The Changing Face of IT
Newport News Shipbuilding IT has greatly evolved the past few years from a traditional service-based organization to a more agile Plan/Build/Run/Manage/Secure organization. We have revitalized ideation and absorption of technology into our Business Technology and Transformation Group to formalize a pathway of creation or purchase based on our business needs. Acceptance, along with a strong business case, provides the integration runway for our Solutions Development Department to customize our solutions utilizing agile and iterative methods to fit our business needs. The Operations Group focuses on maintaining the highest level of support necessary for existing platforms with a strong emphasis on ever-greening our environments. Our Manage Organization is dedicated to running IT like its own business, controlling costs and maximizing business value with enhanced transparency to our business partners. Because of the nature of our work, security is at a focal point and we must protect the information with which the U.S. Navy has entrusted us. While transformation is the goal, we will disrupt, but without defiance.
What is your main goal at Newport News Shipbuilding?
Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is undergoing a digital transformation. Our main goal, with the help of my peers, is to lead technology enablement throughout all of our processes. Our journey began with the design of our newest class of aircraft carriers in a 3D model. Now our challenge is to pull that digital thread through our entire supply chain. We have identified many large insertion points for this digital transformation, work management, build management and most importantly, visual work instructions. We believe this transformation will be much like our transition in the 1960s from diesel power to the modern nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Three years ago we adopted the agile methodology to quickly produce unctionality and deliver MVP (Minimal Viable Product) increments to the business
What do you think are the biggest obstacles that technologists face in working in a more agile and outcomes based model?
There are many challenges ahead for the NNS technologists. Increased regulations and compliance through DFARS will require many changes in how we do business, in addition to our ongoing initiatives to create a digital society. Cybersecurity is always a heavy focus because the nature of our products is unique and opposing foreign interests are always looking for ways to steal our information. Also, NNS faces an aging workforce as a third of its employees will retire in the next few years, increasing the need to acquire specialized talent at an expedient rate.
However, our greatest challenge is overcoming the strong organizational culture embedded in the mindset of our shipbuilders. Adapting to change and abandoning the familiar manual processes aren’t a cultural norm for a company with an extensive history like NNS. We must make ourselves uncomfortable and constantly challenge the norm.
Moving from traditional IT to a service offering model requires a major mindset shift in IT. How did you make that happen?
Newport News Shipbuilding is a 131-year-old company with enormous amounts of history and expertise. As a company that has maintained its course and become one of the largest military shipbuilders, it still struggles with a strong ‘that’s how we have always done it’ organizational culture. My challenge is to continue to ask for an outside-in perspective. Learn from others who have disturbed something as simple as obtaining a taxi. We now have an innovative technology platform that links individuals sharing rides with people looking for rides. Now imagine utilizing that same concept with a piece of industrial equipment to fully utilize that technology. Organizationally, we should accept change and remain open to new and innovative ideas. Oftentimes the disruptive ideas do not come from inside.
Even though you do not measure your team on project deadlines, fast delivery must still be important to you. How are you delivering faster?
Three years ago we adopted the agile methodology to quickly produce functionality and deliver MVP (Minimal Viable Product) increments to the business. This methodology has not only improved our ability to meet commitments but it has improved our relationships with our business partners and become trusted advisors. Agile teams are focused on specific-user stories as agreed and defined by the entire team, eliminating re-work and missed requirements. Oftentimes this has been the primary reason for project delays and missed deadlines. The agile teams are highly successful in problem-solving and reducing ‘analysis paralysis.’ These teams have adopted the ‘Fail-Fast’ concept where failures are found quickly and resolved to ensure we are delivering the best products possible. These changes laid the success criteria for our digital transformation necessary to quickly provide results in an iterative fashion with a quick feedback loop.