The Grill: TASC CIO Barbie Bigelow

This CIO got to build an IT organization from scratch -- in one short year.

After spinning off from Northrop Grumman in 2009, TASC had one year to establish itself as an independent company. That meant the 6,000-employee systems engineering operation needed to deploy a new IT infrastructure. In overseeing that effort, TASC CIO Barbie Bigelow built an IT organization and infrastructure from scratch. Her team spent about eight months working with 64 vendors and partners to design and build an operation that included a new ERP system, more than 4,000 computers, 800 mobile devices, 400 network devices and 134 data circuits across 60 facilities -- and they did it in six weeks. Here, Bigelow discusses the failures and successes that the team experienced as they pursued the aggressive schedule, and she reflects on how TASC's IT unit has evolved.

Barbie Bigelow

I did outrun a bear one time. This happened in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I threw a bowl of food at him and ran.What's your favorite technology? Everything. I'm a geek at heart. I'd be happy to spend Labor Day weekend putting in a wireless network and getting the printers to work wirelessly.What do you like to do to unwind? Wine tastings. I've also taken up yoga.What was your first job? Picking dandelions. My dad was making dandelion wine, and I got a nickel a bucket. It takes a lot of dandelions to fill a bucket."Ask me to do anything but... Load the dishwasher."

How would you describe the challenge you faced when you started as CIO of TASC? Our mission was to stand up a new corporate infrastructure for the newly independent TASC and to execute that transition while we continued to perform for our customers. What's unique about the challenge is that we had to do this in less than a calendar year, and a lot of activities had to happen concurrently. The divestiture happened at the end of 2009, and we had to be independent at the end of 2010.

Were you tempted to simply replicate the IT infrastructure that users were familiar with? Yes. We certainly did some analysis around that. But TASC is a different business than the big defense manufacturing company we were coming out of. Those processes and systems weren't right for us, and frankly they had grown up over a long period of time. We had the opportunity to take a clean sheet of paper.

What was your strategy? It was a three-step process. We had the acquisition strategy; we had to design and build and integrate; and then we had the transition phase, which was about six weeks.

You cut everything over in only six weeks? Yes. The transition plan was actually two tightly integrated plans, one for the ERP system and one for the infrastructure. Then we worked the change management and data integration horizontally across everything and worked very closely with the executive leadership team to make sure we were all in sync.

There were 64 partners and vendors involved, and these interdependencies all had to be laid out. We are talking about a new security system for everyone, 15TB of data, well over 100 data circuits and 100 voice circuits, and all of those things had to come together.

How did you approach the design challenge? TASC is a systems engineering and integration company, and I came into this with some experience on optimization of IT portfolios, so we leveraged that discipline. We were very disciplined with our program management methodology. We laid out a plan, as well as a risk mitigation plan of what to do if something went wrong.

I'm not going to say things didn't go wrong. We had equipment that didn't get delivered when we thought it would. We had things come in that were not what we expected. But because we had been through the process, the team was ready. And they were all in. Everyone was committed.

How did you go about building your data center infrastructure? We leveraged the commercial industry to accelerate our timelines. For example, we partnered with Unisys Global Managed Services to stand up the hosting and end-user services piece of this, and Unisys brought ITIL processes for building and managing the infrastructure. They live and breathe this every day.

Did you experience any failures along the way? One of the things we wanted to do differently in this transition was to have a really great collaboration environment, and from a technology standpoint I'd say we do. But it's really not about the technology. It's about the content. We didn't work enough on helping people get their content into the new environment and on helping people understand how that could help them.

Now we're focusing on content and the change management aspect of that, a process that helps people understand how to share and the rewards of sharing. This is more on the people side than the technology side.

Many ERP projects with longer time horizons fail. What allowed you to get yours done successfully under such a tight deadline? We had a fantastic team, and some folks had been through a couple of ERP transitions and understood our business processes very well. We were able to take that team and combine it with our partners to create a very accelerated plan.

What are your priorities for 2012? The things I'm most passionate about are mobility and accessibility for our employees. Many of our folks don't work in a traditional office environment that's connected to our network. They need the flexibility to access the tools and content they need from the environment they're in, using the device they have.

What advice would you give other CIOs? The talent you have around you is really, really important. Be very clear on what's important and what your criteria are across the whole enterprise, and empower the team to do that analysis and make the decision.

-- Interview by Robert L. Mitchell

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