Executive Spotlight: Dr. Bob Brammer of Northrop Grumman

Executive Spotlight: Dr. Bob Brammer of Northrop Grumman - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Executive Spotlight: Dr. Bob Brammer of Northrop Grumman - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Bob Brammer, Northrop Grumman Information Systems

Dr. Bob Brammer is akin to an oracle of the government-contracting technology world. He began working on the Apollo program after college, an experience that launched a career in technology that has spanned decades.

Now, as vice president of Advanced Technology and chief technology officer for Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Brammer shared with ExecutiveBiz his thoughts on cybersecurity, federal IT reform and other issues in the spotlight of the government-contracting world.

But he also shared insight into areas that have slipped under the radar, including climate change. In fact, shortly before the interview, Brammer had only recently returned from a vacation to Antarctica.

ExecutiveBiz: Could you talk about your trip to Antarctica?

Bob Brammer: We got back just about a week ago. It was a fantastic trip. My wife and I went on the National Geographic Explorer, sailing out of the southern tip of Argentina. We spent several days on and around the Antarctic Peninsula. We saw a lot of wildlife and visited some research stations and really had a wonderful time.

ExecutiveBiz: Not many people go on vacations to Antarctica. Was that a place you“™ve always wanted to go?

Bob Brammer: One of the things on my bucket list was to have been on all seven continents, and now I“™ve done that. I“™ve wanted to go there for years.  One of my long-time interests is in weather and climate. Antarctica is a very important region of the earth in terms of the global climate system. The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming areas in the world, so I particularly wanted to see that.

ExecutiveBiz: What are some springboard moments that really led you to where you are today?

Bob Brammer: I guess I would give a lot of credit to my father. He was a college professor and one of the finest teachers I ever saw.  He got me interested at a very early age in a very broad range of scientific and mathematical subjects.  I went through school, and my first job was with NASA working on the Apollo program, which was pretty exciting for a 21-year-old kid ““ that exposed me to many technology areas.  I think those were some of the early experiences I had. I moved up into the corporate structure and now as the CTO, I“™m responsible for a very broadly based research program which puts me in touch with state-of-the-art developments in all kinds of different areas.

ExecutiveBiz: I was just wondering as the CTO, what is a day in the life like?

Bob Brammer: They are all different, and I think that is one of the things that I like best about the job — the variety of things that I deal with.  This morning, for instance, we had one of our periodic climate and environment meetings where we“™re dealing with a broad range of issues both in terms of how Northrop Grumman is improving its own environmental footprint as well as some new business initiatives we have in terms of understanding climate change and water supplies around the world. Later today, I will be working on cybersecurity and cloud computing and, then, tomorrow we“™ve got discussions on intelligence analysis and so forth. There is no one representative day. It“™s a broad range of very different but very interesting state-of-the-art subjects.

ExecutiveBiz: Is there a part of the day that you think you look forward to the most?

Bob Brammer: I like every part of my job; sometimes, I think I may have a little too much of a good thing. I like getting out and meeting with our customers or various industry groups. I“™d say that“™s probably as much fun as anything.  I travel constantly and that gives me the opportunity to meet a broad range of people. I really like that. Sometimes, people say, “˜Do you really like all of that travel?“™  I guess I do, because I keep doing it, but it“™s the stimulation of dealing with a broad range of people, new ideas, different areas ““ I think that“™s what gets me excited about the job.

ExecutiveBiz: Federal IT reform has gotten a lot of attention in the past few months. As the CTO of a company that develops solutions for the federal government, what“™s your perspective?

Bob Brammer: I think the reform is occurring in a lot of different ways and I think mostly for the better. I think that people are trying to manage federal IT better, to be more cost effective like some of the initiatives that the federal CIO and CIO Council are doing with respect to cost management, cloud computing and so forth.

Other things are trying to shorten up processes and adjust to the rapid rate of change in the industry.  I think that a good example of that is in the cybersecurity area where the previous versions of FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act, is being totally redone to focus on continuous monitoring and more of a real-time view of security, rather than audits that are done once every year or so, which aren“™t really addressing the security threats.  I think the attention on energy efficiency and environmental impact is a very positive thing. I think that the consolidation and integration of networking, storage and processing — more of a unified computing approach is also a very positive step. With all of these things, I think we have the opportunity to do a lot of transformation in federal IT over the next several years.

ExecutiveBiz: From the industry side ““ what do you think are the important issues facing government contractors, particularly those in IT and technology solutions?

Bob Brammer: I think at the top level, the trade off is how do you stay on the leading edge of credible technology while at the same time managing your costs and being competitive in that regard. I think another huge issue deals with the workforce and how we develop the next generation of our technical staff members. Those are the things that I work on every day.

We“™ve got a number of development programs in the corporation in terms of education, training and mentoring.  I think those are very important technical initiatives because without the right kind of people all of this technology won“™t do us much good.

ExecutiveBiz: I was just wondering if I could pick your brain a little bit on maybe some of the future tech developments that you see on the horizon that maybe people aren“™t talking about right now but in a few years they will be.

Bob Brammer: Recently, just in the past couple of years now there“™s been much more of a focus on cybersecurity, whereas a couple of years ago it really hadn“™t gotten any sort of significant attention. I think we will be dealing with that issue for a long time. There will be a lot of new developments in the security area that we are just beginning to understand now.

I think there is also going to be a lot more improvement in communications. There will be a lot more developments in the areas of mobility and broadband communications. I think one issue that unfortunately has gotten pushed to the back burner is this issue of climate change.  I think people need to be talking about that a lot more than they are.  In my various travels to the Arctic and the Antarctic regions, the Middle East, the Amazon — these are all places I“™ve been personally within the past couple of years — I“™ve seen the indications of significant climate change.   Those are just a few examples of things that I think are important.

ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything you would like to add?

Bob Brammer: I think the country needs a much broader understanding of a number of these difficult issues we are facing about security and environment and others that we haven“™t talked about, like healthcare. There are a whole range of issues about which we need to have an improved public dialogue.  I think the contributions of the media in this area can be very important in facilitating this public dialogue.

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