Chief Officer Awards Finalist Mike Uster: ‘Dive Deeply into Your Chosen Profession — Become a Nerd’

Editor’s note: The winner of the Chief Officer Awards Public Company CIO Award announced June 17 is Chris Bjornson of Accenture Federal Services.

On June 17, WashingtonExec will be virtually celebrating the most impactful and innovative C-suite executives in government and industry. These chief officers work in technology, security, data, operations, finance, business and more, excelling on both sides of the government contracting sector. Our team of judges have chosen the finalists for the inaugural Chief Officer Awards, so before we announce the winners during the event, we wanted to get to know those in the running a bit better. This Q&A series highlights their careers, successes, proud professional moments and notable risks.

Mike Uster, ManTech

Mike Uster, ManTech

Mike Uster is chief information officer and a senior vice president at ManTech International and a finalist in the Public Company CIO Award category.

What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?

When I joined ManTech 15 years ago, the company had just transitioned from privately held to publicly traded. I am proud that over these 15 years, I led key projects that allow ManTech to scale for large growth and lower overhead costs, including the modernization of major business management systems, software-as-a-service migrations, infrastructure-as-a-service migrations and all digital transformation efforts.

Most recently, we tested this foundational structure with the sudden requirement to support more than 9,000 employees’ and consultants’ ability to work from home. All of ManTech’s core and peripheral systems and the IT team’s modernization efforts before this coronavirus national emergency proved to be not only scalable, cost efficient and simple, but seamlessly adaptable to a geographically dispersed work-from-home workforce, maintaining our goal of “Securing the Future” without interruption.

What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?

Over the next 2 to 3 years, information technology must accelerate the adoption of disruptive and highly complex tools and frameworks into highly secure environments at blinding speed. IT consumers will want their IT services immediately and completely secure. My focus is to achieve this future state with a combination of advanced security (zero trust), advanced collaboration toolset and artificial intelligence for IT operations, or AIOps.

  • Enact a zero trust strategy that encompasses all information services
  • Implement AIOps in tandem with the zero trust strategy to take simultaneous advantage of the nascent AI offerings tied to security delivery and insight
  • Expand tools and solutions to allow greater collaboration and communication with and between employees in a new workplace driven by the aftermath of pandemic telework safeguards
  • Eliminate 50% to 75% of all daily or weekly status meetings with the use of bots and collaboration platforms
  • Significantly reduce internal email reliance in 2020, with a goal to eliminate all internal email by Q2 2021
  • Zero trust, AIOps and accelerated collaboration are of utmost importance because a fast and secure cyberspace for users to innovate next-generation solutions will provide the best IT framework to secure the future of the nation.

How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?

We shape the next generation of leaders by leading with the right technology based on next year’s customer needs. As CIOs, we must continually deliver crucial services to our customers. Our service delivery is graded every minute of every day. Especially with the advent of advanced collaboration tools and the arrival of pandemic mitigation actions, our workforce is now stretched with the melding of traditional work hours and personal hours, intertwined with working from home, weekdays and weekends. I look forward to driving the solutions that will successfully address our new work culture requirements and efficacies.

Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?

In my opinion, there is an overemphasis on “big software” solutions. The tendency to rely on only one solution approach from a large software developer is rarely or openly debated. It is far easier and effective for CIOs to find the best product at a smart market price and drive a simplified aggregate solution for their internal and external customers. Instead, market forces and a desire for a one size fits all answer reinforce a status quo groupthink of reliance on big software providers.

Big software certainly provides some of the solutions, but to ignore smaller more nimble software solutions can be foolhardy, short-sighted and expensive.

What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Find a profession that gives you energy and taps into your creative mind. When the problems are hard and the days are long, I can persevere when my job engages my interests and natural abilities. For example, I enjoy solving puzzles creatively and quickly. With all the problems that arise in the IT world daily, I have an endless supply of puzzles that demand solutions and because I love solving puzzles, my job satisfaction is endless as well.

Dive deeply into your chosen profession — become a nerd. Enjoy figuring out what your customer really wants (not what they say they want), solving problems and choosing a solution in a new and creative way. Don’t take any setbacks or push back personally — just keep moving forward.

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