Q&A with Mark Whiteside, CFO of Defense Acquisition University

Q&A with Mark Whiteside, CFO of Defense Acquisition University

Recently I had the chance to chat with Mark Whiteside about the transformative initiative he’s leading at DAU. What Mark’s accomplished in a relatively short time period is impressive—he has a clear vision and is truly leading with data. See for yourself!

Q: Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has a pretty impressive mission. For those unfamiliar with DAU, can you provide some background on DAU’s purpose?

A: Our mission, as defined by congress is to support the warfighters who protect the nation by getting into their hands the materials and systems they need to do their job effectively. We’re the corporate university for the U.S. Department of Defense, and as such we train the defense acquisition workforce so that they can obtain the required certifications for their positions.

The way the acquisition process works on a macro level is that a requirement is established; that requirement is clearly defined; then it’s put out for bid, and a vendor selection is made. All of that process us led by acquisition professionals.

We are in the business of fielding the latest and greatest technology quickly and in support of the warfighter’s needs, ensuring the US is #1 in military effectiveness. What we do, day in and day out, is critical; it can be a matter of life and death. One warfighter, who was a recipient of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), wrote on the side of his armor-hardened vehicles, “This vehicle saved my life”.

Q: You’re in the midst of an analytics journey, and are truly leading with data. What was the catalyst that made you realize it was time for a change?

A: Introducing a new analytics tool into the organization provided a golden opportunity to change. We’ve always had a lot of data, but it would get pretty stale. Our new tool gives us the ability to navigate and synthesize data quickly. “Democratizing data”, and providing access to everybody, was a launch point to start that conversation and reenergize people.

Q: So which came first? The need to access the data, or the need to education people on the possibilities that their data held?

We needed to get more layers of data into people’s hands, but we had to be able to explain to people and get them to understand the nuances of the data first.

For example, in my department I have training/scheduling AND acct, finance and budgeting. The latter usually do not query and ask about training and scheduling data, and vice versa. I wanted to cross those swim lanes—get each department to understand WHAT they can do with the other’s data. When you combine different data sets, that’s when the real magic happens.

Q: You’ve done some interesting things to make data exciting for folks. Can you share some of those tips and tricks for our readers?

A: One of the things I’ve done is personally issue quiz questions on data, send it out and test their knowledge of the data. I was interacting directly with every respondent, and it was a great process for flushing out what people aren’t comfortable with. It was mandatory. I’ve done five so far, and am planning to expand it and then roll out across DAU.

I’ve also created a “Fun Facts” app to entice people to look at the data, and point people to it on a regular basis. And it’s working—it’s actually the second-most-used app after our training schedule app.

Q: You’ve had a lot of success in a relatively short period of time. What you say is your biggest win on a day-to-day basis?

A: I’d say our biggest win has been our ability to create content in a way that people WANT to consume. We’re essentially pointing to the analytics and saying “This is our newspaper. We’re responsible for the style, content, etc.” As a result, we put together the “Faculty Portal”—like a newspaper arriving at your doorstep every morning. It has all the key information that a faculty member needs for themselves: number of days teaching, survey results, training schedule, geo locations, etc.

It makes it easy for our faculty to get all their data in ONE place from all relevant systems. Before, they’d have to go to our scheduling system to get scheduling data, a separate system to access their Time and Labor data, Survey system to get survey results, Finance to get financial data, and the geolocation and future scheduling is additive, something they didn’t have access to before. Now all of this is available in their “newspaper”, in one place. It’s transformed the way we work.


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