Bringing it all together: The Leidos ecosystem now and into the future
In this finale, we look back on the conversations we've had throughout season three, with Robert Franceschini, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at Leidos. He'll walk us through the highlights from the season, how all of these separate mindsets work together to form an unstoppable ecosystem and gives us a look into Leidos' future.
On today's podcast:
- Highlighting the various mindsets and technologies discussed in season three
- How these technologies come together in the ecosystem
- Looking ahead at what's next for Leidos
NASA AUDIO: Sound suppression water now flowing under the ML. And here we go. Hydrogen burn-off igniters initiate. Seven, six, five, four, stage engine start. Three, two, one, boosters in ignition. And liftoff of Artemis I. We rise together back to the moon and beyond.
Shaunté Newby: Despite being delayed by Tropical Storm Nicole and a few technical issues, NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, launched the Orion rocket on November 16th. The moon-bound craft signifies the official takeoff of NASA's Artemis mission, which will ultimately lead to a sustained presence on our moon. It's an incredible feat for all those involved and an exciting time for the whole world. A mission like this takes a lot of people-power, and among those people is a hardworking team at Leidos.
Nate Apodaca: Honestly, if I'm being personal, I want my grandchildren to feel the same excitement that I did as a boy when me and my father used to watch shows like NOVA and talk about NASA. And I want my family to be proud of me, and I want my employees to be proud of their achievements. And really, I know it sounds cliche, but to have the ability to impact this agency and this agency's ability to impact the world and leave it a little bit better than when we started is really not lost on me.
Shaunté Newby: That's Nate Apodaca, Vice President and Division Manager of the NASA Portfolio at Leidos. We spoke to him about his team's work with NASA on the IT front in the first episode of this season. His excitement for the launch was palpable. It's only fitting that in our season finale, we're able to share the good news that he was eagerly awaiting. Today is a special episode of Mindset. We get to look back on all of our conversations throughout the season with Robert Franceschini, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at Leidos, along with reflecting and connecting all the various strategies and mindsets we spoke about throughout the season together. We'll also hear about what's getting him excited for the future. My name is Shaunte Newby, and this is the season finale of Mindset, a podcast by Leidos. The first thing we asked Robert about was his excitement for the NASA Portfolio's success.
Robert Franceschini: Oh, gosh, I was excited too. There's just nothing quite like a space mission to capture our imagination. It's a statement about our collective ability to solve an extremely challenging problem. And as Nate talked about, our IT team supported that launch and are continuing to support the IT devices and infrastructure for the mission. We'll be there servicing Splashdown in a few weeks, so really excited about it. I'd also point out that a different part of Leidos, through our Dynetics group, helped with making sure the propulsion system on the rocket was ready for its maiden voyage. So Leidos has got a few connections into this mission. Really excited about it.
Shaunté Newby: I know as an employee, that had to be pretty cool watching it on TV and people probably saying, you know, I had something to do with this.
Robert Franceschini: That's right.
Shaunté Newby: Throughout the season and the podcast overall, we talked about a few different cybersecurity strategies. We spoke with Jeff Mims, Leidos Chief Technologist, about Zero Trust. We spoke to Megan Good, VP and Director of the Cyber Accelerator, about Beyond Compliance. Can you talk about how these things work together and why Leidos distinguishes between them?
Robert Franceschini: So, these concepts are tightly connected. A traditional approach to cybersecurity is to outline a set of rules to follow to secure a system. So, for example, one rule might be to make sure to apply the software updates within a short time of them becoming available. So, you have this kind of checklist approach. We think about this as at least what must be done to keep a system secure. But we also know that there are determined adversaries working on ways to get around whatever we think of as the latest rules and checklists. So, we need a recognition that we've got to go beyond the compliance list. In other words, we've got to step up our game and go beyond complying with the current rule set. Zero Trust is an important design philosophy that helps us do that.
Shaunté Newby: That means you have to think like an adversary, right? And think beyond what the right and wrong thing to do.
Robert Franceschini: That's exactly right.
Shaunté Newby: We also talked about AI Trust with Ron Keesing, Senior VP for Technology Integration at Leidos, and Tiffany O'Brien, Lead for the AI and Machine Learning Accelerator at Leidos. Where does Zero Trust fit into this conversation?
