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CHIPS Articles: A Conversation with Christopher A. Miller

A Conversation with Christopher A. Miller
Technical Director, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2010
Mr. Miller is the technical director and senior civilian official of SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic. He is responsible for setting command-wide strategic goals and manages engineering and business operations for a workforce of more than 3,300 federal civilian and military employees, and more than 9,000 industry partners. With a total obligation authority of more than $5 billion, the center operates from its main campus in Charleston and several offices located in the continental United States and around the world.

Mr. Miller was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in May 2006 and has 14 years of federal service. He previously served as the Navy's Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C4I) and was directly responsible for more than 125 Navy C4I programs providing the warfighter integrated communication, information technology and intelligence systems that enable command and control of military forces. PEO C4I won the first-ever Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RDA) Acquisition Excellence Award in the Major Acquisition Activity category for 2008, as well as recognition for the fiscal year 2008 Department of Defense Best Overall Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) Program for Echelon II organizations.

CHIPS asked Mr. Miller to talk about a few of SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic's leading edge organizational initiatives in June.

CHIPS: The Department of the Navy is developing an energy strategy that emphasizes energy security, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. This strategy recognizes that energy transformation is a national priority which will enable continued mission accomplishment. How does SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic support this energy agenda?

Mr. Miller: We are extremely committed and are actively supporting the Navy's efforts. Our focus today is effectively communicating our efforts and creating awareness at the local level. We have developed an initial green strategy, and have started to implement various components of the strategy throughout SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic. We've begun maintaining a SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic 'Green Page' with informative links to the Navy energy strategy and approach to conservation. Our energy savings are estimated to be 396,864 kilowatt-hours per year as a result of our initiatives or an energy cost savings of $35,700.

We have formed a 'Technology Energy Team' that looks specifically at the equipment we purchase to use in labs, conducts initial lab energy audits, and identifies energy reduction initiatives. All of our new buildings are taking a very aggressive approach for energy efficiency. On May 10, 2010, we broke ground for our newest building that will be built in accordance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for energy efficiency. It will be a fully certified Silver Level green building by the U.S. Green Building Council. Our other recent military construction (MILCON) projects, while not officially LEED-certified buildings, have also been built to those standards.

CHIPS: With the establishment of U.S Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet, how will SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic engage with this new organization?

Mr. Miller: We've actually had a team across all of SPAWAR, which includes SPAWAR Headquarters, PEO C4I and the two Systems Centers — Atlantic and Pacific, working with Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet since it stood up. For their headquarters, we are helping them figure out how to build their Maritime Operations Center (MOC), which is their command center. We are looking at various kinds of tools and technologies they need to be able to operate and defend the network. While this command center will perform many similar tasks and functions as the other Navy MOCs, there are many unique aspects of the cyber domain.

It's important to remember that many of the things we do have been, and will continue, directly supporting them, like what we do with information assurance and our information operations programs. We are providing them with engineering studies and analysis to better understand their baseline requirements for cyber systems — both in the near term and in the long term. We've had a long relationship with the information dominance community and look forward to having a continued relationship with 10th Fleet. This is a great opportunity for SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic and all of Team SPAWAR.

CHIPS: You have a great blog and you mentioned the challenge of how to communicate and establish an organizational discussion effectively. How do you use social media to meet this challenge?

Mr. Miller: The blog is certainly proving to be an effective way to disseminate information and encourage discussion across the organization. I am amazed at how well it has been received. I try to focus on timely and relevant topics. I also ask open-ended questions on the blog, inviting comments and responding to comments so that a dialogue develops. I also make a point to respond to comments and show people that leadership is listening. Ongoing interaction is critical to an effective organizational discussion because it gets people engaged and excited. It's important to remember that blogs or social media tools are not just for public affairs or IT people. These tools and others need to be used and understood across the entire command.

CHIPS: How can leadership use social media tools to inform as well as get feedback from and respond to the workforce?

