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CHIPS Articles: Special Assistant to SECNAV for IM and DON CIO Shares Guiding Principles

Special Assistant to SECNAV for IM and DON CIO Shares Guiding Principles
By Aaron Weis - October-December 2019
It is my pleasure to greet you as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Information Management and Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO). While the DON CIO position is one that you’re familiar with, the Special Assistant role was created to ensure the highest level of visibility and support for the position.

The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) ordered a Cybersecurity Readiness Review (CRR) in October 2018, following multiple data breaches within our defense industrial base. The CRR highlighted the need for strong cybersecurity and the need to organize around information as a strategic asset and warfighting capability. A clear takeaway was that we needed to take a holistic view of the problem and empower the CIO to drive needed change to produce improved outcomes.

The Secretary set out to restructure the DON CIO as a fully empowered office. The empowered CIO is chartered with developing and implementing an overall vision and strategy to guide the department over the next five years to modernize our technology; apply current and emerging technology to bring winning transformative capabilities to our Sailors, Marines, and civilians; and defend our information by making cyber hygiene and operations a priority.

To realize this vision, I am supported by two three-star deputy CIOs aligned to the Services. VADM Kohler, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare/Director of Naval Intelligence, is dual-hatted as the Deputy CIO for the Navy. LtGen Reynolds, Deputy Commandant for Information/ Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Strategic Command, is dual-hatted as Deputy CIO for the Marine Corps. There are four subordinate directorates that report directly to me: a Chief Technology Officer to design a fully integrated digital mission capability platform; a Chief Data Officer to harness the power of raw data; a Chief Digital Innovation Officer to leverage emerging technology and deliver transformative capabilities; and a Chief Information Security Officer to protect data and information regardless of where it resides.

With support at the highest level of the DON, support of the highest levels of the Navy and Marine Corps, and direct supports who are experts in their fields, I am confident that we can tackle the challenges we face today and look forward to the work ahead of us.

While I am new to the DON, I’ve been in the Pentagon for the past year as an advisor to DOD CIO. In this position I drove strategy for the DOD enterprise cloud strategy, IT modernization, and led the first CIO accreditation of DOD’s $46 billion IT budget. My experience in DOD along with 28 years in private industry gives me a unique perspective with which to lead information management, information technology, and cybersecurity across the DON.

I have a personal connection to the Navy, which also drives me to ensure we bring the best capability and technology that we can to the warfighters. I was born in Norfolk and my father served on the USS Enterprise. So while I did not serve, I am proud to lend my service now at such a critical time for the DON and for our nation.

Since this is my introductory column, I’d like to share with you a few of my guiding principles as we move out based on need and urgency.

  • Cybersecurity: Maintaining cyber readiness is an all hands responsibility. We must change the cyber culture, take responsibility for cybersecurity, and practice good cyber hygiene.
  • “We” Mentality: We are all on the same journey. My Navy and Marine Corps Deputy CIOs are onboard with culture change and are part of the DON CIO team. I’d like to see the “We” mentality flow throughout the Department. It is always “We,” and never “Us” and “Them.”
  • Say What You Mean: Transparency and honesty are paramount. Don’t hide bad news. Don’t sugarcoat. Respectfully say what you mean.
  • Conserve Energy: Don’t build what already exists; build on it. Leverage success. It doesn’t matter if you did not develop it; save time, save energy, and leverage it!
  • Clock Speed: In everything we do and plans for the future, think in terms of weeks and months, instead of years. If we think in terms of years, we will always be behind the curve, always trying to catch up, always steps behind bad actors. Our adversaries are on a high clock speed.
  • Simple is Beautiful: There is no reason to make things unnecessarily complicated. Just enough complexity, no more.
  • Accountability: Accountability starts at the top. SECNAV demonstrated accountability to the DON in publishing the CRR, which pointed out areas of weakness. I am personally accountable to SECNAV, but I am also accountable to you – the Sailors, Marines, and civilians of the DON. I anticipate a culture of personal accountability permeating the DON.
  • Directionally Correct: We can spend years trying to make something perfect and never bring it to execution. Perfect is the enemy of good! Start early (this goes back to clock speed – weeks or months, not years). Learn. Iterate. Be directionally correct, moving in the right direction toward our ultimate goals.

The leadership team will be spending the next several weeks working out the initial vision and strategy document. It will be a lean, five to ten page document that will set the starting point for our work. It will be developed with the mindset of being directionally correct (iterating as we learn) and being fully transparent. We will share this document for all to absorb as soon as it is completed.

The last thought I want to leave you with is that everything we do is ultimately for the afloat and ashore forces. So I ask you to join me as “We” embark on this journey to strengthen our cybersecurity and bring capability and technology to the warfighters. I look forward to working with you!

Aaron Weis, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Information Management and Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer
Aaron Weis, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Information Management and Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer
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