Defense Department Needs A Data-Centric Digital Security Organization

By Rob Carey

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There has been a clear need for the Defense Department to attract, develop and retain a top-notch cyber workforce, as it will play a key role in protecting the country from cyber threats and adversaries.

The “DoD Cyber Workforce Strategy,” which the department released in March, aims to address these needs and update the agency’s plan to foster and unify its workforce — one of the largest in the world. The plan outlines a push to invest in an agency-wide cultural shift to expand employee opportunities and improve workplace conditions and experiences.

The strategy also concentrates on closing workforce management gaps, staying at the cutting edge of technology, securely and quickly delivering resilient systems and transforming into a data-centric organization — important to note that data and cybersecurity overlap here.

The department’s current cyber workforce is composed of personnel working in priority areas such as defensive cyber, offensive cyber, cyberspace effects, intelligence and cyberspace enablers. However, data management, as emerging technologies continue to expand and present opportunities, will aid the agency in staying at the forefront of innovation. Advanced data technologies drive the requirements for a robust cyber workforce and are critical to combatting current and future cyber threats. Focusing on these workforce challenges will be vital to improving and executing the agency’s mission-critical operations. Providing the cyber workforce with effective, flexible tools for success will support advancing organizational goals, such as securing data privacy, enhancing cybersecurity efforts and defending national security; but prior to executing, it is critical to thoroughly understand the Defense Department’s goals from its cyber workforce strategy.

The Cyber Workforce Strategy incorporates four human capital pillars — identification, recruitment, development and retention — to determine and assess workforce difficulties. These goals take into consideration every aspect of an employee’s needs and detect ways to properly resolve workplace challenges. The goals promote unity, enhanced collaboration and the need for increased opportunity. Ultimately, these goals are a tremendous guide to generating lasting changes to workplace practices and procedures.

The department identified the following goals to achieve mission success.

Goal one is execute consistent capability assessment and analysis processes.

The plan calls for the need to develop tailored processes for each specific workforce group that synchronizes workforce measurements to employee requirements while assessing risk-based decisions. This will allow the agency to implement optimized decision-making processes based on risk assessments, which will result in a more targeted and effective approach.

In today’s threat environment, it is critical to have a clear understanding of department needs to properly support mission priorities. Evaluations will assist in assessing and optimizing current capabilities, as well as proactively adjusting resources and projecting workforce trends.

Ensuring that resources are properly allocated and identifying future requirements will help reduce costs and lessen the strain on the agency. Additionally, data analytics can be used to optimize the speed, precision and efficiency of capability and requirement reviews.

Understanding the agency’s capability will also lend to driving enhanced decision-making.

To address and achieve this goal, the department will standardize workforce evaluations and expand the use of effective capability processes and tools that support analysis. Utilizing effective methods to identify significant areas to target for improvement will help support growth.

Goal two is to establish an enterprise-wide talent management program.

Establishing such a program will help unify the broader cyber workforce and better align force capabilities with current and future requirements. Considering the recruitment, development and retention of talent is paramount to a successful cyber workforce strategy. Targeted talent recruitment and development will help align talent with the roles best suited for them for maximized success.

This approach will pair employees with the best-suited development and training programs, creating a talent pipeline to improve their skill sets.

The agency will devise a talent recruitment guideline to support increased employment opportunities for underrepresented and unrecognized people. The creation of new employee training programs, and the improvement of existing programs, will help expand training offerings. Performance-based evaluations will ensure program effectiveness. Boosting training programs and targeting development opportunities for employee-specific needs will help cultivate a positive workplace environment.

As new technologies emerge, the cyber workforce adapts to working in new areas. Advancing training opportunities ensures employees feel empowered to perform their job functions and responsibilities. Workforce training and development support higher-quality job performance and employee engagement.

Goal three is facilitating a cultural shift to optimize department-wide personnel management activities.

Taking a holistic view of the workplace and employee values will help increase worker retention exponentially. The agency plans to promote a cultural shift that emphasizes supporting employee priorities and improving workplace conditions and overall experiences. Now more than ever, organizations are finding innovative solutions to increase worker flexibility.

The agency will also establish a Cyber Workforce Development Fund to help support the execution of activities and training, supporting the acceleration of these programs. The agency encourages the expansion of telework, increased importance on worker health and flexibility — increasing position flexibility will require assigning security clearance needs for cyber positions, billets and personnel.

Promoting flexibility in the workplace is a top priority for the agency. Establishing a foundation for part-time support to help during emergent operational needs will also be a key role for the Defense Department.

Additionally, creating development opportunities and enhancing personnel management will have a massive impact on employee retention.

Changing how the agency approaches employee concerns and priorities will increase workplace satisfaction, and providing broader opportunities for the cyber workforce will sustain the current workforce and help attract incoming talent. These efforts will also give the department a competitive edge, translating to an increased talent pool. Promoting a cultural shift in the agency will empower employees and enhance morale.

Finally, goal four is fostering collaboration and partnerships.

Leveraging partnerships with academia, government agencies and outside partners will be vital for retention efforts, enhancing capability development, operational effectiveness and career broadening experiences. Relationships with these important entities will support and accelerate workforce capabilities and goals.

Strengthening partnerships will be essential to increasing career opportunities and enhancing employee development. Establishing relationships with academia to create a talent pipeline will ensure that the top level of talent is attracted. Partnerships with federal agencies will focus on expanding career opportunities, cross-training and collaboration.

The strategy calls for an apprenticeship program to produce employment exchanges with the private sector. Outside partnerships with allies and partner nations will center around growing capabilities and interoperability.

To create lasting relationships, it is essential to ensure that these engagements are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Successfully building relationships will be the cornerstone to achieving mission success, while seeking strategic alliances will help further position the department as a cyber leader and strengthen the agency.
The plan correctly signifies the need to expand the purview/influence of the cyber workforce to include rapidly changing technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud, big data and secure software development. These technologies will transform the way the department engages with the public and tackles some of society’s most significant challenges.

This strategy will have a profound impact on the Defense Department for many years to come, and it must stay ahead of the threat and ensure that the workforce is prepared to embrace new technologies to protect national security interests. Utilizing human-capital pillars to identify and address employee challenges contributes to encouraging a highly skilled and agile workforce.

The plan provides a unified and coordinated direction for the Pentagon, which will help increase the quality of the cyber workforce and help prioritize their needs. This investment in an agency-wide cultural shift will help it attract and retain experienced workers that will help combat the many cyber threats the nation faces.

Knowledge of and the ability to maneuver within the data element of the architecture will be the foundation of this strategy. The key to success is to transform into a data-centric organization to address the daily challenges that arise. Understanding powerful AI/ML based analytics and how they support the department by addressing workforce challenges and building cyber workforce requirements will also be key in this process. Utilizing data to optimize and drive decision-making is essential to supporting agency personnel in creating lasting change.

Looking to the future, attraction and development will be significant in addressing workforce challenges. Keeping up with emerging technologies is critical to creating new opportunities and positions. The constant increase in data is creating the need for new positions and a ready, capable workforce that understands how to access and manipulate data.

This mindset and understanding will help mitigate workforce issues and allow the Defense Department to focus on primary issues.

There are many jobs that don’t yet exist because the role and presence of data and technology in government is constantly growing. Organizations that can recognize this will be prepared for the future of a data-centric government. ND

Rob Carey is president of Cloudera Government Solutions.

Topics: Defense Department, Defense Contracting

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