Greg Gardner of NetApp on Mobility, the Intelligence Community, his Professorship and the Importance of Mentors

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Greg Gardner, NetApp

Greg Gardner is the Chief Architect of Defense and Intelligence Solutions at NetApp. He previously served as Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) at for the Intelligence Community (IC) and also as Vice President of Homeland Security Solutions and Public Sector Strategy  for five years at Oracle. The executive has 30 years of military service under his belt and recently served as a Commissioner on both the Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in the U.S. Deployment of Cloud (CLOUD2) and the Big Data Commission.

WashingtonExec spoke with Gardner about the mobile revolution, security of mobile applications, the effects of the federal budget cuts on the workforce, the current culture of the Intelligence Community, STEM and mentors.

With mobile technology changing the workforce in more ways than one, Gardner defined what mobility means to him.

“Mobility is about getting any information to any authorized user anywhere at any time limited only by policy and not by technology. That is what we should expect from mobility. As private citizens and business users, we have come to expect ever-increasing access and connectivity on our personal devices.  With appropriate allowance for information assurance and policy protections, government mobility customers should have similar capabilities.”

Gardner said he thinks mobile computing is currently the biggest form of technology to hit federal IT.

“I note, for example, that the Department of Defense published a Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan on February 15th of this year.  This plan, ‘promotes the development and use of mobile non-tactical   applications within the Department of Defense enterprise.’  I believe initiatives like that are a major step in the right direction.”

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“mobile applications that embrace both innovation and security must be thoughtfully crafted to provide an excellent user experience”

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One concern in this new world of mobility technology is security. Gardner gave his take on how to foster innovation while maintaining strict security.

“The challenge with mobile applications is properly triangulating between Security, Usability, and Performance; you can fully have two but not all three. Mobile users expect, actually they demand, applications that are effective and easy to use. The challenge, therefore, for federal CIOs is to provide effective information assurance—that third security leg of the triangle—in a way that is almost transparent to the user and yet provides the quality performance users expect.”

He added, “mobile applications that embrace both innovation and security must be thoughtfully crafted to provide an excellent user experience. It’s a very tough challenge.”

This year has so far, been the year of the sequestration with budget cuts across government entities. Mobile technology has been credited with being more than helpful in the current world of cutbacks. Gardner talked about the role mobility plays alongside the budget cuts.

“I think what mobility allows us to do is optimize effective / efficient information sharing. Most of us expect to have much if not all of the information we need, both in our private lives and at work, available on our mobile device. The leadership / management art is to leverage that capability in a way that allows employees to act in a way that saves money.”

Gardner added that mobility and the BYOD environment go hand in hand when it comes to cost savings.

“Because we can work from anywhere at any time, many private sector firms have done away with most assigned offices and gone to a hoteling model based on cubicles with meeting rooms for face-to-face discussions.  In doing so, these firms need to rent much less floor space and reduce their infrastructure costs. It’s that kind of creativity, enabled by mobile devices, that enables both flexibility and cost savings.”

Gardner has spent many years in the Intelligence Community (IC) and described the culture in the sector as increasingly “close knit and effective.”

“That team is making prudent, thoughtful, and appropriate changes to the way the Community manages information.  Additionally, I believe the evolving IC Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE) is a well-constructed architecture for sharing information within and across the Intelligence Community.”

Gardner’s career spans decades and credits all his jobs as preparing him for his current role at NetApp.

“I learned leadership and management during my Army career. I acquired a deep appreciation for the remarkable capabilities of information technology during my 5-year tenure at Oracle.  Additionally, while I was there I earned my certification as a Certified Information Security Systems Professional. As a Senior National Intelligence Community Service Officer at DNI, I learned about how the Federal Government operates. I must say, my two and a half years at NetApp have very much enhanced my practical education in leadership, management, and technology.”

Gardner is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University (GMU). He said he enjoys teaching and talked about what teaching means to him and the contrast of being a professor and a PhD candidate.

“For me, teaching is the thing that’s the closest to the satisfactions of leadership and mentoring that I found in the Army. I teach the Capstone Advanced IT course and I’ve been working on my PhD in Information Technology Management since March of 2009. Hopefully I’ll finish before December of this year. My dissertation is the lived experience of smartphone useage in an Army unit.”

In recent years, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) movement has picked up steam, gaining investment and vocal support from the Obama Administration. Gardner shared his thoughts on STEM, saying attention on the topic has “gotten better, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

“What I find in my undergraduate classes is that most students are already out in the workforce and are using a combination of their work experiences and classroom learning to enhance their skills and talents so that they are more employable. We’re doing a better job in the classroom, but it’s not enough for the people who are really interested in earning challenging, well-paying jobs. They’ve got to get out there and get their hands dirty in the workforce.”

Gardner credits colleagues in his military and civilian roles as being mentors that “made a huge difference” in his life.

“A number of the assignments I sought and the jobs I took were based on the advice of my mentors.”

He said he followed their model and currently mentors multiple young and up and coming professionals.

“I currently provide similar counsel to several folks and they in turn pass along help and guidance to others. For example, two of the young folks I mentor, one a 26-year-old Vice President of a small company, the other a 27-year-old director of IC sales for a major company, recently visited my class at GMU and spent several hours discussing career opportunities and advanced schooling with my students. Importantly, I believe mentoring relationships must be earned and based on deep mutual respect. When built on that foundation, those relationships will last a lifetime.”

 

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