Chief Officer Award Finalist Mike Uster: ‘As CIOs, We’re Responsible For Delivering IT Services Every Minute Of Every Day’

Mike Uster, ManTech

The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced April 15, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually May 27.

Next is Chief Information Officer Award finalist Mike Uster, who’s CIO and a senior vice president at ManTech. Here, he talks key professional achievements, primary focus areas going forward, shaping the next generation of leaders and more.

What key achievements did you have in 2019/2020?

My overall goal is to optimize user experience and accelerate collaboration throughout ManTech and at the same time further enhance our excellent security. In the past year alone, we have:

  • Launched Slack enterprisewide, in a bid to increase efficiency, collaboration and drastically reduce our reliance on — and volume of — internal email.
  • Implemented a Zero Trust Architecture compliant with NIST 800-207 to increase our overall security posture. This required not just new technology implementation but also significant internal communications to educate our employees about proper zero trust protocols — it was a shift in our organizational culture.
  • Moved all 9,400+ ManTech employees to a remote work environment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was challenging given the geographically dispersed nature of our workforce and the significant security concerns given that a large proportion of our employees work in sensitive compartmented information facilities.

Each of these objectives has been accelerated, if not wholesale enabled, by our cloud migration.

Our existing cloud infrastructure was instrumental in our ability to shift quickly to a remote, work-from-home environment.

All of ManTech’s core and peripheral systems and the IT team modernization efforts prior to the COVID national emergency were not only scalable, cost efficient and simplified, but seamlessly adaptable to a geographically dispersed workforce, enabling our employees worldwide to continue supporting our defense and intelligence customers without incident or interrupting their missions, which are so vital to our national and homeland security.

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

In 16 years with ManTech, my overall vision has always been to enable IT systems that deliver resilience to our operations, robustness to scale as company needs evolve, and reduce complexity, improving the satisfaction and productivity of our employees. These goals have been continually tested over the years as technology has evolved and our company has continued to grow.

I’m most proud of leading our cloud migration — transitioning all our employees to the Microsoft Office 365 GCC High environment. For many organizations, moving to the cloud temporarily disrupts IT operations — at ManTech, the transition was so seamless, many employees didn’t even realize it had occurred.

We now enjoy the increased availability and capacity that cloud computing offers, while saving money.

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

Ultimately, as a CIO, my role is to make company users’ lives easier. Advancing IT systems through the continual adoption and integration of new tools and frameworks is necessary — but these changes must always keep the user in mind. IT users want their services instantly, without having to worry about unexpected down-time or cybersecurity issues.

My primary focus going forward is to roll out several new technologies and protocols while maintaining our high level of security. These include:

  • Advancing our zero trust strategy until it encompasses all of our information services;
  • Expanding the breadth of our communications tools and solutions to allow greater collaboration among our employees in this new remote workplace driven by pandemic telework safeguards;
  • Eliminating 50% to 75% of all daily or weekly status meetings via bots and collaboration platforms; and
  • Significantly reducing internal email reliance.

Zero trust and accelerated collaboration are of the utmost importance because a fast and secure cyberspace for users to design and build 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 industry leaders?

If my team and I are doing our job effectively, our work is seamless and nearly invisible. Ensuring we provide our users with the best technological tools, backed by a rock-solid network, enables them to both support their customer missions and grow as practitioners and leaders.

As CIOs, we’re responsible for delivering IT services every minute of every day — even more so this year, as the workforce has shifted from the office to remote work — and new collaboration tools have made differing time zones increasingly irrelevant.

When building my team, I try to recruit a diverse group of employees with different work styles and different ways of thinking. As a result, our IT division is a purpose-built, interactive group that helps reinforce individual strengths while shoring up individual weaknesses.

The result? A whole greater than the sum of its parts — and a team that works more efficiently — and happily, because of it.

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

Always remember that life is short and that you should strive to enjoy what you do. Find a career that energizes you, that makes you feel proud to wake up in the morning and know you’re making a difference.

There will always be difficult days and challenging projects — but if you love what you do, you can reframe any potential setbacks as merely puzzles to be solved and embrace them. Part of why I enjoy being a CIO is I can engage both the technical and creative sides of my brain. Because I love the challenge of solving puzzles, I truly enjoy even the most difficult parts of my job.

Whatever your chosen career, embrace it fully. Read widely, network with colleagues, peers and competitors — become a sponge. Great ideas can come from anywhere and you need to be engaged in your industry, particularly when it comes to spotting technological trends or potential areas of disruption. Part of my role as CIO is to look ahead — anticipate our software and hardware needs 2-5 years out — that’s difficult to do if you’re only concentrating on the immediate tasks at hand.

Meet the other Chief Officer Awards finalists here.

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