Episode 64

Supply Chain Meets Modernization with Dr. Aaron Drew

Dr. Aaron Drew, Technical Director for the Supply Chain Management (SCM) Product Line at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology, joins Carolyn to discuss the challenges of supply chain, modernization and risk management. Dr. Drew outlines the steps an organization can take to modernize and maximize applications for end users as well as capitalize on data analytics to better prepare our nation for times of need.

Key Topics

  • [01:15] - Scale of Veterans Affairs
  • [05:21] - Supply Chain Tools and Challenges
  • [13:54] - Advice for Supply Chain Management
  • [20:24] - Tech Procurement
  • [24:10]- User Acceptance
  • [27:37] - Risks of not Modernizing
  • [32:29] - Security Requirements
  • [36:13] - Steps to Acquisition
  • [40:10] - Tech Talk Questions

Quotable Quotes

On identifying a need for a new tool: "If the tools you had before don't address that shift [in business], that change of dynamics, then that's when we have this gap. That's that delta between how you did business then and how I expect to do business tomorrow that will signify or call that ignition of this solution acquisition process." - Dr. Aaron Drew

On understanding user needs: "Either you are meeting them [users] where they are, which is very important, or you've lived it, which allows you to relate and commiserate with those who are working across a day-to-day basis, that's what's going to bring you organically to the problem. That's going to allow both parties then to own the solution." - Dr. Aaron Drew

About Our Guest

Dr. Aaron J. Drew is the Technical Director for the Supply Chain Management (SCM) Product Line at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Previously, Dr. Drew simultaneously served as the Chief Engineer & Chief Architect for the Financial Management Business Transformation Special Program Office (FMBT-SPO) and the Chief Engineer & Chief Architect for the Supply Chain Modernization Program. 

Episode Links


Welcome to Tech Transforms, sponsored by Dynatrace. I'm Carolyn Ford. Each week, Mark Senell and I talk with top influencers to explore how the US government is harnessing the power of technology to solve complex challenges and improve our lives. Hi, thanks for joining us on Tech Transforms. I'm Carolyn Ford, and today I am very excited to talk to Dr. Aaron Drew. I like to say Dr. Drew because sounds like a superhero. And actually, when we start talking, you'll see, he kind of is a superhero. Anyway, I digress. Dr. Drew is technical director for the Supply Chain Management, SCM product line at the United States Department of Veterans Affair in the Office of Information and Technology. That is Such a mouthful just like every government title.

Dr. Drew: You know, made it in this life when you have a very wordy title.

CF: Well, welcome to Tech Transforms.

AD: Thank you for having me.

CF: And today, we are going to talk about supply chain, risk management, modernization across the agency, which is massive by the way. How big is the agency? How many people work at the VA? How many facilities are you managing?

AD: Okay, so again, we have ... There's probably about 400,000 people that work for the Department of Veteran Affairs. Outside of DOD, we are the largest employer within the Federal government. On the health side, we have about 171 hospitals. We have about 1,200 community-based outpatient clinics. Then we have several regional offices supporting the VBA or Veteran Benefits Administration. And I forgot the exact total, but we have quite a few, I think it might've been 155 cemeteries that we manage through the National Cemetery Administration. So, when we think of logistics, we're thinking about health logistics, logistics supporting all of those wonderful veteran benefits from the GI Bill, all the way to our employment programs, helping our nation's veterans get jobs, and helping them cover their costs for printing off resumes, or bus passes, getting to or from interviews, even getting to work, providing rental and housing subsidies so our veterans don't go homeless.

And then, on the cemetery side, tombstones, grave markers, everything that goes into putting on an unforgettable world-class memorial experience. And that happens every single day. And you're probably saying, Doc, what do you mean every day? Let's just jump back on the health side for a second. With 171 hospitals, and 1,200 community based outpatient clinics, that logistic alone supports over 300,000 clinical encounters. That's right, 300,000 clinical encounters every single day.

CF: Clinical what?

AD: That every time a veteran sees a clinician, that's a clinical encounter.

CF: 300,000 a day?

AD: 300,000 a day, yeah.

CF: These numbers like the scale of it just breaks my head. Are you focused on the health side? Where's your focus?

AD: Right now, and Congress has, they're regularly focused to, focusing on the health side, but we, myself, I'm looking at the bigger picture. I'm looking at having a truly enterprise, logistics process, and that would be accomplished through quite a few business process engineering activities. And then, to support the conclusion of those DPRs, you'd have this tool, this commercial tool that we will all leverage, because now we would have an enterprise logistics tool, like that supply chain management tool that cuts across the National Cemetery Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the Veterans Health Administration to also include some of our other offices too, like Office of Application, Logistics and Construction, and the Office of Information and Technology, because we buy devices and so forth. We're going to rely on that logistics platform as well. But, to put it in perspective, our footprint, even the health side is twice the size of the DOD. That's how large the VA's just health footprint is.

