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The Upshot: Reflecting on the Lessons Learned at AFCEA West

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Putting Priorities into Perspective

As events get postponed or cancelled left and right, those of us used to attending conferences on a regular basis as part of our jobs must adjust to a bit of a tempo shift these days. One silver lining of the change? The opportunity to spend time reflecting on events we were lucky enough to attend before the coronavirus scare evolved into what it is today.

Take AFCEA West 2020, for example. Those of us who attended the premier sea service conference earlier this month have had much to mull over since leaving San Diego. Understanding the priorities our nation’s Department of Defense and sea service leadership laid out this year helps those of us who serve these communities prioritize our own efforts – not just for 2020, but well beyond.

To put those priorities into perspective for anyone unable to attend the conference (or planted at a booth in the expo hall), here are a few of our key takeaways:

“It’s not a secret – we’re at cyber war every day”

– Ms. Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment

The cyber threats against America and its national security institutions are real – and the perpetrators of attacks against military and contractor targets are only getting more creative and sophisticated.

What to do in the face of such a complex threat landscape? Quite a lot, Under Secretary Lord made clear in her keynote remarks. She outlined several initiatives gaining steam within the Department of Defense. From the Adaptive Acquisition Framework and Trusted Capital Marketplace to the Cybersecurity Maturation Model Certification, or CMMC, the Department is shoring up its defenses to better protect sensitive information from falling into adversary hands.

“Data is [still] the new bacon”

– RADM Christian “Boris” Becker, USN

Understanding the value data brings to the table is not new, but as various panels in San Diego this year illustrated, our sea services are relying on data now more than ever – to measure and improve just about everything, from training and manpower determinations to procurement and maintenance.

This is a positive shift, but as RADM Becker bluntly stated during his panel’s back and forth, the services need help protecting that data. Information can only ensure military superiority if it is accurate and accessible by the right decision maker at the right time.

That’s where industry partnership comes in. The private sector has the expertise to help our military and sea services not only make sense of the massive volumes of data with which they must contend, but also keep it safe from prying eyes.

“It’s commander’s business”

– Mr. Aaron Weiss, Department of Navy CIO

As part of its effort to protect data, the proclaimed lifeblood of its organization, the Navy is in the midst of a culture shift, according to its new CIO, Aaron Weiss. For years, the weighty task of keeping America’s Navy #CyberFit sat on the shoulders of sailors with “IT” or “cyber” in their job descriptions. Not anymore. Now it is “commander’s business” to ensure everyone is a cyber warrior, no matter their billet. In addition to inculcating a #CyberFit mindset within its own organization, Weiss also mentioned the Navy’s plans to work with tier one contractors to help tier twos and threes get the cybersecurity maturity levels they need to adequately defend themselves.

Reinforcing this culture shift is the Navy’s new Information Superiority Vision and its three lines of effort: modernize, innovate, and defend. The Vision and Weiss’ comments demonstrate a commitment to diversify and speed up the acquisition lifecycle from years to weeks, in order to deploy new technologies at the speed of relevance.

Moving Forward

While AFCEA West becomes a speck in the rearview mirror, the priorities our Defense Department and sea service leadership laid out there should stay front and center. They should guide our own efforts in the private sector – not just so we can stay relevant in a competitive contracting ecosystem, but so we can remain confident in our military’s ability to protect and defend this nation.

As the conference scene goes quiet in the coming weeks (and perhaps months), we have a rare opportunity to pause and reflect. Let’s use that time wisely.