Department of Energy CIO Says Digital Drive Must Not Be Stunted By Cyber Threats

Author

Gaurav Sharma, Contributor

February 4, 2015

Wary of the cybersecurity threat, with everything from refineries to the power grid and much else in between regarded as strategic infrastructure, the energy sector as a whole is often seen to be behind the IT investment curve.

However, the technology executive entrusted by the US Federal department that oversees the nation’s energy sector and its welfare suggests grasping the digital revolution without being intimidated by the ubiquitous cybersecurity threat is something the industry must come to terms with.

Meet Donald Adcock, acting Chief Information Officer of US Department of Energy (DoE), an ex-military man, proud University of Maryland alumni, with a record of distinguished service as an IT expert from the private sector to Department of Defense.

“It is not worth fretting about cybersecurity threats to such an extent that opportunities are missed. The threat from those who intend to cause us harm has always been ubiquitous,” Adcock says.

“My team’s concern is staying ahead of them as far as we can, ensuring that our operating environment is up to date and secure, with the IT department and its contractors being constantly aware of emerging threats. Cybersecurity is something CIOs, whether in a public or private sector setting, have to live with but not held back by.”

The DoE’s technology head is certainly not one to hold back in recognizing digital opportunities since day one of his involvement with the Department. Initially appointed as the Associate CIO for Enterprise Services in 2012, Adcock stepped up as Acting CIO at the behest of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz when incumbent Robert Brese left to join Gartner.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always viewed myself as a strategist first and technologist next. So when the call came to join DoE, I took on the task with a similar mindset. The Department is national yet global, fulfills a Federal mandate, but is customer facing by all accounts. Bringing about the automation of IT and shared services with a view to taking the DoE’s service-oriented organization to the next level came naturally.”

Process streamlining was soon the order of the day, as Adcock and his colleagues led the way in making the DoE realize the scope of big data in a more meaningful way. “We were [and are] deeply appreciative of the enhanced capacity the cloud provides as we set about the process of change. Clearly some of our information assets are maintained “in house” because of a security need. Other elements may be “in house” because of cost or performance reasons.

“However, these days if something is a candidate for the cloud, then we think about the audience; for example – if it’s public information then it’s natural to use a public cloud, which is what we do for our Energy.gov platform.

“We attempt to manage our data, whether in the cloud or elsewhere, according to the same high standards of “in-house” security, usage and auditing. Something doesn’t inherently become “less secure” when it’s in the cloud, and it’s imperative on us to have those policies and practices defined.

As an architect of change, Adcock also went about introducing a more holistic and prudent management of the department’s IT service management (ITSM) practices. The DoE switched from BMC Remedy’s software to ServiceNow, a vendor touting a Software as a Service (SaaS) only offering that integrates multiple ITSM processes into a single console over his first year of service.

Adcock says every process changeover was duly squared with the department’s “comprehensive, multilayered and multifaceted security program” with ways of partitioning the user environment so that information is secured several times over. For one of the most data intensive US government departments, with oversight of the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and its treasure trove of data that the wider energy community has come to rely upon, nothing less would do.

However, what about the ‘government red tape’ cliché? “It might surprise a lot of people to learn that being at a federal department gives you room for execution and implementation in a more agile fashion. Although, I would acknowledge that execution, policy implementation and oversight processes vary,” Adcock says.

One obvious difference between being a private sector IT executive, as Adcock was in the 1990s at Electronic Data Systems (now part of HP) and Northrop Grumman, and his current public service remit, is that there are no shareholders to answer to.

“Instead, quite literally every US citizen has a stake in how we deploy taxpayers’ dollars. As such, the onus of being a good steward of America’s resources is all that much stronger. Additionally, we’re a nation of laws, so as a CIO at a Federal Department you have to be mindful of legislative frameworks and adhere to publicly set norms as opposed to internal corporate compliance regulations in a private setting.”

Regardless of the setting, Adock feels technologies, like cloud and mobile, are a means to an end. “I think it’s with data that we, as CIO’s, are starting to shift away from being “IT Officers”, where we used to focus on technology and toys, back to being actual “Information Officers” bringing insight, enablement and agility to the enterprise.”

Big data, cloud and ITSM need to be embraced more to enable progress in the way organizations function, Adcock adds, citing his past and ongoing projects.

“Previously, I’ve worked towards creating a specialized streamlined central helpdesk at Arlington National Cemetery, which occupies a poignant place in our nation’s history, to ensure that majority of calls do not go unanswered.

“At the DoE, I’m involved with American Energy Data challenge in partnership with the White House. It’s a year-long drive to invite public input and innovation around public data resources offered by the Department and the Green Button Initiative. It’s all the data that you can possibly think of that’s important to the American people, help them be more energy efficient, understand their energy footprint, aid small businesses and more. Both projects give me a sense of pride for very different reasons.”

In case of the latter, Adcock says valuable insight came via crowdsourcing, open data initiatives and hackathons; things that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Switching tack to his former office – the Pentagon – he recollects that reorganizing IT and data handling became top priorities in wake of the tragic events of 9/11.

“When Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, one of the things we came to realize immediately was that we had to address the issue of data sitting on multiple hubs including people’s desktops in some cases. Although, I moved departments in 2012, the drive that we started in its wake to have state of the art technology lowering footprint of the datacenters within the Pentagon continues to this day.”

While his sense of patriotic duty has not altered, these days Adcock’s personnel and budget management is very different from those days.  The Department’s office of the CIO gets $80 million out of a $1.5 billion headline departmental budget.

The CIO has 125 direct reports and nearly a 1,000 contractors answering to him. Of the department’s 118,000 strong workforce including contractors and 16,000 Federal employees, around 8,200 could and regularly do login at any given hour.

Perhaps strikingly, unlike many large private sector undertakings within the energy sector, the sheer size of the DoE workforce has not dissuaded Adcock from going down the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) path. “Starting with myself, I carry more than one device out of choice. However, we do have the mechanism for me to carry out all functions and business requirements on one.”

Adcock sees BYOD as a force for good which helps in lowering operational costs. “The Department is device agnostic and facilitates a BYOD environment. Our goal here is to access any data, anywhere, on any device, but with appropriate safeguards. While we do not have a mobile device policy, the DoE has several other policies that support the use of mobile devices and employees are made to sign data usage agreements.”

At the end of the day, it’s about safe and secure digital facilitation which ultimately translates into progress and Adcock is no mood to let his department forget that mantra.

“CIOs are coming to the table as advisers, informers, business participants and true technologists supporting an organization’s mission. I am no exception. For most of my career, I have answered to the people of the United States serving as a Federal employee, thinking of myself as digital driver, process enabler and guardian rolled into one, and it’s been a great journey with a patriotic premise.”

This article was written by Gaurav Sharma from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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