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Mind Meld – How industry and government can think together

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports the number of “open” jobs — positions that employers advertise but have not found “qualified” applicants for — has doubled from 1,900,000 jobs in June 2009 to 3,900,000 vacant positions in June 2013. Most of those positions fall in the IT category.

“Government and Industry need to work smarter, and work together, on tackling this challenge,” said Neault. Don Neault is the Vice President, Advanced Services at Cisco Systems. He wrote an op-ed in Federal News Radio explaining how we can bridge the skills gap with government-industry knowledge partnerships.

Neault also sat down with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program to talk about to create this mind meld.

“Government and Industry IT exchanges are really a mechanism to bring technologists into different environments in a way that just exchanges and shares information,” said Neault.

We are not talking about contracts or hiring industry for these partnerships right?

“This is not a hiring situation truly. It is, in my opinion, one of the truest forms of partnership because it gives us all a chance to gain and get on the same common ground and exchange ideas about how to solve problems. We are trying to raise that level of effectiveness,” said Neault.

How do you avoid the legal issues?

“In the DOD’s pilot Information Technology Exchange Program (ITEP) that we participated in, there was clearly a discussion and a whole process to make sure that we were protecting the rights of both parties. Certainly industry does not want to find itself in a situation where they were compromised and obviously the government doesn’t want to do that either,” said Neault.

  • The way to handle the conflict is to really deal with the mission issues themselves.
  • Case in point, how do we deal with the goals of data center consolidation? What are we really trying to accomplish other than trying to shrink the number of data centers from say 500 to 300? That’s all well and good, but if you really look deeper into the item and the issue than it is really trying to get at those root situations that you are trying to solve.
  • If you stay focused on those type of issues, it is not a technology or consulting sale it is really more of how we have dealt with things in industry and figuring out how to bring those things to bear for government.

“One of the things we strive for is really trying to understand how we can better help the country. Yes, we have commercial desires, but that is a completely separate situation for us. We asked ourselves how can we help the DOD deal with some of these issues and challenges? We wanted to show them how we have done it, and frankly help them understand other individuals they could talk to to understand how they have dealt with similar situations,” said Neault.

Be patient

“Security clearances can take awhile. In many instances we are dealing with information that needs to be protected, so you have to get through the security clearance process. But you also have to take the time to ask what are the topics are we going to be engaging in? How do we make sure we have the right protections so that both parties are protected and yet at the same time get to what we are truly trying to accomplish which is looking at the best practices and bringing some of the knowledge to bear?” said Neault.

Essential Objective

“From an objective point of view is don’t try to tackle small isolated problems, start thinking about the broader enterprise-wide problems that folks are dealing with. Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel’s strategy from a digital government perspective is really pushing terms of shared services and how do we look at IT services and support services in a broader context as opposed to departmentally. If you think about it, industry has been dealing with that transition for years. Compound that with things like cyber and all those kinds of challenges we are facing and we are all in it together here,” said Neault.

Be mutually respectful

“If you can’t respect each other it is a bad match,” said Neault.

Adopting an enterprise mindset

“It is easy for us to look at small problems and problems within a particular department but if you truly want to gain a much more effective and efficient use of IT in the case we are talking about here, you have to take a step back and look at it across the broad spectrum and across multiple departments that are leveraging the technology in many similar ways. How do you drive for greater efficiency and effectiveness in the use of that. I call that, the enterprise level,” said Neault. “If you wait for an oversight group like OMB or whatever to drive the enterprise mindset than it is really too late. It is really incumbent upon leaders within the organization to really step forward and think about how can we do this better in a more collaborative way. How do we get department A and department B together to solve that problem?”

How do you begin?

“Having an agency leader say, “I think we can get some benefit out of this, let’s go out and explore.” Start small and grow from there,” said Neault.

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