Charles Onstott, chief technology officer for CALIBRE Systems, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz for its most recent Executive Spotlight interview detailing his transition as CTO for the company, the major improvements of emerging technology in the federal landscape, the unique challenges on the business side of innovation as well as the ethical changes still to come.
“CALIBRE Systems has a long and rich history of doing interesting work in the government. In the delivery of services to clients, one of the things I love about CALIBRE is its motto, ‘Our Success Follows Yours.’ We strive to understand our customers’ problems and bring the best solutions to address those problems.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight with Charles Onstott below.
ExecutiveBiz: Congrats on becoming CTO! What excites you the most about joining CALIBRE Systems and what do you hope to accomplish for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
“CALIBRE Systems has a long and rich history of doing interesting work in the government. In the delivery of services to clients, one of the things I love about CALIBRE is its motto, ‘Our Success Follows Yours.’ We strive to understand our customers’ problems and bring the best solutions to address those problems.
CALIBRE has strong capabilities in some key areas of management consulting and digital transformation that can help a lot of the pressing issues that federal agencies have today. The company also has capabilities in training, continuous process improvement, financial cost management and program management. We will leverage these competencies to help our clients successfully navigate the modernization of their IT, as well as digital transformation.
Another key area that we have is data science and data platforms. I think that’s another area in government that’s rapidly growing. Our customers want to know how to take the data that’s there and make more effective use of it, in order to apply it to drive efficiencies for better mission outcomes.
My role is to help identify ways to create growth within the company through the use of technology, and part of that is looking at technologies that we can leverage internally and technologies that can be leveraged by our clients.
I’ll be working with the rest of the corporate leadership team to find our strongest capabilities, determine how best to leverage them, and apply them to a broader customer base. That way, we can start to grow the company beyond the core set of customers we have now, not to mention grow the business within the customer base that we currently have.”
ExecutiveBiz: In recent years, what are some of the biggest improvements you’ve seen in the way we talk and think about innovation across the federal sector since the rise of cybersecurity, AI/ML, 5G and other emerging technologies?
“For several years now, cloud computing has been the dominant topic and so all the innovation discussion has been around how do we adopt cloud, how should we adopt cloud and how we need to adopt cloud.
Now, the conversations are more focused on how we best modernize the applications that we currently have, how we best migrate to the cloud and how we take advantage of unique cloud capabilities.
Because it is so widely adopted, partly due to COVID-19, cloud is now a core capability. And from it, the government is able to start to address other areas of innovation that maybe haven’t been getting as much attention.
One area is data analytics. We’ve seen the implementation of data lakes and we’ll continue to see more data strategies along those lines. Over time, the conversation is going to focus more on how to actually use data to make better decisions so advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and visualization will become more important.
And then, in line with DevSecOps, I expect to see a lot more conversation around data ops and model ops, and how organizations begin to address speed to insight especially in light of the cybersecurity challenges that we are all facing in the industry.
Other technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality are yet to achieve widespread adoption. But the problem that augmented reality has is integration; how do you integrate the different data sources you have with the physical situation that you’re in and do that in a way that’s actually meaningful and insightful for the user.
On the networking side, the more exciting development in the long run is the use of low earth orbit satellites to deliver low latency, high bandwidth Internet service literally all over the globe. And it will give us new solution paradigms.
Along the same lines is the Internet of Things that uses more distributed architectures. Sporadic network access and cybersecurity are issues that need a lot of attention, but once we get better at addressing these issues, I expect we’ll a lot more use of Internet of Things technologies in everyday solutions the government uses.”
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ExecutiveBiz: With digital innovation and IT modernizations dramatically influencing the federal sector more by the day, what are some of the unique changes that you’ve seen on the business side of innovation?
“The ability to accelerate time to value is one of the benefits of modernization to the federal government. Businesses have the same benefit and it helps mitigate a lot of risk around the development of new solutions and capabilities.
Another area is business model innovation and with the growth of cloud computing, government agencies are much more open to the idea of purchasing solutions as a service. The use of cloud has become critical to enabling remote workforce and now, government acquisition shops are well steeped in how as-a-service business models work and how to buy them.
Also, there is a real desire across government agencies to improve the user experience of government services for citizens, employees and military personnel. User experience is a major design factor since anything we do today needs to be advancing the government’s ability to improve user experience. At the end of the day, being able to deliver the services efficiently is great but if you can deliver them with high efficiency in a way that really delights your customer, then that’s the best outcome that you can achieve.
User experience is broader than just the technologies like mobile devices involved in it; you really have to look at the basic process that you’re using to deliver the services and ensure that you remove all the friction that you can out of that process to make the use of your service just fundamentally more enjoyable than the competition. And that is going to be an increasingly important differentiator for companies than it has been in the past.”
ExecutiveBiz: From an ethics perspective, can you talk about the challenges that we are about to face as artificial intelligence technology surpasses our nation’s current policies and possibly our privacy standards?
“Most people working in technology, government and corporate executives recognize that artificial intelligence is going to be a major force and a major capability to drive value and efficiency in organizations for the foreseeable future.
There is a lot of justified concern about whether AI should be used in governmental missions because they have the potential to violate human rights or create social injustices. By my view is that we must leverage these technologies to help the government carry out its missions precisely because often these technologies can provide an enormous benefit in protecting human rights and creating social justice.
The fact that there is so much emphasis on the issues around bias and algorithms this early on in the adoption of AI means that we’re likely going to see improvements in it. I am optimistic that these technologies can be used responsibly in doing the work of the government.
The other reason we really need to do this is that our adversaries have said “I am and will be using these technologies extensively,” and as they do so, the pace of activity will increase and we have to be able to match the pace. A good example is in cyberspace. The speed at which things happen in cyberspace is orders of magnitude faster than human speed, and so you have to have solutions that can make decisions at machine speed in order to defend a network, for example.
The other area is in the widening digital divide between organizations and countries that have significant resources and those that don’t. This is an issue that’s being addressed early on. For example, we’re seeing significant bipartisan support for creating a national research cloud that will provide more equitable access to compute and storage resources for AI research.
Policies along these lines can help minimize that digital divide, enabling more people and communities and organizations to contribute to and benefit from AI technology.
Companies need to expect that AI regulation is coming. I think we’ll begin to see more ethics officer roles in AI centers of excellence across government. We also know that the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been tasked with defining AI standards.
They are looking at it the same way they were looking at the cybersecurity model where NIST will be working very actively with industry on the evolution of that framework and regulations. Those regulations will ensure that companies have an ethical stance on applying AI and that they have embedded best practices.”