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Mike McCalip, VP of Government Programs & Strategy at Carahsoft, Relays Best Practices for Industry-Government Collaboration & More

Mike McCalip, VP of Government Programs & Strategy at Carahsoft, Relays Best Practices for Industry-Government Collaboration & More - top government contractors - best government contracting event

After more than 30 years in the U.S. Navy, most recently in the role of fleet master chief, Mike McCalip brought his leadership and expertise to the private sector. Today he’s vice president of government programs and strategy at Carahsoft Technology, where he collaborates with public sector leaders, systems integrators and technology providers to help government organizations optimize mission performance.

This month, McCalip took part in a Q&A session with ExecutiveBiz covering a range of topics, including technology change, cybersecurity, the government workforce and industry-government collaboration.

Many readers will be familiar with Carahsoft, but can you tell us about your area of the business?

I have a few roles. The common thread is that I help the systems integrators and technology providers in the Carahsoft portfolio serve government organizations effectively.

I lead the team that provides white-glove service to our top systems integrators. We help them identify and shape opportunities, and we help them navigate our ecosystem of more than 400 original equipment manufacturers. We’ve achieved a 35 percent year-over-year growth rate during the past few economically challenging years, which speaks to the effectiveness of our approach.

I addition, I oversee how we serve our largest customers, such as the Navy, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. As with the systems integrators, we assign a dedicated program manager to coordinate how the OEMs in our portfolio can best serve these customers.

We also have a new focus on state and local government. In particular, we’re working with cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami to solve their complex mission challenges.

As technology change accelerates, is there greater urgency within government to keep up?

The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst for faster digital modernization. When the pandemic hit, organizations needed to pivot rapidly to remote operations. But many lacked the internal expertise and the architectural flexibility to adapt quickly to new ways of working.

Three years later, many agencies can support a hybrid workforce. But the sense of urgency remains and not just because they learned the lessons of the pandemic, which is that they need the agility to respond to unexpected change. Other drivers are keeping the pressure on agencies to continue their digital transformation.

First, cyber attackers keep raising the stakes, and agencies need to continually adapt to protect sensitive data and citizen privacy. Second, citizens increasingly demand faster, easier services and more digitized experiences. And third, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are enabling new capabilities in more use cases — but only for agencies that have the capacity to take advantage of them.

Cyber risk continues to be a major issue for government. How do you see agencies responding?

I’m encouraged by what I see in how organizations are understanding these issues. I came up through the nuclear-powered submarine force, and there’s a lesson that applies here.

We recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the loss of the USS Thresher, which sank with all hands on board. The cause was failed pipe joints that let in water, plus frozen valves that prevented the boat from blowing ballast water from its tanks and surfacing.

Her loss taught us many valuable lessons, one of which is that when your mission relies on a critical piece of technology, like a valve in a submarine, you also need a backup – especially when lives are at stake. That’s equally true for cybersecurity today. And in military and critical-infrastructure contexts, cybersecurity is ultimately about protecting lives.

Agencies are learning not to put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to cyber — or any other technology. You need layers of defense, so that if one layer fails, another protects you. That’s why we’re seeing initiatives such as the Department of Defense’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, which is a multi-vendor acquisition vehicle for cloud services at all classification levels. That’s a smart approach, because it eliminates single points of failure.

You mentioned that agency missions depend on digital solutions. Does government have the technical workforce it needs?

I just came back from a conference with a lot of military leaders. You’d think all they’d be talking about right now is Russia and China. And they were talking about that. But they also talked a lot about the U.S. workforce, and in particular the government workforce.

We’re not producing enough engineers and scientists. And we’re not keeping people up to speed with fast-moving technology. Part of the problem is that when agencies need to stretch budgets, they save money in areas like training. They end up with a workforce that’s a decade behind the private sector in their knowledge of technology.

But while technology creates this problem, it also offers a solution. Agencies need to invest in technologies that automate simpler tasks — and even some complex tasks — to free up people for more strategic activities. This a major challenge I’m focused on helping government solve. And it will take partnering with the private sector to solve it.

Where else will we see more industry-government collaboration?

Technology moves so fast today that the half-life of software is sometimes only six months. As government relies more on commercial software, the collaboration between industry and government will be increasingly crucial not only to how government serves citizens but also to public safety and national security.

Carahsoft fosters this collaboration in a couple of ways. First, we work with our ecosystem of technology providers to get their products FedRAMP- and Defense Information Systems Agency-authorized. We have internal experts who guide vendors through the process, helping to decrease the time required to achieve authorization. In fact, we now have the largest portfolio of FedRAMP-authorized OEMs.

In addition, we strive to truly understand the needs of the organizations we serve. When I worked in government, IT vendors would tell me what I needed without actually knowing my organization’s mission. How could they possibly understand my needs if they didn’t understand my mission?

We make it a priority to understand an organization’s mission before we offer a solution. More than that, we work to become a partner in that mission. If we start with a true understanding of the problems that need to be solved, then we can answer important questions. What are the operational impacts? What are the mission impacts? When do we have to invest more to actually solve the problem? When can we avoid costs? If it’s a partnership, then we can be totally honest about the answers, and we can work together toward the best solution.

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