CF: Well it might've been you that made me aware of this. I can't remember who told me. But you don't have to be a veteran to go to-

AD: You are correct. Not all of those 3,000 are veterans. You are correct. Yeah, VA hospitals, we can't turn anyone away. Walk-ins off of the street, dependents, yeah, our hospitals are open.

CF: Right.

AD: When you come there, we'll provide you with care. And so, we had to account for that in our whole logistics and our planning operation that we didn't have all these hospitals just to solely treat the 34 million American veterans and her family, citizens from the greater American population also receive world-class care at our VA medical centers, and our community-based outpatient clinics. That number includes walk-ins.

CF: Yeah. I want to back up a little bit to something you said that I want you to clarify for me. You said a supply chain, or maybe did you say a supply chain management tool?

s Vista, which was written in:

CF: That was a blast from the past. Vista, that word I forgot about Vista.

hey called themselves back in:

CF: Wow. All right, so talk to me about ... I mean, this massive scale that you're managing, what are the most recent COVID supply chain challenges that have impacted your mission?

AD: I would probably say the visibility, not knowing what we had, not knowing who needed it, and not possessing the most efficient means of getting those items to those hospitals or those clinics, and then the processes of refilling ourselves. There was a bit of a disconnect from an ordering standpoint. We had challenges with availability of resources. I can't put them all on, we'll say the producer per se. Sometimes we were in a position where maybe we didn't know how much of a certain thing that we needed.

Again, we weren't running metrics, we weren't looking across the enterprise and seeing what we were buying a lot of, or based upon all those clinical accounts on a daily basis, what resources or commodities were being consumed more rapidly than others, and then turning around in real time and backfilling and buying more of those. And so, we find ourselves in the position of saying that yes, we have items on contract to the VA, but the issue is that sometimes those items were unavailable, and that put our facilities in the position where they go out to the open market using the government purchase card, and then they'd buy stuff.

Well now, when you have government hospitals competing with other hospitals, and that same open market were stuck. Yeah, it was problematic that we were more attentive to the data that we had to anticipate our needs going forward. And so, that's where we are trying to go. That's where this modernization effort they're trying to take us to is to provide our decision makers with that visibility. And again, that visibility also includes further upstream to our suppliers and manufacturers. What shortfalls or issues are they facing, and how does it impact us, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, and what decisions do we need to make in order to ensure that our supply rooms stay stocked no matter what issues are taking place for the upper and downstream of the supply chain.

CF: It’s such an interesting theme, visibility. I mean, we hear it about our networks just knowing there’s so much involved, knowing what’s out there, and how everything relates, and then you get into this physical world that you’re talking about. How have you been able to mitigate that challenge of visibility?

AD: And that's understanding where we want to be, mapping out that to be state, like who do we want to be, what tomorrow awaits us, and who are we in that tomorrow? And then beginning to work the process backwards by crafting IT acquisition documents, and sending forth this whole process to bring in a commercial solution that will help us realize that vision of ourselves and that target state. We're very familiar, very versatile as is, but how do we get to that target?

Now, I know I'm an engineer by nature and trade and education. But, I want to take a pause and say that it's not just about the technology, and that, I think that's where people illustrate that simply buying technology will solve the problem. No, the technology is a small portion of the supply chain modernization. It's the people. That's the big challenge right there is the people, because you got to understand the environment the people work in.

You got to understand no matter what back and forth issues that we may squabble over every day someone goes to work and they have to relive this reality every single day, and we're trying to get there fast, but we all got to remember. But someone is still living every day while we try to figure things out, so we have to remember the people. We need to have a change management plan that includes the workforce, the load decisions upfront and early, because without them, it doesn't matter what shiny new supply chain tool that I have with that wonderful new car smell we all love and know so well.

It doesn't matter when the people reject you, when they decide that adoption is not the decision they want to make because they were part of the process from the get go. And so, this effort is involved, change management, training. We got to change who we are, we want to change what we do, and that's where that business process re-engineering comes in. And I would argue only then, once we figure out, and accept who we want to be, then it'll become clear in terms of what tool that we should be adopting. That's going to get that innovation adoption. That's going to move us past this whole idea of buy-in. That's going to take us to the stay in, and that's what we want to do.

CF: Well, and it can be, the tool can sometimes wag the dog, right-

AD: That is true.

CF: ... where it needs to be exact opposite. And that's what I'm hearing you say. It's the people using the tools, feeding the tools, the supply chain management to your point of the protective gear, the medical gear that's needed. I mean it's the people's eyes on what they've got getting it into the inventory of the tools.

