CIO Balances Risk, Productivity and Strategy

From its founding in 1955, PAE has offered enduring support for the essential missions of a wide range of customers, including the U.S. government, its allied partners and international organizations. PAE’s current portfolio includes capabilities in critical facility infrastructure, aviation, logistics, training, range operations and national security solutions, to support complex missions for customers around the world.

John Lambeth is the CIO of PAE and is responsible for all aspects of IT strategy, corporate application development and IT support to large-scale customer facing programs. Additionally, he is responsible for internal IT transformation initiatives, as well as providing support to customer programs and business development. CIO Insight contributor Peter High discusses with Lambeth data security, taking risks and the latest trends in IT.


CIO Insight: Your role as CIO of PAE has required that you spend time in some pretty difficult environments. Can you talk about your experiences, and the role that IT plays in these remote locations?

John Lambeth: PAE relies on IT to support its customers, even in the most difficult environments. As CIO for PAE, I have had the opportunity to spend time in locations such as Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. I believe that it is only through going into these environments that a CIO can truly understand the challenges that field operators have in using sophisticated technologies in tough environments. My experiences also tell me that field employees appreciate corporate leadership coming out to the field, sleeping a CHU [containerized housing unit] next to them and experiencing a day in their shoes.

Information technology plays a unique role at PAE. We run the enterprise solutions that support business operations. We also play multiple roles supporting the external customer through deploying infrastructure in support of new contracts and providing logistical, supply chain and analytical systems. Corporate IT staff members will routinely travel to these environments and I believe that the team needs to see me out there in these places as well.

CIO Insight: What are your priorities for the foreseeable future?

Lambeth: Over the last year, PAE has undertaken a significant business transformation initiative that will carry us forward into the foreseeable future. Multiple IT systems have also been replaced or transformed as a result.

Because of their physical location at customer locations, in remote geographic locations or classified environments, employee access to these transformed systems varies greatly. One of my key objectives for this year is to transform data from these systems into information that can be delivered using a comprehensive mobility strategy.

CIO Insight: You have recognized the opportunity that CIOs have to be strategic facilitators and drivers across the enterprise. Can you share some perspectives?

Lambeth: For the last few years, we have talked about the notion of the CIO-Plus. I believe that the CIO can serve as a chief technologist, strategist and business consultant, because he or she tends to get a wise view of how technology is used across the enterprise. For example, IT deploys a sophisticated supply chain management and logistics visibility solution on multiple contracts in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and in the U.S. This experience enables us to participate in RFP development, customer solution design and contribute effectively to business review meetings.

CIO Insight: You also have led a variety of security functions across your career. How do you balance innovation activities (which involve risk taking) with the need to secure one’s data (which entails risk mitigation)?

Lambeth: When it comes to information security, it’s a generally accepted philosophy that if you truly eliminate 100 percent of the business risk, the resulting solution will probably create a very cumbersome and inflexible environment. As a government contractor, I also recognize that our significant rage of customers will have requirements unique to a contract or agency. So there is a natural give and take between setting a set of standards and supporting unique needs.

We have organized our IT security team around three responsibilities: technology solutions to protect the environment, compliance requirements and a governance process that influences deployment of information security on contracts. Having these three functions working closely together gives us balance between risk, productivity and customer satisfaction.

CIO Insight: You have been an IT executive at B2Bs, B2Cs [business to consumer] and B2Gs [business to government]. What are some of the commonalities and differences across this spectrum?

Lambeth: Honestly, there are more commonalities than differences. Certainly, there are things that are unique to government contracting, such as dealing with classified information, unique regulatory requirements and ERP systems unique to government contracting.

However, there are many other characteristics of information management that seem to be common across industries. First, the farther out into the field user base you get, the more you recognize the difference in perception of how IT can most effectively support the business. Field users want systems that tell them how they are doing, while corporate users want the same system to reflect how the overall business is doing. Second, IT has a real opportunity to be strategic in any organization if it can position itself as a showcase of technology solutions across the business.

CIO Insight: What trends particularly excite you as you look multiple years into the future?

Lambeth: I truly believe that rapid advances in both mobile technologies and cloud capabilities will allow organizations to improve access to information and enhance productivity through workflows that are delivered using mobile compute devices.

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.

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