Top Army tech pioneers retiring

The Army is losing at least two of its information technology leaders this summer and a third will commit to staying in his position only one more year. All three helped establish the service's knowledge management vision and the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) portal.

Miriam Browning, director of enterprise integration, and Col. Robert Coxe, chief technology officer, will retire in August. The duo, along with Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, chief information officer, are responsible for the ongoing evolution of the service's Army Knowledge Management (AKM) goals, including the development of the AKO Web portal.

Asked about his future in the Army, Cuviello said in an e-mail message last week that "the plan right now is for me to stay on as the Army CIO/G6 for another year."

Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc., a market research firm in McLean, Va., said that leadership at the upper- management level is very important because Army commands and installations often like to do things on their own.

When proven leaders step down, "it's always a big risk, even with the best and brightest leaders [taking over] if they can't [communicate] the concept to the target audience," Bjorklund said. "They need to share with everyone who needs to understand, or there's a greater risk for failure."

Browning, who will retire Aug. 3, one year after accepting her position, said that although her Army career is ending, true retirement would not be starting. "I'm talking to folks in the private sector and looking at some entrepreneurial ideas," she said, declining to give more details.

The AKM goals aim to improve the management and availability of information throughout the service. The AKO portal provides Army news, distance-learning opportunities, e-mail accounts, a search engine and a chat room. By July, officials plan to use it for most of the service's internal business.

Kevin Carroll, program executive officer for the Army's Enterprise Information Systems, has worked closely with Coxe and Browning and said they will be missed. "Ms. Browning has been such a key contributor to the CIO office for so long and always had a strong focus on the people," said Carroll, adding that she was always looking for new ways to recruit and retain future IT specialists. "Among all the techies, even though she was one, she would always keep people who are leaders and make sure they continue to grow."

Coxe, who took over as CTO in July 2000, said he considered retiring that year but decided to stay so he could pay back the Army for the 27 years of experiences it has given him. Helping establish AKO, a universal Army tool, let him do that, he said. "Col. Coxe is the godfather of AKO," Carroll said. "He had the vision, the drive and the technical competence to make it happen."

Beginning next month and up until his Aug. 22 retirement, Coxe will help train his replacement, Col. Tim Fong, who is currently chief of the Center for Defense Information Systems Network Services in the Defense Information Systems Agency. After that, Coxe said he would like to explore a CIO or CTO position with a Fortune 500 company.

Browning said her successor probably won't be named for "several months" while the Army puts together a job description and other details necessary for Senior Executive Service positions that must be open to competition and are filled based "strictly on merit principles."

Bjorklund said he was glad to see the Army taking steps to maintain the leadership provided by Coxe, Cuviello and Browning. "The leadership they've provided has been pretty remarkable in making AKO pervasive across the entire Army," he said.

Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc., said Browning and Coxe "can be justifiably proud in their accomplishment of integrating IT into the modern Army."

"The people replacing them have a lot of opportunities to excel" and introduce new directions and new ideas, said Mather, a former procurement official in the Air Force.

"My experience in [DOD] succession is that the planning is done quite well, and the handoff should be nearly seamless," he said.

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