Since its beginnings in 1914 to what it is now as a global consultancy firm with nearly 30,000 employees, Booz Allen Hamilton has been able to evolve through the ages by helping to redefine the industry through advancements in technology and sourcing the right talent. Brad Stone, who has been with the company for over 25 years but recently became its CIO in 2021, had deep knowledge of the brand, its structure and ambitions, but understood that in his new role, there was a lot to learn, especially where improvements could be made.
“It was interesting joining this team and becoming the CIO at an organization that I knew well,” he says. “But what I did see despite the tremendous talent was that service delivery was often fractured and not fully integrated to a set of outcomes, and at times driven by different corporate priorities that were all important, but not seamless against an integrated outcome. So we had great parts, but our sum was not greater than our parts.”
From this staring point, Stone hit the reset button, mapping out five core organizational principles that have accelerated growth and helped strengthen the business. Ongoing and unpredictable disruption also led to a focus on simplification with staff and customers, and has changed the way the IT team thinks about strategy and taking informed risks, with a focus on a DevSecOps lifecycle, for example, to pipeline things and get aligned to improve accountability and transparency.
“We defined a clearly set service catalog against an ITIL framework, and were able to set portfolio leads around the capabilities we’ve developed,” he says. “What it enabled us to do is get more of a centralized purpose to accelerate growth and enable business success, which ties back to the idea of attracting staff and giving them some autonomy or ownership while still being part of the greater good. You change the world one individual at a time, and the way we’ve organized it, I’ve seen that cultural feel.”
Stone recently spoke at a recent summit on Leading in Disruptive Times with Julia King, contributing editor at CIO, about key leadership methods to fuel success, and how being “client zero” has enabled Booz Allen to inspire and retain talent while continuously learning and embracing technology to build trusted relationships.
Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.
On 5 organizational principles: It starts at the top with operational excellence—actually living it, not just saying it. So that’s accountability of what the metrics are, how the company is faring and celebrating overcoming hardships, like decommissioning something. I love to clean stuff up and when we turn off a service to simplify it, we make the other services we provide even better. Second, there’s having a resilient enterprise that is risk-informed. We have to recognize that things will go bad, and it’s about our ability to recover those. The third one ties back to providing innovative service and solutions to our users. If you don’t, people will find it for themselves and run it in your shadows. The fourth is about being a data-driven organization. We need to make sure we have a single source of truth across organizations. We have multiple platforms to run our business and to perform that, we need to not only have that central source of truth, but it needs to be future-proofed to scale with our organization. And the last one is we want to attract staff. We’re lucky to attract and retain some of the best in the industry, and we set the goal of being a premier organization for IT and cybersecurity professionals. So what we do across all five of these is hold ourselves accountable to them, drive metrics against them, and define critical success factors, and, again, celebrate it and tackle areas we need to improve.
On handling disruption: Disruption provides a lot of opportunities to rethink why we do things and how we do them. We are a professional services organization at our core due to trusted relationships. The pandemic challenged that because we were a culture that wanted to shake hands and let people know in person how we connected with them. And the disruption over the past couple of years has made us have to change that. We’ve had to embrace technology not only as an enabler, but ultimately as a foundation by which we build those trusted relationships. It has challenged us and changed our different clients. Fortunately, our people are unbelievably resilient. The other part is to have a core infrastructure team that can respond. But as we come out of the pandemic, that disruption has to lead to simplification and balancing of what we had with a remote hybrid model for our nearly 30,000 global employees, so it meets their needs. The key is to simplify that down so we can give them something to connect with their fellow employees, our clients, and their communities. If you’re able to identify some archetypes, look for the greatest good, and then handle those exception cases—as what we deem specialized services—it allows us to continue providing foundational services that are important to that connection. But budgets aren’t increasing, so you need to be efficient.
On leadership: Over the past few years, I think any CIO or technology leader has been marked by agility, capacity to learn new things, and taking informed risks, and the pandemic only accentuated those characteristics as a leader. Your ability to adjust to unplanned events, and your capacity to handle different demands has only been magnified through this. But one thing I’ve noticed is the need as a leader to simplify things down, whether that’s with your stakeholders and customers who are leveraging your services, or, most importantly, with your staff. Simplifying it down to them about what we do empowers our business. We’re fortunate to be challenged by our clients to solve complex problems, and running an institution like Booz Allen’s IT and cybersecurity is an amazing mission. So if I can simplify things down for our set of leaders, and then empower them in a culture of accountability, it makes you feel you’re part of a greater good. That’s a big reason why a lot of people join the company as it provides a calling to do something for the nation, community, and the globe. By leading that way and maintaining that agility and capacity, but simplifying down, it can be inspiring to our all our employees.
On innovating the IT culture: In the role before this at Booz Allen, I was in the Innovation Group, leading a lot of our enterprise cybersecurity and IT innovation, so I knew what products and services we had. So one of the first things I did as CIO was make ourselves what we call client zero. We leverage out solutions internally, like with a next-generation data lake that allows us to make data-driven decisions and not just go by the intuition that dominates large corporate cultures. In the nature of professional services, we constantly spin up and spin down new environments, consuming new data for our AI experts to solve, from healthcare missions to NAV security missions. They need an agile set of infrastructure that is able to support that, so we’re able to adopt that ourselves internally as client zero. It saves money and gives a feedback loop where we can rotate staff between our client delivery side and our internal business. I’m proof of that myself as somebody who spent many years doing client delivery, and now I’m enjoying a corporate role.
CIO, Innovation, IT Leadership