Enterprise IT Context for the CTO

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Transition for One of The Nation’s Greatest Enterprise CTOs: Dave Mihelcic Retires From DISA

Bob Gourley

Editor's note: Dave Mihelcic has been a leader, mentor and friend to thousands, including me.  I wish him the very best in his transition from government service.  It was great to see how DISA honored him with with a farewell release on their site. Find and follow Dave on LinkedIn here. -bg

The following is from: DISA CTO Retirement 
Chief technology officer to retire after 31 years of government service

The man who ensured the services and capabilities the Defense Information Systems Agency develops are technically in sync with the director’s strategic vision will retire after 31 years of government service in a ceremony at the agency’s Headquarters Feb. 21.

David Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer (CTO), served 19 years at the agency and his legacy endures through the programs the Office of the CTO was responsible for.

Mihelcic’s team developed the Global Information Grid (GIG) Convergence Master Plan, which lays the foundation for transforming the DOD network and business and command and control applications into a converged, modern set of services riding on a single Internet Protocol (IP) network. He was responsible for planning and fielding the DOD’s first two-way Global Broadcast System, providing service at 21 sites in Southwest Asia in support of post-9/11 contingency operations. He also orchestrated an unprecedented agreement between the Chief Information Officers of the DOD and the intelligence community, which identified an area of sharing that avoided $12 million in redundancy and served as a precedent for future opportunities.

Prior to his appointment as CTO, Mihelcic served as the deputy program director for the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE), chief executive engineer (CEE) for the Defense Information System Network (DISN), commander of the Center for Horizontal Integration, and deputy CEE for Information Processing at DISA. He also worked at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) for 14 years, and had a brief stint as a senior consultant in private industry.

His decision to pursue government service at the NRL and DISA, as well as his plans for the future, are heavily influenced by his willingness to support the military services and, specifically, the warfighter.

After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in electrical engineering, he sought to work for the Department of Defense. He eventually chose an engineer position with NRL after looking at jobs within the various military services, and with industry positions in support of the military services.

"I started as a GS-7. I left as a GS-15," said Mihelcic. "I started as an engineer working in communication security, basically working with National Security Agency encryption products, and eventually ended up being one of the founders of what would become the Navy's information assurance program."

Mihelcic remarked that his proudest accomplishment in government service was before his appointment as the DISA CTO.

While serving as the deputy program director and CEE for the GIG-BE program, his team virtually eliminated the bandwidth constraints in the DOD’s terrestrial network.

"We had an $877 million investment. We acquired commercial fiber optic cable. We lit that cable with the most leading-edge technologies available. We made it available to warfighters as high-speed IP, with NIPRNet and SIPRNet services available," said Mihelcic. "Really, that's completely changed how the Department does business, and quite frankly, it has changed DISA as well."

In addition to the technological advancements the DOD and the military services would reap from GIG-BE, there were other benefits DOD and DISA would gain from the program.

"Not only did we get this huge infusion of technology, but we got the infusion of skills and people," said Mihelcic. "There were contractors that worked for us when we conducted the GIG-BE program that subsequently came to work with us as government employees … and I feel that today, the reason that we are so successful in the long-haul communications business is because of that great work we did in the GIG-BE program and the great people we attracted to DISA."

Following his service with NRL and industry, his tenure at DISA almost didn’t happen. After applying, and subsequently being offered the job, he initially declined the job offer.

"The chief of staff at DISA, Army COL Frank Whitehead, called me to say, 'I can't offer you more money, but I can guarantee that you are going to help the warfighter,'" said Mihelcic. "I thought about that, and I thought about the importance of the DISA mission, so I took the job and I’ve been here ever since."

Mihelcic said the DISA CTO is responsible for oversight of all technology at the agency through the Chief Engineers Panel, which brings together the senior technical representatives of all of DISA's projects and programs. He stated that in addition to this oversight, his team ensures DISA has a pipeline of relevant concepts and technologies to inform and guide the agency's activities moving forward.

"We ensure that what DISA does is technically in sync with the Director's strategic vision, has good systems engineering, and is scalable, secure, and survivable," said Mihelcic.

The CTO went onto say he is going to miss the people and the mission.

"The CTO has some of the best and brightest in all of DISA, and they have a very difficult job because instead of working on one of the core programs, whether it be the DISN, or computing, or Global Command and Control, they really have to work in support of everything DISA does – the entire mission."

He said CTO has to interact with the Chief Strategy Office, work with all of the left- and right-side functions, as well as to work with industry, academia, and other government organizations.

"I think the people we have in the CTO, because they have this broad experience in everything that DISA does, they are really the right people for that job," said Mihelcic.

In addition to missing the people at DISA, he reiterated the reason he came back to government service after his brief time as a consultant was primarily due to the DISA mission and the opportunity to support the warfighter.

"The one thing that COL Whitehead told me that I could get at DISA that I couldn't get anywhere else was that ability to influence the mission and really help the warfighter," said Mihelcic. "I am really going to miss that, because I think DISA has done great things for the Department of Defense and the warfighter. I think we’re going continue to do great things, and I really hope in my next job I can find at least some semblance of that. A place where I can actually influence the future."

After reminiscing about his 31 years of service, Mihelcic ended with these words.

"We have great people. We have a great mission. And as long as DISA leadership empowers and trusts our people to do the right thing, we will accomplish whatever goal is set forth."

Posted February 17, 2017





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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder of Crucial Point and publisher of CTOvision.com