Rob Zitz began his 34-year career in 1979 when he took a job as a counter-terrorism analyst supporting the Army’s Delta Force. He then went on to work for the CIA, NGA, NSA, NRO, Secret Service and more. Zitz also participated in the reconstruction effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, supported the prevention of a planned major terrorist attack on the United States, oversaw the planning for global pandemics, and was instrumental in the formation of the National Cyber Security Initiative.
Today, Zitz is Senior Vice President and Chief Systems Architect at SAIC for the National Security Sector that will be a part of solutions company Leidos, following the official separation on September 27. He is known as the “change agent” in the federal contracting community for his ability to fulfill clients’ unmet needs and articulate vision during times of significant change.
WashingtonExec had the opportunity to interview Zitz about his inside perspective on the Leidos/SAIC transaction, his unique vision for the future of the intelligence community, and – of course – his favorite spot in the Washington, D.C. region.
WashingtonExec: Please describe your day-to-day responsibilities. Also, please describe your background in government.
Rob Zitz. I spent 32 years in the federal government, working with the military, intelligence community, homeland security, and federal law enforcement. I started out in 1979 as a counter terrorism analyst supporting Army’s Delta Force. Later while at the CIA I got heavily involved in future collection and ground systems development at both national and tactical levels. I served as a senior executive with the Army, NGA, NSA, and the NRO; in each case I was engaged in planning, budgeting and technology efforts. I was appointed as the first Deputy Under Secretary at DHS, where I led preparedness activities including cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection. I was also a Deputy Associate Director at the Secret Service, where I led modernization activities.
At SAIC, I am the Chief Systems Architect for the National Security Sector that will be a part of solutions company Leidos following the official separation on September 27. Some might refer to this role as a “Solution Architect”, in that I have dual roles of ascertaining our customers’ unmet needs as well as helping to determine the appropriate technical solutions to answer those needs. I split my time between talking to our customers, and working within my company to ensure our business development, marketing, internal research and development, and operations managers are synchronized with respect to the customer’s requirements.
“The answer cannot be do more of the same; the answer must be to do something different. In industry, as a change agent I endeavor to provide our customers with alternative approaches, new ideas and new solutions.”
WashingtonExec: How is the Leidos/SAIC transition going? Has it been different than what you expected when the announcement was first made last year?
Rob Zitz: It is going extremely well. As a veteran of many large scale organizational changes over my career, and I can say none have gone as smoothly as this one. The leadership has done a terrific job of keeping our employees, customers and other stakeholders informed every step along the way. As you know, the separation will take place the end of September. The separation will create two great companies; both companies are extremely well focused and positioned for success. The elimination of most OCI constraints will expand addressable market opportunities. Our management teams have organized to support a successful separation. Preparing for the split has also afforded both companies the opportunity to clearly assess business goals and objectives from the past and really come up with new concepts that will allow both companies to thrive in their respective markets.
WashingtonExec: What is your best piece of advice to executives looking to make a successful transition from government to industry, as you did?
Rob Zitz: While still in government, appreciate the fact that industry is a full partner in our national security. Employees and leadership of great companies in the national security arena are highly mission focused and really do understand what is at stake. As you begin to transition, do an honest self-assessment, what are your strengths and weaknesses? Cast your net widely to find a company that will utilize your strengths and once on board, be as committed to excellence as you always were while you were in government service.
WashingtonExec: The Intel market is changing at a rapid pace. What are the hot trends impacting the sector?
Rob Zitz: The driving forces are the budget environment, information security concerns, and the persistent threats. The trends are toward reduced costs; agile development vs. waterfall development; the need for real-time solutions that are delivered on-demand; multi-INT solutions instead of stovepiped single INT solutions; advanced filtering and processing to reduce the workload on the analysts and operators including predictive analytics; and the ability to deliver solutions to highly mobile users – in other words, into their hands on-the-go.
As you know, Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper is clear in his intent to better enable Activity Based Intelligence via greater integration of what have been stovepiped intelligence disciplines and systems architectures. The Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise – or ICITE – will help break down remaining impediments to multi-INT and cause even greater collaboration. Other important trends include the possibility of more distributed and disaggregated collection architectures, including the use of smaller, lower cost systems that are designed for specific uses over shorter life spans. Another clear trend is to make maximum use of open sources, e.g., foreign social media feeds. Finally, regarding cybersecurity, the trend is to move to an ability to prevent an attack from happening by use of more proactive and predictive solutions. These are areas I am working on currently.