Mr. Miller: Leaders can use these tools to provide information and invite comments from the workforce. No single person can do all the work, make all the decisions, or read all the e-mail. We need an empowered and informed team that understands our command's priorities to be successful. Social media and other communications tools play an important role in making us successful.

These tools are great for interacting directly with people — especially, New Professionals and other recent graduates. People more and more are getting comfortable and are choosing to communicate with these tools — just look at the growth of Facebook and Twitter. Some things that make these tools good for leaders include the option to respond anonymously, which allows members of the workforce to make their points without fear of retribution. The ability to see each other's ideas facilitates collaboration and innovation across the command.

The availability of social media tools 24/7 allows the dialogue to take place informally when individuals have the time from anywhere in the world. An open exchange between leaders and the workforce with social media helps ensure that communications are clear and understood. It also tests whether messages are received as intended.

CHIPS: The Defense Department and DON have embraced social media and have policies in place for its use. Is Facebook the application of choice? And are you requiring or encouraging every SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic employee to establish an account?

Mr. Miller: Determining a social media 'application of choice' depends on your objectives when using it. If you want to interact in the external or public realm, Facebook and Twitter are applications that have broad reach and can help you disseminate information to millions of other users. On the other hand, if you want to interact in a secure environment, internal blogs and wikis are applications that have protected connections behind a SPAWAR firewall. Other applications, such as our soon to be deployed internal Expert Locator (based on an open source tool Elgg), will be of value if your objective is to locate a colleague with the expertise you need to tap into to do your work.

We encourage all employees to establish social media accounts, and we require that they manage their presence on them responsibly. They can open up new channels of professional communication and support our strategic aim to increase our knowledge base and become a learning organization.

CHIPS: On April 1, 2010, the Competency Aligned Organization/Integrated Product Team model was fully implemented across SPAWAR. Why has SPAWAR transitioned to the CAO/IPT construct and how will it operate?

Mr. Miller: In short, we are doing this for increased innovation, speed, and agility for our customers. CAO/IPT is about three key things: developing our people, making sure that we have the right people supporting our projects, and innovation. We are executing CAO/IPT because our systems are becoming more complex, and we want to make sure that we have the right people, the right skills, and the best ideas. The model allows us to work in integrated product teams, where we pull together people with different skills from across the command. IPTs are the intersection of our people and tasking — in short, it's where we get the work done for our customers. By operating in an IPT fashion, we are more likely to spark innovation and new ideas. We are stronger as a command when we apply our collective abilities, talents and strengths in an integrated fashion.

We still have a lot of work to do, but this matrix approach will position us better for the future. Right now we are focusing on 'operationalizing' the CAO/IPT model — basically, how to make it work. We are also going through Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) transition; we are getting ready to transition from the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) to the Science and Technology Reinvention Laboratory (STRL) personnel management demonstration system. These three changes are inter-connected, and we need to quickly figure out how to make them work together. We are going to continue to evolve our organizational thinking as we get smarter about the organization and our business systems.

CHIPS: With so many competing priorities, such as the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) actions, CAO/IPT, ERP, social media, and multiple process improvement efforts, how do you know it is not confusing or overwhelming to your workforce? How do you know what the correct balance of change is?

Mr. Miller: A key principle of successful leadership is effective communications — both informing and listening. It helps us make better decisions, do our work better, and develop the best workforce possible. I can't imagine a leader or organization ever being successful without effective communications. We are making an effort to get through these changes quickly, so that we can get back to normal operations.

I come back to the earlier discussion on communications — the way we are going to successfully achieve all these changes and have the correct balance is through an effective communications strategy. The workforce needs to know what is going on and provide us feedback when something isn't going right. Social media is helping us, but it's just a tool. Just as important, leadership needs to show action and improvement based on feedback. We can't afford for there to be a difference between our words and our actions.