Robert Franceschini: Great question, because the word trust is used in both, but it's used in kind of different ways. In the case of AI, we want to trust that the automation is doing the right thing in a fair way, as Tiffany and Ron explained. In Zero Trust, we want our systems to challenge access to information because we don't want a blanket trust of anyone who happens to be able to get into the system. We don't want to trust just anyone. So, there are a number of touchpoints between the two concepts, though. One example is we believe that to really implement Zero Trust, we're going to need automation to do it, because we're going to be challenging lots and lots and lots of different interactions in the system in depth. So, to work at scale, we've got to automate that. But if we're going to make that work, we've got to be able to trust that the AI is doing the right thing, including that it's secure and not susceptible to being broken into itself to really build that Zero Trust framework out. That's one example. There are a number of other connections between the two concepts.
Shaunté Newby: That's interesting how you have to trust the thing that's going to help you as well to trust the outputs of it.
Robert Franceschini: Yeah. Anytime you do this automation, it's great that you can automate something, but if you don't trust the result, you're not really going to use it.
Shaunté Newby: Trusting automated processes isn't just important for organizations looking to take tedious work off folks' plates or find efficiencies, et cetera. The impact of automation is much, much larger than that. You may recall our conversation with Josh Wepman, Technology Officer for Commercial Energy Solutions at Leidos. We talked about how automation in the energy sector is a crucial part of sustaining the grid across the country.
Josh Wepman: So much of what we're replacing was built 70 years ago and tended to last 30 years, but it's still standing there. So, we're out doing that work and just through our own efforts, we can't hire enough people to get all the work done.
Shaunté Newby: I wanted to get Robert's take on that episode and how important automation is to Leidos' energy strategies.
Robert Franceschini: I thought Josh did a great job of describing the immense scale of the problems he's working on in energy. Simply put, there aren't enough people to fill the jobs required to solve these problems. There just aren't. So, automation is really the only way to make any progress. As Josh pointed out though, that statement's really the tip of the iceberg of a lot of great technology work that's needed to drive to the solution. So, the first step is recognizing that you need the automation, but it's not an easy thing to build that automation. So, if you think about the example, he gave of the drone aircraft flying over miles of power lines to find the trees that might interfere with the lines, that's on the cutting edge of automation today. And it serves as a great example of the kind of forward-looking technology work that Leidos performs across the markets that we serve.
Shaunté Newby: I thought that was so cool to hear though, the use of drones and the amount of coverage that could happen with just, I guess, maybe one drone, as opposed to sending out people to check out each tree and each possible damage that occurred out there, each pole rather.
Robert Franceschini: Yeah, and when you think about the statistic around the square mile or something having millions of trees, and if you sort of have people do this, they're going to be there for a long, long time.
Shaunté Newby: They're still doing it.
Robert Franceschini: And they're still doing it, right. And the reality is you don't have enough people to do it, to complete it.
Shaunté Newby: Right. Plenty of opportunity. There are a lot of jobs out there. Okay. So, well, AI seems to be improving at an incredible speed, but really technology overall is just rapidly changing. As we learned about it in our episode with Paul Burnett, Vice President of the Software Accelerator, and Drew Formica, Software Architect at Leidos, software changes can be a big issue for organizations when they can't keep up.
Ron Keesing: Because the technology landscape changes so quickly, we have to make sure that we don't lock our solutions to a vendor or a particular technology.
Shaunté Newby: How important do you think this mindset is to Leidos' overall ecosystem approach?
Robert Franceschini: Well, I'd say that technology is changing at an increasing pace, which tells you that we have to get faster at getting faster. And this is tremendously important. So, in the case of software, it's not just about speed. It's also about making sure that the software solutions are secure. So, the change that Paul is leading for Leidos across all software development is around rapid and secure software. So, his team is rolling out tools so that our teams can create software and work through changes continuously, all the while double-checking that we're not introducing vulnerabilities and that we're tracking the pedigree of the software. This pedigree is very important because once the software is deployed when vulnerabilities to a particular software subsystem are identified, we can really quickly find out all the places where that software has been deployed and shore it up quickly. It can take weeks or months if we don't have such a pedigree to try to root out every piece of software that needs to be fixed. So, it helps us shore up the cyber defenses much, much faster. And all that's built into the way that we're building software now, and it kind of incorporates all of what we've been talking about in terms of being able to quickly build the right kind of secure software.
