government clients, and if not completely so, can be modified, enhanced or otherwise tweaked to account for varying requirements.

I’m also seeing a deeper appreciation on the part of the federal government for the enormous potential of cognitive solutions such as artificial intelligence – what we at IBM often refer to as “augmented” intelligence because it is about using machines to enhance and scale human expertise, enabling them to make better informed decisions more rapidly than ever before. We’ve all seen in the open press that we are not alone in our quest to harness AI to achieve a strategic advantage. For example, China has been making rapid advances in AI over the last few years and their government has published a directive stating their intention to become the world’s leader in AI by 2030. That is deeply concerning – and makes it all the more critical for our government and industry to continue to partner in an effort to maintain our competitive advantage. Unlike some past waves of technological innovation, industry is outpacing government in the research and development of AI technologies, so this partnership is vital.

In your opinion, what technologies will have the greatest impact on the intelligence and security market place in the next 3-5 years?
I’m a big believer in the application of cognitive solutions, augmented intelligence and machine learning to government mission challenges. Too often, we see clients who are collecting massive quantities of data, but using very little of it to their advantage. With the accelerated pace at which data is being produced – and it shows no signs of slowing down – you must find ways to use data to your advantage, and do it at a speed and scale that can accommodate the massive volume of data in play today and that will continue to be generated at an exponential pace. Using machines can help organizations unlock knowledge and insights from these massive volumes of data. This concept applies across nearly every facet of the organization, from operations to supply chain management to cybersecurity.

Other emerging technologies that I believe will have an enormous impact in the near future include blockchain, edge computing and quantum computing, all of which have the potential to revolutionize entire industries. Blockchain provides a means to securely exchange digital or physical assets through the creation of a permanent, digitized chain of transactions that can’t be altered. Think of it as a way to counter fraud, theft or other controversies such as insider threat … the possibilities are endless, especially when you layer in cognitive on top of it. Edge computing performs processing and analyzes data at the edge of the computing network, near the source of the data, reducing the connectivity requirements between the sensor and the central data center. That would clearly offer tremendous tactical advantages to our defense and intelligence clients. Quantum computing will allow us to solve complex problems that even today’s most powerful supercomputers cannot. While technologies such as AI can help us find patterns buried in vast amounts of existing data, quantum computing may have the potential to provide solutions to problems where the data doesn’t exist. Examples include finding new medications, making better investments, optimizing supply chain routes that take less time or burn the least amount of fuel, or even training AI to be better and faster.

The Defense Department plans to award a potential 10-year contract to a single vendor by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 to provide cloud computing platforms and services across the agency. How can this cloud services contract work to bring companies, including IBM, together?
This is yet another great example of how DoD is executing on its willingness to outsource critically important capabilities to industry. I give them a lot of credit for soliciting industry for recommendations, but I believe there is tremendous risk associated with locking DoD into a proprietary, sole-sourced cloud environment for the next 10 years. By limiting itself to a single provider of cloud platforms and services, DoD would eliminate the enormous cost benefits of vendor competition, limit its ability to optimize its cloud infrastructure for its many and varied mission requirements, and deny our military access to a multitude of cloud-based innovations where several vendors have expertise or are investing heavily. The most successful commercial companies (IBM included) do not restrict themselves to a single cloud provider; instead, they take full advantage of multiple providers’ cloud offerings to optimize and adapt their cloud platforms and services to best support their business objectives. DoD would benefit similarly by adopting this approach.

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About
Ray Spicer is an executive leader with significant operational and technical experience. As the Director of Defense and Intelligence for IBM U.S. Federal, he is responsible for delivering cross-brand solutions in hardware, software and services to IBM Federal’s Defense and Intelligence Community clients. Prior to joining IBM, he was the Director of Kestrel Programs at Boeing Defense, Space & Security, where he had responsibility for engineering, analytic and management teams that developed and delivered a variety of products and services to government, commercial and international customers. Spicer joined industry after completing a successful career in the U.S. Navy with extensive leadership assignments that included command of the destroyer USS MITSCHER (DDG 57), Destroyer Squadron SEVEN and Carrier Strike Group TWELVE. He also served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Military Office where he maintained operational responsibility for all military support to the White House, including Air Force One, Marine One, Camp David, the White House Communications Agency, and the White House Medical Unit. His 31-year naval career culminated in promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral.

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