Data, Zero Trust, Gov-Industry Partnerships Top Agenda at West 2023

By Francis Rose, Host - Fed Gov Today

SAN DIEGO, CA – Four topics emerged above all others as the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, other sea services, and industry partners that support them converged on West 2023. And none will surprise either the government or industry.

Capt. Christi Montgomery, Commander of the Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center

From the opening of the show on Tuesday, February 14th, topics surrounding the collection, collation, curation, and distribution of data wound through virtually every discussion I had on the show floor, from government and industry leaders alike. Even for those leaders for whom data was not the lead item in their portfolios, data permeated their concerns. “We receive almost four billion individual observations from satellite-based monitors every day,” Capt. Christi Montgomery, Commander of the Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, told me on the show floor. “We ingest all of that data in raw form and do some algorithmic transformation of it to make sure it’s ready to move from observation space into a model framework.” Montgomery told me NOAA and the Air Force are critical partners – and data exchange points – for her command’s mission.

Navy Chief Information Officer Aaron Weis

In addition to data, the Pentagon’s Zero Trust efforts were at the top of agendas across both government and industry. Navy Chief Information Officer Aaron Weis told me, “We’ve taken (Defense Department CIO) John Sherman down to NCDOC (Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command), we’ve taken (DoD Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity and Chief Information Security Officer) Dave McKeown…we put them on the watch floor, Capt. Christina Hicks gives them the full show, and those people walk away kind of gobsmacked, like holy cow, how do I get that?”

The connective tissue for both data and zero trust/cyber topics is the state of the workforce in both the government and private sector. “There are a number of [data] positions that we just haven’t resourced throughout the years,” Capt. Brian Erickson, the Coast Guard’s Chief Data Officer, told me. “I think we looked at data as an IT function many years ago. We’ve started to evolve that view, to a more mature, data-driven, data-literate organization, but we have a long way to go, I think, on workforce development.”

Patrick Johnson, Director of the Workforce Innovation Directorate in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Defense Department

The fourth theme of the show was the collaboration between the government and industry. Patrick Johnson, Director of the Workforce Innovation Directorate in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Defense Department, told me he’s working to make it easier for cyber pros to move between government and industry. “Part of it is looking at how you bring people in and appoint them. [We’re also looking at whether] there are some benefits we can lock or freeze in place, so when you do go out [to industry], we’re not rewarding longevity, we’re rewarding you for the time spent with us.”

To move the needle on all four themes, some industry partners at the show promoted not just technology solutions but new mindset and cultural approaches. “I remember a story that was on [TV] years ago about these brand new locks, and they brought a burglar up…and they said, ‘How would you get in?’ He just lifted his foot and broke the door jamb,” Chris Usserman of Infoblox told me. “That mindset is something we should foster through gameplay. We do that today with kinetic warfare…where we are given an objective but not a method or a means to get there. We should do the same thing and foster that in cyber.”

Mike Walsh, President of Forescout Government Systems

Mike Walsh, the President of Forescout Government Systems, said on the show floor: “I heard some of the most amazing things about JWCC (the DoD’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract). The DISA presenter said…you have to fill out all these forms to get to the cloud. I was struck by the fact that it’s going to be really hard for someone to fill out all of these forms in order to get to the easy-to-use cloud.” Walsh added, “it’s going to take a ton of work to get anybody who has a cloud skill to come to work for the government, and then it’s going to take a ton of work for anybody who has tried to take legacy applications and move them to the cloud.”

The show closed February 16th with a keynote from Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday. Attendees went home from the show with great insights into the next phases of the work all the sea services are doing on data, zero trust, workforce development, collaboration.

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