Leigh Palmer appointed by GDIT to chair WashingtonExec Defense Council – WashingtonExec


Leigh Palmer, GDIT

Leigh Palmer, Senior Vice President, Defense for the GDIT, has been named chairman of the WashingtonExec Defense Council.

In her current role, Palmer oversees the delivery of business critical solutions to the Department of Defense. Prior to assuming leadership of the Defense Division, she served as Senior Vice President for the National Security Division of GDIT, supporting the Homeland Security and Intelligence community programs. She has held a number of senior and managerial positions at CSRA in the past, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.

We met Palmer to discuss her future plans with the council, the trending topics she would like to discuss with the council and the mark she would like to leave behind.

Based on your many years of experience in the areas of defense, intelligence, cybersecurity and IT, which priorities and current topics would you like to discuss with the Defense Council?

Technology is more fundamental to the warrior than ever. The speed of information exchange, secure collaboration, and the provision of information to the edge are examples of strategic differentiators on the battlefield.

The technology landscape is moving faster than ever. There are new technologies on the market – e.g. Zero Trust, Cloud, 5G, Artificial Intelligence. It is imperative that these technologies be applied with the warrior mindset. We must also not forget the tried and tested solutions that currently exist in the federal landscape, but are not always used as well as they could be.

It is just as important to bring in different perspectives. Regardless of whether they are commercial technical experts, system integrators or users of the authorities, they all have a role to play. We need to listen to one another and understand the position of each stakeholder in order to find the best solution for the warrior. This conscious collaboration enables our customers to innovate quickly.

IT is playing a bigger mission role than ever before. It’s a fundamental benefit and needs to be a central part of the conversation. Without a strong IT foundation and state-of-the-art systems, we cannot wage our wars and differentiate ourselves on the battlefield. It is imperative that we use a strategic mindset in order to build the best possible IT infrastructure to support the war fighters.

What are some of the major IT and cyber-related challenges facing defense agencies and industry recently and during the pandemic? How will the Council work together to address these challenges?

The council is a platform for members to react transparently to today’s most urgent needs such as the crisis for technical talent, rapid IT modernization and changes in acquisition processes.

The industry sees talented professionals leaving the workforce in record numbers for a number of reasons. Many suffer from burnout or simply take the time to reevaluate their lives. For GDIT, these factors drive us to hold critical management discussions, invest in our employees and listen to all perspectives.

COVID has accelerated the pace of IT modernization, and our customers are increasingly realizing the importance of getting technology skills to mission quickly. The pandemic forced authorities to quickly adjust and implement temporary systems to facilitate remote working and maintain business continuity. It was remarkable to see how our customers adapted almost overnight. However, these temporary solutions have created new vulnerabilities that need to be addressed with more permanent, more resilient systems.

There are also differences in the IT user experience between employees based within the continental US and outside the continental US. are needed at the tactical edge for better real-time decision making.

In addition, IT has a greater impact on the mission than ever before. Our customer needs data to carry out a mission and that requires secure and powerful IT systems to move the data. You need to be able to trust this data and make sure our opponents cannot access it. We cannot wage our wars successfully without information and data flowing freely between decision-makers.

How will your personal and professional experience and expertise within this community help guide the council in discussions on these issues?

As one of the largest systems integrators in the industry, GDIT plays a leading role in connecting today’s commercial technologies with government requirements. We actively work across the full spectrum of customer needs, from developing 5G and AI solutions to implementing zero trust architectures.

As the Head of Defense at GDIT, I oversee more than 9,800 employees in 88 locations around the world and provide mission-critical services and solutions to the DOD and other federal agencies. GDIT has accelerated the delivery of improved offerings in technology areas such as cloud, cyber, mobility and artificial intelligence to the DOD. I want to have conversations about how these skills and technologies shape our customers’ missions. My story of enabling deeper innovation, like accelerating cloud adoption across the DOD, fits well with the strategic goals our community is facing.

And as a manager in a company with 28,000 employees, I am aware of the immense value of our talent as our most important resource. Our people come first, and our leaders have a shared responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion throughout our organization, promote learning and development opportunities, and support the well-being of our people. At GDIT we’ve redoubled our efforts: we’ve launched a company-wide campaign focused on the importance of mental health, we’re implementing machine learning to identify internal candidates for career opportunities, and we have a corporate goal to increase technical learning times and Certifications.

Do you think there is great value in connecting industry executives with government officials to discuss issues facing the DOD community?

In the past few years we have seen dramatic changes in the global technology landscape. New technologies, new processes and new business models are approaching us faster and faster.

In order to really harvest innovations in this spectrum and to move forward at the “speed of innovation”, we have to bring a variety of thoughts to the table, bundle our forces and all pull together. The better we understand each other, the better we can support solutions for the warrior.

These industry platforms are critical to the conversations that affect not only our changing landscape and mission goals, but the people behind these missions as well.

As chairman of this council, what do you hope to achieve, and what do you hope that councilors will benefit from your leadership?

It is important to foster trust and transparency between government and industrial partners. This is a forum for critical discussion and we need to be trustful and open to different points of view. Each stakeholder brings a unique, valuable perspective. We need to listen to one another and work together to expedite solutions to bring skills to mission quickly, especially in these troubled times. There will be challenges, but we also have great opportunities to make a significant impact.

About Ellen Lewandowski

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