WashingtonExec: You were known as “change agent” in the federal government. Would you still describe yourself that way?
Rob Zitz: I think so. In government, I understood the end users’ unmet needs, could articulate a vision and a plan to close the gaps, and I would work hard to build senior support to shift the resources required to move forward. In industry today we are faced with supporting our customers through a period of significant change, some might call turmoil. No leader among our customer organizations wants to preside over a decline in their mission capabilities, irrespective of budget constraints. It may seem a conundrum: how to do as much as before (if not more) with less resources? The answer cannot be do more of the same; the answer must be to do something different. In industry, as a change agent I endeavor to provide our customers with alternative approaches, new ideas and new solutions. Working within SAIC and soon Leidos, we come up with ways for our customers to meet their vision even in an era of declining budgets. So, yes, I am still a change agent.
“Government has become more reliant on industry not only for technology but as an augmentation to its analytical workforce.”
WashingtonExec: Having worked in the private sector for a couple years now, if you could have all the federal CIOs and CTOs in a room, what would be your advice to them?
Rob Zitz: I would tell them three things. First, spend a lot more time with your customers, your end users. It does not matter if your customers are policy makers, tactical combatants or first responders; the key is to understanding what the customers’ priorities are in order to align with them. Nothing compares to experiencing yourself what an end user does every day, and seeing and feeling the urgency of their unmet needs. Spending time in their shoes has a way of sharpening your focus on what truly matters.
Second, spend more time with innovators. Innovators are found inside the CIO’s and CTO’s own organizations, and there are innovators in industry and in academia. Give innovators your undivided attention on a regular basis and challenge them to tackle your hardest problems. It is hard to overestimate how you will help innovation flourish by listening to them with an open mind and trying to act on their best ideas. Even small successes will encourage more people to come forward with new ideas.
Third, spend more time with your contracting officers to be certain your intent is understood and can be implemented. The only way to ensure that your best ideas are realized is for contracting officers to articulate them properly to industry. Your intent has to show up in the Request for Proposal.
“The damage that a large-scale cyber attack could do to our critical infrastructure is frightening and not well understood by the public. The threat from terrorist organizations, including home grown terrorists, persists.”
WashingtonExec: How has the intelligence industry changed since you first started your career?
Rob Zitz: Over those 35 years industry has been a full partner to the intelligence community and helped it achieve its technology, tradecraft and policy goals. Over the decades, the IC has become a true community rather than a federation; information sharing across organizations is becoming more the norm. During the years the lines blurred between what had been ‘national’ and ‘tactical’ intelligence based on the technology industry delivered. The allocation of resources between collection systems and the use of the data became more balanced during the years, and industry met the use of data challenge with innovative processing, exploitation and delivery systems. Government has become more reliant on industry not only for technology but as an augmentation to its analytical workforce. Through impressive training and education course development, industry has kept government analysts and industry analysts current on cutting edge technologies and analytic methods. As government moved to doing less in-house research and development, and relying more on commercial solutions, particularly in the information technology domain, industry kept pace, including greater use of open standards, open architectures, less proprietary solutions, and new ways to insert disruptive technologies. It has been really exciting for me to be a part of this evolution.
WashingtonExec: What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
Rob Zitz: A special operator told me to “give it everything I had”, because his team depended on me.
WashingtonExec: What keeps you up at night?
Rob Zitz: I have a lovely wife, three grown kids and three beautiful grandchildren now. When I think about their future, I worry about keeping them safe from both terrorist attacks and cyber attacks here at home. The damage that a large-scale cyber attack could do to our critical infrastructure is frightening and not well understood by the public. The threat from terrorist organizations, including home grown terrorists, persists. These are things that don’t just keep me up at night, they keep me focused and give me a sense of urgency about finding new solutions to support our customers who are charged with keeping my family safe.
WashingtonExec: You have lived in the Washington, D.C. region for a long time, what is your favorite place?
Rob Zitz: We live in Old Town, Alexandria and love the history, beautiful architecture and great restaurants. It is a great ‘walking’ and ‘biking’ town, and it is very dog-friendly, which of course means people-friendly too. We love spending our Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market, and window shopping and people watching in Old Town.