Prioritizing talent, diversity to boost modernization at PEO EIS
- By Lauren C. Williams
- Sep 23, 2020
Ross Guckert hosts the virtual change of charter ceremony for Project Manager Defensive Cyber Operations July 30, 2020. (U.S. Army photo)
A lot comes with starting a new job: excitement, anxiety, never-ending lists of questions, things to do and acronyms to learn. But becoming the Army's newest acquisition executive for enterprise information systems hits a little different during a pandemic compounded by nationwide anti-racism protests -- and when communication technologies and networks are more in demand.
Ross Guckert took over as the head of the Army's Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems in May. He was previously the deputy program executive officer for PEO Soldier, and his first few months on the job have been, in a word, busy.
"It's been a little overwhelming. I came from the weapons system side, so I've been in three other PEOs that didn't do [enterprise resource planning], that didn't do enterprise network and cyber and enterprise services. So definitely a learning curve and I'm still on it. But it's really exciting to know that we're touching every soldier in the Army. We're touching every civilian and we're impacting operational readiness, whether those soldiers and civilians know it or not," he told FCW.
Guckert's first few months have been focused on making improvements when it comes to modernization and reform, but when asked about his top priorities, most of them point back to personnel and talent management.
"One of my first priorities is applying discipline in everything we do," Guckert said. "I want to understand what metrics were using, what are the right metrics to use, what the metrics mean, how do I interpret them, what are the trends I'm seeing, and do I need to have a conversation with industry and say, 'Hey, this is trending in the wrong direction, we need to fix it now instead of waiting three, six, nine months.'"
To do that he's creating a checklist for leaders to help familiarize them with their programs and spot gaps or shortfalls in their knowledge sooner that can be remedied with training or mentoring.
"It's a tool for me to make sure that the folks that come in are asking the right questions and then are prepared with the right tools to be effective. And even before they show up, I'm working with [Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology] Dr. Bruce Jette to establish a training program."
Guckert said the training program would consist of training with industry, senior service college, the Defense Acquisition University, that can be tailored for the individual for future leaders to prevent a yearlong learning curve.
"Before these folks are selected, right before they come in, let's select them a year, two years, even three years out and send them through a program so when they hit the seat, they hit the ground running, they're well prepared," he said.
'You always have to work at it'
The military undoubtedly relies on technology and increasingly more so on enterprise IT. But none of those things can be accomplished, or effective, if people don't want to come to work.
"I want to make sure people are comfortable coming to work. I want people to have the tools they need to succeed, and I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment when they leave at the end of the day," Guckert said, naming his third priority of focusing on diversity and inclusion.
"You can't rest on it even if it's good or you think it's good. You always have to work at it," Guckert said, adding that a climate survey is scheduled for September to give personnel another avenue to provide feedback.
The acquisition veteran took office just four days before George Floyd was killed by police, setting off months of protests for social justice and law enforcement reform.
"It's affecting our country. If it's affecting our country, it's affecting our workforce, it's affecting our climate here in the organization," Guckert said.
"When I first got here and those incidents started happening, the first thing I demanded of my O6 leadership and my leadership here at the headquarters were sensing sessions" to have "those candid discussions about diversity, about inclusion, about harassment, about discrimination."
The organization has been compiling feedback and is working to turn it into actionable steps to understand what's needed "to make sure the workforce has a voice and that we are diverse and inclusive in all of our activities and processes," he said.
Guckert said he's led similar discussions at his previous organizations, often taking commanders out of the room and directly talking to rank and file personnel. Hearing out people's experiences, however, has also revealed how leadership may not be equipped to handle, and ultimately deal with, issues of discrimiation. So PEO EIS is looking into bringing in professional facilitators.
"It was a difficult conversation for some of my commanders," he said. "Maybe you do need training to have these conversations. And when some people start sharing what they've experienced in the workplace, whether here or other places, sometimes you're shocked."
But shock doesn't affect organizational change, and Guckert said he is intent on making sure the PEO EIS workforce doesn't become complacent.
"Bad behavior is going to happen, we just have to make sure it's as rare as possible, that the organization has zero tolerance and that any bad behavior will be dealt with swiftly and harshly," he said.
Momentum during COVID-19
In addition to workforce development, the new Army enterprise executive is focused on delivering warfighter needs, particularly when it comes to keeping up with projects that have increased need or could potentially be disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"I realized early on that our greatest asset is our people. We have a huge number of dedicated acquisition professionals: 3,000 or so civilian, military and contractors. Probably 90% of our workforce is working remotely; [the pandemic] has not stopped us at all," Guckert said.
That workforce oversees 70 acquisition programs that execute about $4 billion a year with 24 million transactions a day, he said, and the goal has been to maintain the momentum from before COVID.
EIS has been working with the Army cloud office to migrate the General Fund Enterprise Business Systems. Guckert said the move has saved the Army money spent to maintain on-premises data centers.
The updated Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, the service's online human resources system, was also released to 54 National Guard states and territories and is on track to be released to the rest of the Army by December 2021, Guckert said.
The once legacy system has been revamped to an app-friendly capability that allows soldiers and commanders to track promotions, mobilizations, while reducing paperwork. An IPPS-A test is planned for November with a training program to follow, he said.
The Defensive Cyber Operations mission area pushed out the Deployable Defense Cyber Operation Systems-Modular in July. The original system prototype required two soldiers to carry its components; the new version is the size of airplane carry-on luggage, Guckert said.
On the enterprise services front, all Army soldiers and civilians are expected to get the Microsoft Teams collaboration tool, DOD's Commercial Virtual Remote environment, by the end of this year, Guckert said.
"We expect the telework policy to change and [for] a lot of people from here on out to make extensive use of telework," he said.