Shaunté Newby: Right. And so, I imagine, so you mentioned increasing pace. I always thought technology was fast, but I swear, well, I feel like in the past several years, it's gone even faster.
Robert Franceschini: It is.
Shaunté Newby: And so, I imagine a lot of automation, right, testing, making sure when you put out something new, it didn't break everything or anything beforehand. So, that's probably a place where a lot of automation took place as well, too, in the testing, right?
Robert Franceschini: Absolutely, that's right. You've got more and more people building more and more software, which means there are more and more things to use as sources for your software, and you don't necessarily know where those things are coming from. It's really important to be able to leverage goodness from that, but also not introduce problems, vulnerabilities, other things into the software that you're building because, you know, on the one hand, you really want efficiency of building the software and getting to the end product capability, but on the other hand, you don't want so many shortcuts that you really are susceptible to things that you don't want to have happen. So, having these tools and processes and approaches to kind of serve as double checks and be efficient in that entire process, allowing the software developers to focus on the functionality and making sure that they know how to think about cybersecurity as a core piece of what they're doing, all pays off in a big way.
Shaunté Newby: All of these mindsets we've spoken about are really just pieces to a larger puzzle. It's the way all these strategies come together that is truly amazing. We got to see that in our episode about Leidos' work with the US Army on Project Convergence and the Department of Defense on Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. We spoke with John George, Vice President and Army Senior Account Executive, and Dan McCormick, Program Manager of C4ISR Solutions.
Dan McCormack: We really recognize change as the norm and not the exception, and so cloud computing, microservices, and continuous modernization provide a framework for this continuous digital change. So, we leverage DevSecOps and continuous integration and continuous delivery, but those are not ends in themselves, those are techniques. What we're talking about is how do we, from end to end, from concept, feedback, idea, need, all the way out to pushing it out to the soldier at the point of need in as little as time as possible to the greatest capability as possible. That's our focus, and that's what we're providing with this approach.
Shaunté Newby: I wanted to hear more from Robert about how the ecosystem comes together.
Robert Franceschini: Well, I really liked John and Dan's episode because they brought a really clear flavor of the customer mission into the conversation, and there's not much more compelling a need for speed and security and scale than in their example. When you're in a battle, there's not time for months of development and testing of new features or configuring of systems, and poor cybersecurity can cause you to fail the mission. We are talking about coordinating across an entire fighting force. That's a large scale when you consider all of the elements that need to synchronize across that force. So, all of the elements we've talked about so far in this season can be brought to bear as John and Dan talked through in their episode.
Shaunté Newby: How does Project Convergence relate to other organizations' needs, and does the ecosystem have to adapt to the different needs of different organizations?
Robert Franceschini: There are challenging use cases within project convergence that just wouldn't apply to other organizations. For example, I think John and Dan talked about coordinated fires, and that wouldn't be particularly relevant to a hospital or something like that, right? But some of the core elements would apply in a variety of cases for other organizations. And I think John and Dan mentioned the concept of edge to cloud. This is a set of technologies that we've been building at Leidos, and it's one example of a computing and communications framework that we think has applicability across many different mission sets. So, the idea is to be flexible about where the computing happens and how it's communicated so that you have, when you need the scale of a cloud computing environment, you've got it. When you are out deployed at an edge location where you maybe have your cell phone or some other kind of computing available to you, you can do what you need to do with that device, and all these things can be connected together and working together. That kind of an idea is kind of the core way we think about computing and communications today.
Shaunté Newby: Okay. So, I think too, what they mentioned, the long-range precision fires, yeah, that doesn't apply to everybody, right?
Robert Franceschini: It doesn't apply to everybody.
Shaunté Newby: I was impressed though. I was impressed. I was like, I didn't know it could go that far and be that precise. So, that's pretty good.
Robert Franceschini: Well, and the thing about it is there's a lot of coordination that has to happen, which is the whole point behind why you need a network to help you with it. So, it's a really interesting use case for this kind of technology.
