FlipSide: A few minutes with...Vern Bettencourt

Bettencourt, the Army’s deputy chief information officer, will retire June 4, and he has some ideas about what the focus of CIOs will be.

Vernon Bettencourt, the Army’s deputy chief information officer, will retire June 4 after an Army military and civilian career of more than 30 years. Bettencourt foresees a major shift in CIO concerns away from information systems and toward managing information.

FCW: Does the Army remain committed to a network-centric strategy of transformation?
BETTENCOURT: The Army is absolutely committed to the net-centric strategy. By the way, the Army does not use the term net-centric. The Army is soldier-centric, but we are net-enabled. We are beginning to redesign our units — our manpower and staffing — based on that strategy. We are redoing our doctrine based on the experiences that the units are having in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re able to do that because of what is probably the greatest accomplishment of the Army CIO Office in the past five years, which is fielding the Joint Network Node communications capabilities to units in combat. That has brought Internet-like capability down to the battalion and, in some cases, company level in some of the remote combat outposts and forward operating bases.

FCW: What Army experience illustrates the effectiveness of that strategy?
BETTENCOURT: We had our first Stryker brigade combat team operating up north in Iraq in 2004-2005. There was an emergency down southeast of Baghdad, and they needed a couple of battalions out of that brigade combat team to reinforce down there. So on the fly, with the network-enabled command-and-control capability that the Stryker brigades have, they were able to issue orders and move more than 250 kilometers and enter directly into combat without stopping. That was a real eye-opener for the Army. It showed that network-enabled command and control can deliver combat effectiveness.

FCW: What is your best memory from your time at West Point?
BETTENCOURT: I would say that, apart from meeting my wife, it was living with a group of people who have a shared value system. Admittedly, at first, it’s an [imposed] value system — duty, honor, country — but it rapidly becomes assimilated. To live with a group of 4,500 people that share that value system is a great memory, and it continues today. I had a couple of classmates that I really didn’t know at West Point, and yet we get together now and have a great time and can talk for hours. It’s a bond.

FCW: What are your retirement plans?
BETTENCOURT: I plan to stay in the area, take a month off and then begin to do some independent consulting related to [computer] modeling and simulation but mostly in what I would call strategic IT. 

FCW: Do you have any sense of unfinished business as you leave the Army?
BETTENCOURT: I think the CIO, particularly in government, is going to transition away from focusing on IT systems themselves, because those are becoming commodities. So where does that leave the CIO?  I think that leaves the CIO to focus on business processes, knowledge management and data strategies.

It’s a coming-of-age for the CIO with more of an emphasis on information and less on information technology. We’ve hired a highly qualified expert, Bob Nielsen, who was the chief knowledge officer at the Information Resources Management College at National Defense University. He’s our chief knowledge officer. He has produced an Army knowledge strategy. He’s now producing an Army k owledge implementation plan. And we are looking at hiring a data czar for the Army to look at the structure of data across the Army.

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