The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced March 25, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person May 11 at the The Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Virginia.
Next is Chief Technology Officer (Private & Public) finalist Anthony Iasso, who’s CTO at Xator Corp. Here, he talks primary focus areas going forward, taking professional risks, proud career moments and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
The incredibly talented people who work at Xator, our partner companies and our customer organizations make me successful in my current role. My focus is developing and leading the Xator technology strategy and vision. We need to be leading edge, though not always bleeding edge, because our customers need proven solutions that balance innovation with risk.
Securing embassies or equipping Marines can’t be a science experiment. I keep us focused on key performance measures for technical systems to be sure what we deliver works as intended, to meet the customer’s requirements. I do that by marshalling the tremendous talent we have in a whole-of-Xator approach, by bringing together people from across the entire organization to focus on immediate and future challenges through “solutioneering.”
What energizes me is to learn and understand our customer challenges, and then bring to bear our technologists, Xator core technologies and partner technologies and talent to deliver solutions better, faster and more cost effectively than any of our competitors.
I’m successful when the customer’s mission is properly supported, and Xator, our partners and customers are proud of the work we’ve done.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
One of my primary focuses is on the balance between security technology and privacy. We are bringing amazing technologies together in the areas of biometrics, identity understanding, machine learning, low-cost ubiquitous sensors and cameras, data collection and data analytics that are changing the way we secure our country.
But balancing what we can do, with what we should do with this technology, will be the defining question for our nation’s future. Technologists like me must support the transparent application of these technologies in a way that accomplishes our security objectives while at the same time safeguards privacy and protections of a free society.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Leading by example is always a great start. When I graduated from West Point, I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m in the same spot that Eisenhower, Grant, MacArthur and countless other great leaders once stood.”
I frequently look back since then and think about the process that transformed those who came before from young eager kids into great national leaders. It is a process of pulling up the next generation of leaders, while being pulled up by the previous generation of leaders.
I am still learning from my mentors and developing new mentors that are worthy of emulation, and I try to fill that role for those who have worked for and with me over the years. In that, I feel the responsibility of being a link in this multigenerational process. The military has an amazing ability to transform second lieutenants into four-star generals, by a process of gradually increasing the scope of responsibilities and letting leaders lead at each step of the way. I think that same approach applies to success in civil service and the civilian world. Never stop learning, and never stop teaching.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
This is an interesting question and I stared at it for a while before selecting it to answer for this interview, but I should be bold and go for it. I am not a rule breaker by nature, and one of my core tenets is to never burn bridges. In this business, politics and bureaucracy are intertwined with the ability to break through, win business and deliver solutions. An unwritten rule is don’t rock the boat. You never know who may be making decisions in the future that can affect your core business, and a bad relationship can one day block you out.
We can’t go right to our end users in government and get them to buy our solutions, even if we have the best things since sliced bread. I am becoming more inclined to call out situations where biases and obstructions, especially if they are political or bureaucratic, prevent progress and innovation, because I’ve seen good businesses suffer and I’ve seen end users suffer.
Maybe I can’t break through, but maybe I can. Maybe I make an anti-sponsor, but maybe I make a sponsor from an anti-sponsor. Over the years, I’ve become more inclined to try and to use the credibility I have built in my experience and career to that purpose.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
Starting and growing my own company was certainly the biggest professional risk, but it was well worth the reward. Prior to my time at Xator, I left my job working for a series of solid defense contractors and joined with two partners to build and grow InCadence. For 10 years, we built InCadence, and as president of the company, I saw first-hand the highly competitive environment of launching and growing a startup.
A big key to our success was our focus on technology-differentiated solutions, especially in the field of biometrics and identity, which is one of my major technical competencies. To be able to build a successful company, and to see it continue to thrive as a part of Xator Corp., has been a great reward for all the risks of being responsible, for all aspects of maintaining and growing a business and keeping key technical talent constantly innovating and delivering for our customers.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of having designed and coded, from the first line of code, the Biometrics Automated Toolset system, which I started writing when I was just out of the Army and just 29 years old. I had transitioned as an Army captain to a contractor working at the Battle Lab at the Army Intelligence Center, and I had a fantastic boss, Lt. Col. Kathy De Bolt, who asked me to build a biometrics system from the ground up.
That work took on a life of its own, being used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is still an Army program of record system today and is the first digital biometrics system ever deployed on the battlefield.
From that, I built an exciting career and team of colleagues that led to where I am today, to include the success with the newest generation of biometric technologies at Xator. I know that the BAT system was indispensable to operations in support of our national security, and I still regularly have soldiers and Marines come up to me today and tell me stories of how they used BAT overseas.