Leigh Palmer, GDIT’s senior vice president for the defense division, has been appointed chair of the WashingtonExec Defense Council.
In her current role, Palmer oversees the delivery of mission-critical solutions to the Defense Department. Before taking the helm of the defense division, she supported homeland security and intelligence community programs as GDIT’s senior vice president for the national security division.
In addition, Palmer has held several executive and senior-level positions in the past with CSRA,Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.
We caught up with Palmer to discuss her plans with the council going forward, the trending topics she hopes to discuss with the council and the mark she hopes to leave.
Based on your extensive experience in the defense, intelligence, cybersecurity and IT arenas, what are some of the focus areas and hot topics you want to discuss with the Defense Council?
More than ever, technology is fundamental to the warfighter. The speed of information exchange, secure collaboration and getting intelligence to the edge are all examples of strategic differentiators on the battlefield.
The technology landscape is moving faster than ever before. There are emerging technologies in the market — e.g. zero trust, cloud, 5G, artificial intelligence. It’s imperative that these technologies are applied with the warfighter mindset. We also can’t forget about those proven solutions that currently exist in the federal landscape but are not always leveraged as well as they could be.
It’s equally important to bring diverse perspectives to the table. Whether it’s commercial technical experts, system integrators or government users, they all have roles to play. We need to listen to each other and understand each stakeholder’s position to come up with the best solution for the warfighter. This intentional collaboration enables rapid innovation for our customers.
IT is having a greater mission role than ever before. It is a fundamental asset and needs to be a core part of the conversation. We can’t fight our wars and differentiate ourselves on the battlefield without a strong IT foundation and state-of the-art systems. It’s an imperative that we use a strategic mindset to build the strongest possible IT infrastructure to support the warfighter.
What are some of the main IT and cyber-related challenges defense agencies and industry have been experiencing recently, and during the pandemic? How will the council collaborate to work through these challenges?
The council is a platform for members to transparently address today’s most pressing needs such as the tech talent crisis, the rapid pace of IT modernization and changes to acquisition processes.
The industry is seeing talented professionals leave the workforce in record numbers for several reasons. Many are experiencing burnout or simply taking time to re-evaluate their lives. For GDIT, these factors are driving us to have critical leadership conversations, invest in our people and listen to all perspectives.
COVID has accelerated the rate of IT modernization, and our customers are increasingly recognizing the criticality of getting technology capabilities to mission at speed. The pandemic forced agencies to rapidly adapt and implement temporary systems to facilitate remote work and maintain operational continuity. It was remarkable to see how our customers adapted virtually overnight.
However, these temporary solutions created new vulnerabilities that must be addressed with more permanent, resilient systems.
There is also a disparity in the IT user experience between personnel sitting within the continental U.S and outside the continental U.S. Outside the continental U.S., users cannot rely on reach-back to the continental U.S. Cloud technologies, including automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, are needed at the tactical edge for better, real-time decision-making.
Additionally, IT has greater mission impact than ever before. Our customer needs data to execute a mission, and that requires secure and powerful IT systems to move the data. They have to be able to trust that data and ensure our adversaries cannot access it. We can’t successfully fight our wars without information and data flowing freely between decision-makers.
How will your personal and career experience and expertise within this community help lead the council in discussions on these topics?
As one of the largest systems integrators in the industry, GDIT has a leading role in connecting today’s commercial technologies with government requirements. We are actively working across the spectrum of customer needs, from designing 5G and AI solutions to implementing zero trust architectures.
As the leader of the defense division at GDIT, I oversee more than 9,800 employees at 88 sites across the world, delivering mission-critical services and solutions to the DOD and other federal agencies. GDIT has accelerated the delivery of enhanced offerings in technological areas such as cloud, cyber, mobility and AI to the DOD. I want to spearhead conversations around how these capabilities and technologies are shaping our customers’ missions. My history of enabling deeper innovation, such as accelerating cloud adoption across the DOD, is well aligned to the strategic objectives facing our community.
And as a leader within a 28,000-person company, I realize the immense value of our talent as our most critical resource. Our people are paramount, and our leaders have a shared responsibility to drive diversity and inclusion across our organization, promote opportunities for learning and development, and support the well-being of our employees.
At GDIT, we have doubled down on our efforts. We launched a companywide campaign focused on the importance of mental health; we are implementing machine learning to identify internal candidates for career growth opportunities; and we have corporate goals to increase technical learning hours and certifications.
Do you feel there is great value in connecting industry executives with government officials to discuss topics facing the DOD community?
Over the last several years, we have witnessed dramatic changes in the global technology landscape. New technologies, new processes and new business models continue to come at us at a faster rate than ever before.
To truly harvest innovations across this spectrum, and to move at the “speed of innovation,” we need to bring diversity of thought to the table, join forces and have everyone pulling in the same direction. The more we understand each other, the better we can support solutions for the warfighter.
These industry platforms are critical to having the conversations that affect not just our changing landscape and mission objectives, but the people behind these missions.
What do you hope to accomplish as chair of this council, and what do you hope council members get out of your leadership?
It’s important to promote trust and transparency between government and industry partners. This is a forum to have critical discussions, and we need to be trusting and open to different points of view. Each stakeholder brings a unique, valuable perspective to the table. We need to listen to each other and work together to accelerate solutions to quickly bring capability to mission, especially during these difficult times. There will be challenges, but we also have great opportunities to make a significant impact.