IT Modernization in the IC: Part Two

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Jill Singer leads AT&T business activities serving the Intelligence Community, overseeing the delivery of strategic technology solutions and services to national security agencies throughout the global public sector marketplace. Before joining AT&T, Ms. Singer was a partner with Deep Water Point and CEO of Tummler Singer Associates consulting firm. Her senior government experience includes Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Deputy CIO for the Central Intelligence Agency, and Director of the Diplomatic Telecommunications Service for U.S. Department of State. In addition to her 25-plus years in government, she also held industry positions with Science Applications International Corporation, Inc. (SAIC), GE Aerospace, and IBM.

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How the IC can implement modernized network technologies

The Intelligence Community needs advanced technology to address both a rising near-peer threat, and escalating cybersecurity concerns. Network modernization can help the IC to tackle these core issues in support of greater mission effectiveness.

AT&T Public Sector Vice President of National Security and Defense Jill Singer describes the benefits of technology modernization within the IC and lays out a course for the practical implementation of a network modernization program.

Why does the intelligence community need IT modernization?

They can use modernization to automate many of the processes that up to now have been done manually. In this way, modernized technologies will free up their workforce to focus on other more important, more pressing priorities.

In cybersecurity in particular – it’s not possible for the human to go through all of the log records that can come in. That’s just one example of a place where automation can make an enormous difference.

The same holds true for network operations. With underlying automation, whether it be robotic process automation or full-on AI, the IC could operate its networks on a self-healing basis. They could then leverage their human talent only in those specific problem areas where humans actually need to intervene.

What challenges does the IC face on the road to modernization?

One stumbling block to the adoption of newer technology is that the IC operates most of its capabilities in a closed and private environment. The IC has additional security requirements and precautions, which means there is extra work to be done with any new technology.

As it migrates towards an embedded, mission-critical legacy environment, the IC needs to really understand the risks, the impact to the existing infrastructure, any time they are inserting a new technology. They have to make sure that a new technology isn’t going to break something that is of extreme importance to the mission.

Are there organizational challenges as well?

In terms of networking technologies — absolutely. The network is “underlying infrastructure,” which means it is not always top of mind in terms of what needs to be upgraded. There’s an organizational need to prioritize the network, and also to communicate the benefits.

When IT leaders do focus on network modernization, it’s important that they pull in the people who are operating these systems: They need to engage all the key stakeholders so that people understand what this is going to mean to them in operational terms.

In government, procurement can also be a challenge. How can the IC purchase modernized solutions more effectively?

Government acquisitions are lengthy: It take many months to go through the typical government process of request for proposal, response, selection, and award. Given the pace of technological change, it can be really hard to project what you are even going to need when you are looking two years in advance.

Not all IC agencies have access to the OTA, the Other Transactional Authority. So they need to find other ways to take smaller bites, especially when requirements are not as easy to express or as well-defined as they might like. They can aim for more agile-style acquisitions, as opposed to the usual multi-year, winner-takes-all approach. Smaller, more specific acquisitions could be useful as a way to introduce new technology faster.

How can IC agencies leverage new cyber protections as part of their network-modernization implementation?

At AT&T, we are fully supportive of the Zero Trust framework and the business processes that support it. This means providing defense-in-depth from a cybersecurity perspective and verifying that the people who are accessing your network are fully vetted and approved. The design principles should have cybersecurity in mind upfront— whether in support of your applications, your network, or other features of your infrastructure. Cybersecurity should not be something bolted on at the end.

A cyber-sensitive implementation also requires IC agencies to implement their infrastructure with all of the necessary touch points to confirm that their cybersecurity posture is solid and is valid. Rather than just focusing on inserting this patch, Zero Trust means looking at the whole ecosystem and all of the possible ways that an agency can introduce new security features. Then you can have confidence that what’s happening in your IT infrastructure is what should be happening.

How should the IC be thinking about the IT workforce in relation to network modernization?

With modernization, IC agencies can automate solutions for commodity IT services: They can automate virtualization, patching, or install self-healing networks. This frees up the workforce to focus on more pressing issues and priorities. From a managerial perspective, IC leaders need to consider giving them the time they need to learn new skills.

When an IC agency moves its network from a hardware-based, router-based activity to a software-based activity, for example, they need people who are schooled not only in network engineering, but also in software development practices and capabilities. They should be learning how to run their network from a software side, as opposed to installing new equipment.

Do you foresee a need for other skills as well?

We can look at the mountains of data that systems can generate, including logs for health and status information. There’s a growing need for artificial intelligence and machine learning. IC staff won’t need to be AI experts necessarily, but they will have to know enough to understand that any AI system that they’re using is feeding them good data.

Overall, how will modernization help to advance the IC mission?

Technology modernization supports the IC through reduced operating costs. When we make their operational baseline more modernized, we can remove outdated legacy equipment and drive down the daily cost of operating and maintaining their network infrastructure. That frees them to reinvest those funds either into more new technologies or into other mission priorities.

Finally, why is AT&T the right partner to support the IC in this effort?

We have a longstanding relationship with the IC, a proven track record of delivering the capabilities and services they need. We’re committed to the success of the IC missions, and we support that commitment with a team of fully cleared, highly talented and deeply technical professionals.

We bring pride and passion to our work with the intelligence community and the agencies that we serve. We’re innovating for the future, and we’re innovating for now, with technologies that the IC can adopt and deploy immediately to drive better mission outcomes.

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