“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” Steve Jobs
The intelligence community’s ability to continue to roll out missions in the midst of workplace and workforce challenges is just one of the pandemic’s innovations in action. It was also the topic of a panel hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, where leaders from academia, industry and the government discussed remote work and the national security mission.
Even as offices reopen, there’s no more business as usual. “NGA has fully embraced a remote work environment,” emphasized Alan Dean, program director for unified communications (voice and video), NGA (NCE). While he couldn’t speculate about how much of the workforce would be working remotely, he did emphasize that it wouldn’t be going away.
“We’ve all been forced to innovate, and see this isn’t just a nice to have,” said Gabriel Alix, vice president of intelligence at Applied Insight. “It’s an expectation of the current and future workforce.” Alix emphasized it wasn’t just an expectation, but a way for the IC to do work better.
Challenges emerged at the onset of the pandemic. Creating the infrastructure and technology to empower the workforce became key. The U.S. Air Force quickly implemented solutions to empower and enable workers, including technology like deviceONE. But even with technology, they still had to work harder to establish who was on their network, what they were accessing, and why, emphasized Wanda Jones-Heath, principal cyber advisor (acting), Chief Information Security Officer, Department of the Air Force. “It required us to pay more attention to behaviors and understanding when there’s an anomaly,” said Jones-Heath
Infrastructure faced unexpected challenges. One of the first obstacles NGA faced was the increased pressure on their phone system, with inbound and outbound calls skyrocketing in the initial weeks, said Dean. “We had to quickly pivot and build up our resources, as well as go out and get the tools with our industry partners to be able to provide that connectivity,” he said.
Now as the IC prepares to get back to work, the next step is to determine which tools and solutions will continue and which need to be retired. Security and technology systems faced an overwhelming amount of work at the beginning of the pandemic. Now they’ll again be in the hot seat as the government goes back to work.
“A lot of us MacGyvered solutions together,” said Mel Kepler, practice lead, talent development and engagement, LMI. “Now we need to go back and see which of those MacGyvered solutions we should keep, and what was fine for 2020 but now we need a better vision for moving forward.”
IT and security face a tough job in the months ahead, but so do recruiters. The entire conversation around remote work is different. “It’s changed things that we thought were benefits to mission essential,” said Kepler. Remote work used to be a negotiable benefit or ‘nice to have.’ But for a growing population, especially in the technical space, the remote work option is expected.
“If they can’t get what they want, they’ll go somewhere were they can get it,” said.Saurin Shah, vice president, Booz Allen.