Bob Osborn’s career has revolved around making a lasting impact and helping others, from the time he improved a Marine Corps process to save lives, to leading his federal sector team in the industry to success. But how does a rock drummer originally interested in cars, motorcycles and cigars find his way to government contracting?
Osborn is the chief technology officer of the federal and public sector for enterprise IT cloud company ServiceNow. He has been with the company since 2014, but before his years in industry, Osborn had an eclectic 28-year U.S. Marine Corps career that began in 1973 — and a total of 40 years of federal service.
And this is important because his background has set the stage for his industry career.
Toward the end of Osborn’s military days, he served as a logistics officer managing all computer IT requirements for logistics systems in the Marine Corps.
“I discovered I had an acumen for computer science, for architectures, for information management,” Osborn said. So, he went to Syracuse University and earned his Master of Science degree in information management.
When he retired from the Marine Corps in 2001, Osborn went to work for the Department of the Army as a logistics chief information officer, responsible for all logistics IT requirements. After six years with the Army, Osborn served as deputy CIO of the U.S. Transportation Command in the Defense Department until the end of 2010.
His last positions in government were CIO of the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2011 to 2013, and deputy CIO of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory until August 2013.
He also discovered, mid-career, an acumen for computers, information management and organizational transformation.
“And that’s kind of how I worked my way into this position,” Osborn said.
He led several major transformations in the government, and did so the hard way, with manual processes and backdoor interfaces that were hard to maintain and costly. So, when he was introduced to platform management instead of application management, he was drawn to the approach.
“When I retired from federal service, it was a very easy transition for me to represent to ServiceNow the needs of the federal customer, and then to represent the capabilities of this platform approach to our federal customers,” Osborn added.
He got his industry start by helping ServiceNow broaden its impact within the federal market, helping defense agencies take advantage of this platform approach to achieve transformation objectives.
Fixer by Nature
It didn’t take much to drive Osborn during his time in the military and in the federal government, and it hasn’t changed since entering industry.
“I’m a fixer by nature. I like to fix things. I see problems and I want to apply my resources to solve those problems. I’ve always been that way,” Osborn said.
So, it’s a natural fit for him to try to help organizations do things better.
For example, during Osborn’s time as CIO in government, both NNSA and the Transportation Command wanted to improve the effectiveness of delivering its mission while increasing efficiencies and driving down costs.
“That was a huge challenge for me, and I really enjoyed undertaking those. And we were successful, both at TransCom and at NNSA,” Osborn said.
And as a fixer, it was gratifying for Osborn to observe the benefit of his efforts and the efforts of his team in driving transformation — but it only really had an effect on those specific agencies.
“What I really enjoy now as being CTO for all of federal in the ServiceNow world is I get to help all the agencies in the federal government recognize the benefits of this type of a transformation, applying new technologies and achieving what they have stated are transformation goals,” Osborn said.
At ServiceNow, he has a broader impact as a fixer.
“I’m really able to scratch that itch,” he added.
Fixing in Action
Though Osborn isn’t a stranger to the C-suite he currently sits in, one of his most meaningful career leadership experiences was fixing a faulty process that occurred during his time as a guns platoon sergeant in the Marine Corps.
Osborn was leading an artillery battery, and when that unit is in the field, the weapons were covered with camouflage nets so airplanes flying over can’t see the unit and strike.
“When the opposing forces would identify you, you had what was calculated to be between 1 and 3 minutes to get out of your position or you’re going to be bombed,” Osborn explained.
So, there was an emergency process to move the entire battery and get into a safe position once the unit has been identified. But the way the nets were constructed made this process difficult.
“It was almost impossible to get your artillery piece hooked up to a truck and get it out of the position in time to avoid being blown up,” Osborn said.
So, Osborn designed a new system of putting these nets up so they could be dropped down in 30 seconds, allowing service members to get out quicker and within a safer timeframe from being identified, further protecting them from opposing forces.
Not only did Osborn receive an award for this design, but the design itself was successful, and it has since been adopted across the Marine Corps.
“It really helped all these guys avoid the loss of their life, I was really proud of that one,” Osborn said.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Along with his lifesaving impact and leadership experience, Osborn left his 28 years of Marine Corps service with valuable lessons — and one, in particular, he sticks to today.
“A guiding principle — a personal mantra if you will — that was given to me by a grizzled old first sergeant in the Marine Corps. He said, ‘Sergeant Osborn, there’s nothing that you can’t achieve if you put the team together that will do it. But no one will do that but you. You are responsible for your own success and the success of your organization.’”
This first sergeant was a veteran of five tours in Vietnam, a survivor, and the statement strongly resonated with Osborn. Now, he doesn’t see a problem as anything more than a challenge.
“Overcoming the challenge depends on assembling the team that has the knowledge, skill and abilities to overcome what that challenge presents,” Osborn said. “But it’s up to you as an individual to do it.”
While many people are great at writing transformation strategies for how to increase effectiveness and decrease costs, and many are great at creating architectures, somebody must lead these initiatives, and somebody must put together the team to get it done.
“That’s what was important to me and I’ve taken that on as my own personal mantra, and that’s what I try to do throughout my career. And I do it here,” Osborn said.
Putting Practice to Use
Osborn and his ServiceNow team know the challenges federal partners face today, from leadership and key IT executive vacancies and budget constraints to transformational barriers.
And though ServiceNow has seen progress in the first two years of the administration, Osborn said the election year is going to be challenging. His team is working to align with the policies coming out of the Office of Management and Budget and the office of the federal CIO.
Osborn is also focused on helping agencies understand how to use a platform approach like the one ServiceNow provides — one that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to take advantage of data — rather than remaining application-focused, which is expensive and inefficient.
Hopefully, this will help agencies achieve what the policies are trying to drive in terms of increasing delivery of citizen services across the government at a lower cost to the citizen.
“That’s what we’re focusing on . . . really helping the agencies continue to achieve the outcomes they’re looking for in this challenging administrative climate,” Osborn said.
Making Real Impact
Like the successful design he created to save Marine Corps lives as a guns platoon sergeant, Osborn has been recognized for the impact he has already made at ServiceNow.
Two years after joining the company, the members of the federal team presented Osborn with the Unsung Hero award for the team’s performance.
“That award is given because you’ve helped make the organization better,” Osborn said. By putting some processes in place, helping the sales executives and the solution consultants understand the need of the customer, and by growing with and talking to federal customers, the entire team succeeded.
And it’s these kinds of recognitions and awards that are important to Osborn — the ones that represent his impact on helping the entire team.
“You don’t want to ever hold yourself up, because you can’t do it alone,” Osborn said, referring to the mantra inspired by his first sergeant.
“You’ve got to put the team together that can achieve and overcome the challenge, and then you have to do it,” he added. “That’s really what I cherish.”
And Osborn doesn’t see his drive to make a real impact changing any time soon.
In the future, from wherever he may sit, Osborn hopes to continue helping organizations in their transformations and helping others understand the role of technology to achieve mission goals.
But perhaps he’ll be enjoying that cigar and a whiskey on a yacht somewhere while he’s doing it.
Thank you, sir, for your concern for our military men and your passionate work developing systems that keep them safe. God bless you.