Shaunté Newby: Right. One thing that's been consistent, I think too, is just the amount of data it takes. I mean, I can't even imagine. I can name several things, but I'm just imagining now all the different data points from geographic to the climate to every piece of data that has to be captured and actually decided upon, right?
Robert Franceschini: If we go back to the idea that Josh Wepman had introduced in his episode about more jobs than there are people, data is a great example of this, right? There's more data to analyze than you will ever have people being able to tear through it and figure out what it is. And automation is exactly the kind of thing we need to do there. I know people worry sometimes when we say automation that we're talking about taking jobs away from people or something. But the reality is what we're really trying to do is make people more productive at dealing with these problems that they, if we're really being honest with ourselves, they're overwhelmed with it today. And that's not going to stop, right? The tsunami of more data and more data and more data. It's doing what I said technology was doing, right? It's getting bigger and it's getting bigger at a faster rate. So, this whole idea around automation and understanding data, data is a great example of a place where we need to do automation to really be able to solve the problems that are facing us today. And it's a big part of our overall technology strategy.
Shaunté Newby: I have a special affinity towards data. Some people are engineers, I'm an analyst at heart. So just the fact that I can go through a spreadsheet all this data, figure out how to automate it so I can find the trends. So, I love hearing about automation and being able to do the job of probably 10 or 12 people as opposed to one.
Robert Franceschini: Well, it's interesting. There are a lot of different ways that that can be used, right? So, we talked a lot in the season about different kinds of applications. One of the big applications is enterprise IT. And the interesting thing about enterprise IT from this perspective is if you think about it, a network that has, that supports tens of thousands of people, there's a lot of data that goes over that network from all of the computing devices. There's a lot of data. And so, there are technologies that listen to the data and just kind of say, well, how's the network doing? How are the computers doing? How are the printers doing? How is the cloud doing? And you can tap into that, and you can either have people do it and sort of say, oh, there's something going wrong over there, which you can imagine people doing that watching kind of traffic going over a network at network speed is kind of like a job that you really, you know, it's intense. It would fill up your spreadsheet in a minute, right? So how do you kind of sort through and figure out what's there? Whereas if we think about some analytics, which we've been doing, we can very quickly zero in on where the issues really are and highlight quickly to an analyst, hey, this is the thing I need you to look at because I think there's a problem here.
Robert Franceschini: And it sort of, you can immediately see the sort of payoff of having the analytics in place, the automation of sifting through the data to say, something's wrong over here. Can you take a look and see what it is, right? Versus, oh, look, here's yet another record of something that went over the network and it's fine, right? You know what I mean? So that idea plays across a lot of different domains. It certainly plays in enterprise IT, but it plays in a lot of other domains as well.
Shaunté Newby: Leidos has mastered the tech ecosystem, but still, as we've learned, technology continues to change faster than ever. That means the future is always just around the corner. But technology isn't the only aspect of the industry that is perpetually improving. The importance of diversifying the workforce has always been clear and the actions being taken right now to bring the tech field into the modern day are crucial. We talked a lot about why diversity is so vital in our episode with Liz Porter, president of the Leidos Health Group, and Kristin Gowers, chief of staff for the Leidos Health Group.
Liz Porter: Thinking about developing an electronic health record, you may not have that person in the room that's going to say, well, what about maternal health? Or what about women's health? Or what about a module for mammograms? Without that in the room, you're missing these vital pieces to a solution that's supposed to support a population.
Shaunté Newby: I asked Robert for his reflections on the episode and diversity.
Robert Franceschini: I really like how Liz and Kristin kind of framed the discussion around the technologies that we deploy and deliver to end users to say, if you're really going to get the use of that technology right, you have to have thought about who the users really are. And there's a huge diversity in the users of the technology. So, if you back that up, it says you've got to have diversity of perspectives going into the design of the systems and the technologies that you're building. So if I back up one step more from that, it says I need to have a workforce and a team structure that brings in as many different perspectives as I can possibly bring in so that I've got the right perspectives available and I don't, I'm not blind to things because I don't have the right perspective on the team. So I think that when you sort of think it through that way, it becomes very clear that diversity is an imperative for our organization. And Leidos takes this very seriously. We're on a journey just like other organizations are. And I think the first step of the journey is to say, we need to go on a journey.
