The secret to success
- By George I. Seffers
- Oct 16, 2000
For Lawrence Delaney, who fills two of the highest civilian positions in
the Air Force, it helps to have Zen-like wisdom and intuition.
As the Air Force's new chief information officer and assistant secretary
for acquisition, Delaney is responsible for a nearly $4 billion annual information
technology budget. He also oversees the Air Force's research, development
and acquisition activities.
Delaney holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University
of Pennsylvania, but his education does not stop there. He spends his time
in the car listening to audio books and has drawn wisdom from what some
might consider an unusual source — the 1974 book by Robert Pirsig titled
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values."
The book has been described as a philosophy textbook disguised as a
novel. It follows the narrator and his troubled son Chris on a motorcycle
trip from the American prairies to the Pacific coast.
The book "makes the connection between an organized and disciplined
mind and how you express that organization through carefully maintaining
a piece of equipment," Delaney said. "It really shows that if you are very
orderly and observant about a piece of equipment, that will show up in the
way you approach all kinds of problems."
As the Air Force's CIO, Delaney must tackle a wide range of problems,
including managing workforce issues, integrating IT into major weapon systems
like the F-22 jet fighter, developing a servicewide portal, reducing the
number of servers in each of the major commands, improving information-sharing
among various sectors within the service and ensuring that Air Force processes
keep up with the rapid-fire pace of technological advances.
The Air Force portal, under the direction of deputy CIO Lt. Gen. John
Woodward, is one of the service's more challenging IT projects. The portal
is expected to deliver virtually all Air Force information — whether related
to personnel, readiness, acquisition, support or combat functions — through
one Web site.
Leadership provided by Delaney, Woodward and others will be essential
to making the ambitious portal project work, according to one expert.
"The CIO and Lt. Gen. Woodward fully understand the tremendous power
of getting the right information to the right person at the right time,
seamlessly and securely, anywhere in the world, and that is the cornerstone
of their vision," said Tim Bass, a senior technical adviser to the Air Force
who helped develop the original portal operations.
Delaney is quick to credit his superiors for much of the service's IT
advances. "I think we're really very fortunate in having an Air Force secretary
and chief of staff with an appreciation for what the potential is for increasing
Air Force effectiveness," he said.
Delaney said the secret to being a wise and effective manager is creating
an environment that allows people to succeed. "If you don't do that, I don't
think you're a very successful manager," he said. In some cases it means
delegating work: Delaney has hired former Energy Department CIO John Gilligan
as his principal deputy, taking over the day-to-day CIO functions.
Delaney said his job requires an important mix of technical and people
skills in which "you must be open to new ideas so that you have a very good
sense of where you need to be."
This is essential for managing complex systems, he said. "But as we
take on new challenges that make even more demands on our ability to manage,
we have to demonstrate every day our capability to manage these new systems,
or over time we would not be equal to the task."