MITRE CIO John Wilson on embracing complexity

Like many organizations, MITER is struggling with how to make hybrid work effective and seamless and adapting and applying new technologies and lessons learned along the way.

CIO.com’s Maryfran Johnson sat down with John Wilson, vice president, CIO and chief security officer for MITER, to discuss just that.

Wilson, a 35-year veteran of MITER, assumed his current combined CIO / CSO role two years ago, in November 2019. In this role, he oversees the 450-person enterprise information and security organization (ECIS), as well as guides MITER’s business transformation, a multi-year strategic effort to transform business operations and systems.

With two headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts and McLean, Virginia, MITER is a non-profit organization that manages federally funded research and development centers, and provides support to various U.S. government agencies.In aviation, defense , healthcare, information technology and cybersecurity.

Below are edited excerpts from Wilson’s conversation with Johnson on overcoming the roadblocks of hybrid work as part of CIO.com’s Leadership Live series. To hear directly from Wilson for additional information on how he makes his dual role work, what’s next on his zero-trust journey, how he’s transformed the ECIS organization, and more, watch the full video included below.

About managing the hybrid work environment:

Wilson: When we became remote, like many organizations, we had to do some very quick technological changes and make some changes. But generally speaking, I would say that in a couple of months, everything was up and running. And then really, the question at the time was across our entire organization, different business units and 10,000 employees, how are they using what we implement? So we put a lot of effort into instrumenting the business and the different tools to really get insights to see … patterns of collaboration and usage around the tools.

What we find ourselves in now as a company is that obviously there are some things that don’t translate as well to remote collaboration as they do in person. So we encourage teams to really figure out the best way to work together remotely and the best way to work together on site to get the best of both experiences.

Then as a company again we are trying to orchestrate that, pay attention to where there may be certain barriers that get in the way, be it technology barriers or certain groups in the company maybe struggling with some of the emerging practices around to hybrid work.

On the approach to organizational complexity:

Because of the pandemic,… we probably went a bit in the direction of making sure we had more tools to support the different needs of the business to collaborate and get work done. So for example, before the pandemic, we had a local collaboration capability using Skype. We had had it for a long time. Very early in the beginning of the pandemic, we switched to Microsoft Teams. And then the Healthcare Coalition stood up, they needed to do a lot with Zoom, because of the member organizations that were part of it.

So our mentality was: “We are willing to put different tools into play so that the company can continue to fulfill its mission.” I think once [reach] a steady state then … that’s the opportunity to step back and take stock and say, “How can we do some consolidation?”

On innovation around hybrid work:

There are always many good ideas that come up every day within the organization. And, unfortunately, they can often go unnoticed by the company. Then [we developed] the concept of the micro grant … to allow someone with an idea to run it for a few days to further develop it, and to do so without much oversight and review.

A recent [example of something that came out of this program], which appeared literally a couple of days ago, was this concept of a War Room Project. So in the government and the sponsors we serve there is this concept around projects called “war room.” And traditionally, years and years ago, you blocked a conference room, the team basically lived in the conference room. The conference room would have the walls covered with schedules, with artifacts, with analysis …

And so the micro grant was [to address the question] How do you create a war room in this hybrid world, through physical and virtual spaces? And there are really no trading tools that we find that go straight after that. So it will really be a combination of some technologies and working models that allow us to create that kind of Project War Room experience in the hybrid world that we are working on.

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