We must treat and respect our people enough to be open, honest and transparent — especially, during transition periods like today. When our workforce has enough information to fully understand our command and its strategic objectives, they can make better decisions and produce better results. Leadership and communications are inextricably linked.

CHIPS: Do you believe that refreshing the workforce is important? Does SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic have an active recruiting program?

Mr. Miller: Refreshing and continually developing our workforce is critical and a priority for us. When you look at our workforce demographics, you'll see a dip that is reflective of the post Cold War era where we slowed our hiring for many years. The pace of technology continues to be a challenge — Moore's Law didn't slow down after the Cold War. Our systems continue to get more and more complex and software intensive. These factors combined are making it critical for us to sustain and retain the best possible workforce. We are striving to find the right balance of New Professionals, who have new ideas and understand the new technologies, and experienced people who understand the processes, higher level system design and what our customers need.

Many of the jobs we are recruiting for today didn't exist 10 years ago. We have a great recruiting program, and we continue to evolve it as we learn more about the qualifications and certifications we need to meet the requirements of changing technologies. We are using every tool available to attract the right people. We are still doing the traditional career fairs, but we are also looking at other avenues to acquire experienced personnel, as well as opportunities to hire personnel leaving the military. We are also looking at increasing direct hiring authorities as we move into STRL, so we can hire the most qualified people. The bottom line is that we need a diverse workforce, and we need to continue to refresh our workforce as quickly as possible so we can continue to stay competitive.

CHIPS: You have talked about enhancing speed to capability by using continuous process improvement. How are you going to implement CPI?

Mr. Miller: CPI is a combination of tools and mindset. The tools we are embracing are used by the Department of the Navy as well as industry. We use tools such as Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and Lean Six Sigma, but the tools come and go. More importantly, it's a mindset that is focused on doing things better tomorrow than you did today. It's about fixing problems that frustrate you at work. CPI encourages innovation and creativity, and enables us to quickly adapt in a competitive and dynamic environment. It is about empowering our workforce to solve problems at their level of the organization and increasing our teamwork across the command.

CPI is a critical component in our CAO/IPT transition. Processes integrate components; they are the mortar within the bricks that build our organization. As part of CAO/IPT, we are establishing the competencies as process leads and owners. I will hold the global process owners accountable for improving process effectiveness and ensuring alignment with the voice of our customer. Leadership involvement is critical. Our leadership must help drive the CPI culture of good process development and team work.

We also have to get the workforce excited and empowered to make change. We are establishing an annual award for CPI so that we can recognize and celebrate our successes. Our strategic goal is to have one process, one tool and one owner to deliver quality, speed, agility and value to our customers.

Mr. Miller was interviewed by Holly Quick, a regular contributor to CHIPS and employee of SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic.

Mr. Christopher A. Miller
Mr. Christopher A. Miller

CHARLESTON, S.C. (May 10, 2010) Mr. Miller welcomes attendees for the ground breaking ceremony for SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic's new Consolidated Engineering Facility. Photo by Joe Bullinger/SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (May 10, 2010) Mr. Miller welcomes attendees for the ground breaking ceremony for SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic's new Consolidated Engineering Facility. Photo by Joe Bullinger/SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic.

From left, Mike Beaumeir, vice president of Suffolk Construction Co.; Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Fichter of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast; SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic Technical Director Christopher Miller; SPAWARSYSCOM Deputy Commander Rod Smith; SPAWARSYSCOM Commander Rear Adm. Michael Bachmann; SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Bruce Urbon; North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey; and Peter Wertimer from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Military Policy Council. Photo by Joe Bullinger.
From left, Mike Beaumeir, vice president of Suffolk Construction Company; Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Fichter of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast; SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic Technical Director Christopher Miller; SPAWARSYSCOM Deputy Commander Rod Smith; SPAWARSYSCOM Commander Rear Adm. Michael Bachmann; SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Bruce Urbon; North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey; and Peter Wertimer from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Military Policy Council. Photo by Joe Bullinger/SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic.
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