Mission-driven innovation is key to careers at Fairfax County-based Booz Allen Hamilton
Interview with Booz Allen Hamilton’s Ki Lee, SVP and CTO, Global Defense Sector
McLean-headquartered Booz Allen Hamilton is a leading technology company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in management, technology, consulting, and engineering. For more than 100 years, military, government, and business leaders have turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to solve their most complex problems. With more than 30,000 employees, Fortune 500 company Booz Allen had $8.4 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2022.
Fairfax County Economic Development Authority interviewed Ki Lee, a Senior Vice President and the Chief Technology Officer for the Global Defense Sector at Booz Allen, to find out why Fairfax County is a great place for its global headquarters, how careers at the company are mission-driven, and to learn more about Booz Allen’s innovative technologies.
Over his 20 years at Booz Allen, Ki has been a leader in its digital business, leading emerging capabilities, including cloud, DevSecOps (development, security, and operations), algorithmic warfare, and edge computing. He has driven large-scale mission transformation and modernization, including for global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); joint command and control (C2); counter improvised explosive devices (IED); and counter illicit trafficking efforts.
Ki holds a bachelor of science and master of engineering in mechanical engineering from Cornell University. He attended Fairfax County Public Schools and is a graduate of Lake Braddock High School.
FCEDA: Why is Fairfax County and the Greater Washington region a great place for a company like Booz Allen?
Ki Lee: Booz Allen supports so many different federal agencies, and Northern Virginia is central to all of that. We have access to not only to our clients, but the workforce. From a personal perspective my parents emigrated from South Korea when I was three and I have grown up in Fairfax County. I’ve seen the growth over close to 40 plus years of living here, going from elementary school through high school. I think one of the key aspects of Fairfax County that’s unique is the transient nature of this area. We gain access to very different people coming in and out across all of the services every few years. At Booz Allen from a workforce perspective that provides us access to such a diverse talent base and experienced diverse workforce.
From a talent perspective, we at Booz Allen have access to the rich nature and the diverse workforce that Fairfax County provides. We’re hiring and we are working to develop careers for those individuals who are interested in supporting the defense mission.
FCEDA: Tell us how Booz Allen’s innovative culture is critical to your missions, clients, communities and employees, and how you build a diverse, impactful team to ensure you are a critical mission partner.
Ki Lee: More than ten years ago, we at Booz Allen started our journey and investment in the innovation ecosystem through a horizontal organization called the Strategic Innovation Group—now evolved to our Chief Technology Office. One of the key principles that we instituted, when we stood that up, was: “don’t do it alone.” We realized that we had to partner with industry and other businesses to create this innovation ecosystem. It’s easy for us because collaboration is in our DNA. Collaboration is so important when innovating; we all have unconscious biases, so the diversity — the diversity of experiences and diversity of thought, is critical to the innovative ecosystem. When Booz Allen partners with our clients, we know the mission and the mission problems – this is key to informing innovative solutions.
FCEDA: What is Booz Allen up to these days? What are your main priorities? What are some of the challenges you’re solving for the clients you’re working with?
Ki Lee: What should you know about Booz Allen? I think Kristine Martin Anderson, our new COO, said it best. It really resonated with me when she said that “we live our client mission at the intersection of mission and technology as a 100 year plus organization.” We are known for the mission, but I think the great secret in and around D.C. and Fairfax County, is that we’re a technology company, demonstrated as part of our VoLT strategy: velocity, leadership, technology.
FCEDA: Tell us about your main global defense sector priorities for the near future. And what does it mean to be a Digital Integrator for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)?
Ki Lee: I think we’re at an inflection point. Time is a weapon and data is the future of war. If you go back to the early 90’s, when the Digital Age started, we were developing web applications by manually entering data and running reports on a weekly, monthly, or maybe an annual basis. Fast forward to today: what data can capture at an exponential rate automatically by various different age devices, whether it’s military platforms, your mobile devices, or IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. Yet we’re still manually processing data. We have to move faster. And I believe we need to move forward into what I’m calling the cognitive age.
We, at Booz Allen, are driving to accelerate information advantage, working solutions to accelerate informed decisions all the way through the tactical edge. I believe we need to move away from vertical integration to horizontal orchestration against mission workflows.
FCEDA: What are some of the most innovative technologies at Booz Allen you and your team are focused on? How are you working with tech like AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), advancements in software, etc.?
Ki Lee: At Booz Allen we are at the intersection of software, data and AI (artificial intelligence). Let me give you an explanation of what I mean by cognitive mission solutions. Today in the DoD we are doing multi-INT analysis but it’s very stovepiped. Individuals are processing various different intelligence aspects, whether it’s HUMINT (Human Intelligence), SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), or MASINT (Measurement and Signals Intelligence). If I were to equate that to the human body, that would be equivalent to one individual seeing, another individual hearing, and yet another tasting. But that’s just not how the human body works. The human body works simultaneously, creating decisions at pace.
Regarding innovative technology that we’re working today, let me give you three examples of that. First, data. Data is still a problem. Even after 9/11, the information sharing is not there. We are working solutions including data at rest, as well as data in motion, moving the data of when and where you need it all the way to tactical edge. We’re also working on some disruptive data solutions, leveraging blockchain ledgers to support a resilient data mesh, for instance. Second, we want to enable a human-to-machine partnership with applied AI. And third, future technologies like quantum and how this can be applied with Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors.
FCEDA: How can software defined solutions solve complex defense challenges?
Ki Lee: Let me give you an example of a software-defined solution. Back in 2018, Tesla released the Model 3. Consumer Reports did a study against the Model 3 and found that the braking distance was longer than most other cars, so they couldn’t give the recommendation. In a matter of days Tesla released an update over the air and Consumer Reports retested it. Tesla got the recommendation.
I believe the next major change in disrupter will be the likes of Starlink when space-based communications are affordable and resilient because that’s going to make network and communications ubiquitous. Imagine in the DoD – if you didn’t have to transport a Naval vessel into a shipyard for a year to make critical system updated but could do them over the air to ensure it’s still in the fight. That’s examples of today’s commercial software defined capabilities.
We are working with our clients to stand up tailored Software Factories to modernize mission and combat systems. One key enabler to accelerate software defined solutions is DevSecOps. Most people think of DevSecOps (development, security and operations) as just a pipeline, but it’s far more than that. Beyond implementing a pipeline, we have worked with clients to institutionalize the necessary culture. This encourages a modular open services architecture (MOSA). We have been evangelist of reuse and building for reuse. When you think about agility and the needs of our warfighter, we need speed and flexibility; and, as I mentioned before – time is a weapon.
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