Robert Franceschini: And Leidos absolutely has done that. I would say we can talk a lot about different kinds of things. And Liz and Kristen mentioned them, employee resource groups and mentoring and rotations and being open about opportunities and encouraging people to be part of the organization, encouraging the kind of pipeline of talent coming into the company and encouraging sort of visibility and representation and leadership. All of those things are things that we're doing in the company. And I think we've made some very good progress overall. We're still on our journey and we're still working through it, but I think we've made progress overall. And I think it really does show in the kind of the compelling technologies that we're putting out. So it doesn't matter what field you're in when you're attacking these kinds of hard problems, you've got to have diversity of thought and you've got to have diversity of perspective. So, it's incredibly important.
Shaunté Newby: Right. And I think even in our discussion about data, right, so someone can look at an anomaly and you might interpret it one way and I could say, well, based on my experience, it could be this. So, right, diversity of thought is definitely important across.
Robert Franceschini: Yeah, that's right.
Shaunté Newby: Speaking of the future, we can't leave out our fascinating conversation with Elizabeth Iwasawa, Leidos' Quantum Technology Lead about the applications of quantum technology.
Elizabeth Iwasawa: We're basically looking at the transistor revolution, right, that took computers from the size of rooms to something you can put in your pocket. Basically, it's that kind of you discover a new technology, you apply it everywhere and see what you can do.
Shaunté Newby: By the sounds of that conversation, the dive into quantum tech is just beginning. Is this going to be a big part of Leidos' vision for the future?
Robert Franceschini: I got to say, right, and I think you sort of felt this when you were doing the episode, right, Elizabeth is like really an exciting person around quantum technology, right, and she really has her fingers on the whole set of technologies around quantum and I'm really excited to have her in a lead position in this area. I got to visit her a couple of weeks ago when she showed me the progress in her lab. So, I got to see, I'm not a quantum person, but I got to see kind of the, you know, the cables and the wires and the optical devices and the signals coming through on the computer and it's really, really exciting stuff. That said, I think you're right, we are at the beginning of this technology, and I think it's one of these things where I don't know that anybody really knows where it's going to end up just yet, but what we want to do in Leidos is make sure that we're thinking about the right ways to bring this technology to customers in practical ways. So, there are a lot of different technologies that end up being hyped and end up not turning into anything.
Robert Franceschini: So, what we want to do is make sure that we are thinking very pragmatically about this technology and identifying those pieces we can carve out and clearly be high-value ads for our customers and Elizabeth talked about a few of those in her discussion. In general, we're really excited about the kinds of things that Elizabeth is doing and we see some near-term kind of applications for what she's got going. So, it's exciting stuff.
Shaunté Newby: Well, are there any other big ideas or strategies you're looking forward to for the future of Leidos?
Robert Franceschini: A lot. You know, at Leidos, you probably know our mission is to make the world safer, healthier, and more efficient through engineering, technology, and science. That's a great mission and it's a great way to frame our thinking around technology and what it really says is we've got a lot of great technology coming out in front of us and we're going to be really excited about taking that technology and applying it to all of those customer missions.
Shaunté Newby: So, making the world safer. I know, how does it feel when you go into the airports, and you see the Leidos all over the airports? So that's the visible part people can see, but I know Leidos is doing a lot of things behind the scenes too to make the world safer and healthier.
Robert Franceschini: I love seeing it at the airport, honestly. I really do. And I've gotten to see some of the plans for what they're planning to roll out to the airports and it's even more exciting, right? It's exactly what you would expect us to be doing. So, it is exciting, right? We have a company where we do a lot of great technology work and a lot of it is not as visible to the general public, right? But we know it's there and it's doing great things for our customers and in a lot of ways it's helping the general public with things they don't even know we're doing. So, when you get something where it's a very visible sort of representation of what we do, it's really great to see, right? If nothing else I can say to people, that's us.
Shaunté Newby: That again was Robert Franceschini, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at Leidos. And this has been the finale of Mindset Season 3. My name is Shaunte Newby. Thanks so much for sharing your time with us. We look forward to connecting with you again.