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Executive Spotlight: Don Heckman, Director in Advanced Solutions for Guidehouse

Don Heckman, director in advanced solutions for Guidehouse, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the first two years of his tenure with Guidehouse and the critical aspects of the company’s successful culture and strategy to grow its footprint in the federal sector.

In addition, Heckman also discussed the most critical challenges facing government contractors as cybersecurity and data hygiene become more important as well as the impact that emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are having on improving decision making during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.

“For cyber defenders, we’re seeing the need to leverage automation to identify and respond to those attacks at net speed. I think it’s going to be even more critical in the future.  Tasks like manual patching of all your systems can be done by automation in minutes or seconds versus days or weeks.”

You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Don Heckman below:

ExecutiveBiz: Congrats on coming up on two years since joining Guidehouse. Why did you want to join the company and what were the attributes of its mission that attracted you to the role? What are the core values that are important to your company’s culture?

Don Heckman: “Two years ago, I was looking for a company in the federal landscape to support DoD that was mission-focused. The thing that struck me most about Guidehouse was the care and attention that went into the mission needs of their clients and the drive to deliver for them.

It was a natural fit for me and the mission-focused business perspective that I wanted to be a part of my next job. Before I joined the company, everyone would mention the collaboration within Guidehouse, and the company had a fantastic reputation. I can confirm over the last two years that this is true.

It’s also a huge advantage for us to combine our commercial and public sector experience as well as leverage our technology subject experts to deliver the best solutions for our clients. The core mission that I appreciate is we continually work to help our clients succeed and solve their most challenging and complex problems.

When I joined Guidehouse, it was after the company had acquired Navigant Consulting. We had this good synergy between the two companies’ alignment with our client segments,  focusing on both the commercial and public sectors.

More recently, we completed the acquisition of Dovel Technologies.  This acquisition added a whole new set of cutting-edge technologies in advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence, enterprise digital modernization, cloud adoption, and infrastructure optimization to complement Guidehouse’s service offerings.

There are a little over 12,000 people at Guidehouse. It’s exciting that the company continues to grow and add new capabilities. We’re always looking for new technologies and solutions that add value to our company and integrate into our company goals and culture.

A lot of other organizations have nice mission and vision statements, but actions always speak louder than words. My experience with Guidehouse over the last two years has proven to me that everyone here lives the mission and our core values.

It’s been refreshing for me and it’s great to have leadership that really cares about our people, which translates to the services we provide for our customers. We really look to take care of our people and they continue to see the path to grow both professionally and personally, which is just great to see every day.”

ExecutiveBiz: What do you see as the most critical challenges facing those in the federal sector as cybersecurity continues to rise in importance and cyber hygiene becomes a necessity? How is zero-trust architecture involved?

Don Heckman: “Within the federal government, we’ve all had to recognize that cybersecurity is important for mission success and not an option anymore. Some of the recent things we’ve seen over the pandemic with all the ransomware and various attacks on our critical infrastructures,

I think everyone realized cyber’s importance and embraced the recent executive order from the Biden administration on improving our national cybersecurity which came out with some very aggressive goals and objectives.

I think that’s great because technology is evolving so quickly.  Moving to the cloud, implementing 5G capabilities, the Internet of Things (IoT) and all the other new technologies are going to be significant in the upcoming cybersecurity challenges. I think we’ve realized that legacy thinking around creating boundary protection is no longer a viable strategy. The game has changed.

As we continue to rethink our cybersecurity strategy moving forward, we need to adopt a zero-trust mindset. In a nutshell, zero-trust is based on the concept of trusting no one and you are to verify everything. Every person, device, and process in your environment is interrogated before you grant access control to your environment and information. Additionally, monitoring all actions within the environment is critical. That’s a huge challenge to manage.

One of the biggest challenges we all are facing in both the commercial and government sectors is the shortage of cyber-based talent. It’s a major problem. We need to look for new ways to attract and retain new talent, in order to have the manpower to address these complex issues for all of us.

We should consider looking into some non-traditional pools. It could be through thinking about job qualifications and requirements, or retraining employees you currently have. There’s a lot to think about and experience is starting to be much more valuable than four-year degrees in IT positions.”

ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the challenges facing federal networks and platforms as data security initiatives impact the best business practices in our industry and across other areas like the U.S. military and government agencies?

Don Heckman: “As we move forward, one of the biggest challenges we need to focus on is rethinking our cybersecurity architectures and moving to a zero-trust architecture. It really is a different way of thinking about security. It comes down to how you do that in a way so that the security process doesn’t impact your natural business mission operations and workflows.

The other challenge is a lot of government agencies are still using legacy systems. It could be at the federal, state, or local levels. as we think through it, we have to plan everything ahead of time and find ways to implement incrementally to get us to the desired end-state.

One of the biggest mistakes that some are making about zero-trust is thinking about the concept as a big bang approach, or that you need to throw everything away that you’ve done previously. That’s not the case at all. It’s a journey to understanding your IT strategy and evolution moving forward. It’s challenging and there are multiple components, but it’s necessary to protect our data and implement zero-trust standards.

It’s a different approach and people are realizing that it’s necessary. They’re learning how to identify their high-value assets and data, as well as who has access to it and for what reasons. Those are some of the key things and after some adjustments, it will be really rewarding.”

ExecutiveBiz: With artificial intelligence and machine learning impacting most industries and the U.S. military dramatically as we move forward, what has impressed you the most about the technology’s capabilities to improve decision-making across the federal sector and all areas? In addition, how can AI be used to address some of the biggest challenges you see in your industry?

Don Heckman: “Obviously, AI, machine learning, and intelligence automation are all becoming very important and fundamental for a wide range of applications as we talked about previously, it can also provide a solution to some of our workforce shortages.

There are some workflow processes that are particularly good to leverage automation to increase efficiency and reduce human errors. For example, repetitive tasks that are boring and do not require a lot of thought are good prospects,

By leveraging Intelligent Automation, the current workforce can be freed up to do more value-added and meaningful tasks.

The talent that is available can be more creative and focus on the more complex tasks that require human decision-making. That’s the future of cybersecurity. We’re actually seeing threat actors use automation to scale and speed their attacks.

For cyber defenders, we’re seeing the need to leverage automation to identify and respond to those attacks at net speed. I think it’s going to be even more critical in the future.  Tasks like manual patching of all your systems can be done by automation in minutes or seconds versus days or weeks.

That’s a huge boost and there are other aspects where automation can help improve business resiliency like reviewing logs to identify anomalies, automatic provisioning and de-provisioning of users. I strongly believe it’s something that’s a must-do if we want to proactively manage threats and protect our most valuable assets, services and data.”

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