August 18, 2008 By David Raths
Deputy CIO, U.S. Department of Defense
David Wennergren's passion for the projects he undertakes is apparent to anyone who spends five minutes talking to him about IT's transformative potential.
Apparently his enthusiasm is contagious because Wennergren has led teams to success on complex projects in the U.S. Department of Defense.
As former CIO of the Department of the Navy, he led a cross-branch identity management effort he calls the largest smart card deployment in the Western hemisphere. "It sets the stage for other developments in cyber-security and digital signatures," Wennergren said.
He also pushed the Navy to take an aggressive approach to creating e-business operations to eliminate labor-intensive paper processes. The Navy's Enterprise Software Initiative approach to leveraging its buying power has since been adopted by the federal government as the General Services Administration SmartBuy program.
These accomplishments and others got Wennergren, 50, promoted in November 2006 to deputy assistant secretary of defense for information management and technology, and deputy CIO.
The challenge of working on strategic issues across all military branches appeals to Wennergren. "I always preach continuous learning; I had some learning to do myself in moving to the larger organization," said Wennergren. Because the Department of the Navy has two branches, the Navy and Marines, he had some experience working across services. "Now I've just added the Army and Air Force to the mix," he said.
Helping lead the IT operations of a big organization is more about change management than about technology itself, Wennergren said, and he is focused on making defense operations more service oriented or net-centric. In short, he wants the best of both enterprise applications and small, local-project development.
"We are changing the way we buy and build software. We have to behave like an enterprise. We don't need 50 smart card solutions or 50 collaboration tools," he said. The enterprise can be responsible for tools everyone uses, freeing up agency developers to work on tools specific to their needs. As part of a net-centric data strategy, communities of interest are forming to make data visible and accessible to each other without jettisoning their legacy systems. For instance, a maritime domain awareness community of interest -- including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, the Navy and Coast Guard -- is using a common format to share data from incompatible legacy systems.
Wennergren's influence extends beyond the Pentagon. As vice chair of the Federal CIO Council, he works on pertinent federal government issues. "None of us works in isolation," he said. "We all have cross-cutting initiatives, so it's important to come together to study the best practices." Two of his current focuses on the council are related: Web 2.0 tools and the Net generation. "The young people joining the IT work force today have different expectations about multitasking and the workplace," he said. "We have to learn how to be an employer of choice for them."
That gets back to the team-building skills and passion he brings to the job: As Wennergren sees it, in order to have an impact on such a large organization, he has to be a positive force for change and create a sense of urgency. "Many people are comfortable staying where they are because it's what they know and are good at," he said. "If I am going to get people to step out of their comfort zone, I have to be fully committed to the change, but also a good listener and have a desire to help those people unleash their potential."
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