Yes, they live it, they know what they need. There has to be that feedback loop in terms of what they need, how to get it, that replenishment happens, orders are made, the fulfillment happens and that way from an enterprise inventory standpoint, we saw it coming. We have visibility. Again, I'll probably use that word several times. But, there's some other ility words that I'll use as well, scalability, reliability. But it's like about visibility right now. But to see the happening before it happens, like that old Diana Ross song from the sixties. But the happening, yeah, the happening keeps happening. Right now in our data environment, a story is being told to us. Maybe it's the story of the next pandemic. But, not having the visibility we can't anticipate, which means we can't proactively, not only, but proactively respond to it by way of what we're purchasing, so when that happening does happen, oh, we were ready for it. That's what's key. We don't have the capability today, but that's one of the things that we are hoping to not only have, but as with every opportunity, to exploit tomorrow.

CF: There aren't a lot of organizations at your scale. In fact, we've already talked about this, you're the second-largest, right, next to DOD.


CF: But, the lessons that you’ve learned certainly apply no matter how big, right, to anybody trying to deal with supply chain management. Can you boil it down to two or three top things that you would tell anybody that’s trying to manage their supply chain, top three pieces of advice? There was a lot that we just talked about, so I’m going to ask you to distill it down for me.

AD: I would say remember the people, remember who your customers are. If you are trying to redefine their normalcy, they better be in the planning room with you. You better know who they are. At the end of the day, you have to recall a name that was given to you, a hand that you shook. You should know who your customer is, and they should be in the room with you. If you plan this without them, you can’t be surprised when they reject it, and potentially you at the same time. That’s thing one is you know who your customer, really with a capital K, know who your customer is. Two, data’ data, data. I have data in every format, from every type of, from several decades ago to several hours ago, so being able to have, cleanse, curated, standardized data, and that’s going to help in terms of any type of migration effort as we move from our as-is systems to the new systems.

But, the important thing is, is to go through that hard work and yes, this is not glamorous work to be involved with cleansing, curate, or standardizing, or normalizing data. This is the dirt. This is the dirty job. But, it’s best to do all of that prepping, and automating, or processing now before the solution comes up. Otherwise, you’ll lose all that time on the front end worrying about and getting the data ready when you could be at that next phase, which is now let’s talk about how we want to do the migration, or how do we want to do the conversion? Doing that data part, and understanding and addressing your data needs and it is preparing upfront, that would be key.

CF: Well, and I heard you say to get to automation, is that the end goal of doing this stuff with the data?

AD: I snuck that one in there, you're very good.

CF: You did.

AD: Yeah, a lot of our processes at the VA are manual, or dare I say, swivel chaired. I got folks entering data in one system, and then they got to print something out, and then they got to turn their chair to another system, and then rekey in that. We were live before.

CF: What?

AD: Yeah, [inaudible:

CF: Wait, what did you just say to me? Why are you entering data twice? Help me.

AD: [inaudible:

CF: Yeah.

AD: The plan for tomorrow, for the target state, for the Department of Veteran Affairs, is to have a set of automated processes that touch that critical data to feed into our solutions, which then feed other solutions to our other government partners, such as we recently decided MOU with the Department of Health and Human Services. They have a program that I think FEMA uses to help respond to natural disasters when local cities, or states, and so forth, have deemed that the resource need is more than they're able to provide any Federal government assistance. Well now, the VA will be part of providing in real-time, our entire inventory to this platform, and now FEMA can then make real world accurate decisions regarding what's available, at when states require Federal assistance.

CF: You're not just talking about sharing data amongst your own systems. You're talking about sharing data to everybody who needs the data.

AD: Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services.

CF: Do you do that now?

AD: Yeah, so our MOU just got signed. We're going to work on a data use agreement. But, the plan going forward is to show that these efficiencies at the Federal level is that we're able to do our part in support of HHS running the platform to support FEMA and Homeland Security who are directly engaging the American population. This is an example of why it's so important to have these automated processes. By doing that, we can now move to real-time and say goodbye to this idea of near real-time, because near real-time was like, that was like a broad chasm. Anything could be considered near real-time.

We want real time because when a tornado hits you right now in real-time, and you need Federal assistance in real time, you want FEMA to look around your entire area, amongst its government inventory, be like, "I know exactly how much we can buy to that location in real-time, and have that accurate information." And so, that's where all this bloom ... This is the foliage of that hard work that we talked about earlier regarding the data, but more importantly, that roll on the backs of our logisticians, the people who enter that data, and enter it accurately every single day, allows for me to provide quality data to our partner department who's trying to take care of everybody.

CF: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, so-

AD: To predict when tornadoes and hurricanes hit. But what you can rely on is that partners such as FEMA have access to real-time information regarding government inventory.

CF: To get to this state, it's requiring a lot of modernization. How do you navigate technology procurement, because the government procurement process is not easy. How do you manage the procurement and the implementation when you're modernizing?

AD: And we are actively, the government’s actively looking at and examining innovative ways for buying information technology, buying and looking at how you go about procuring, for example, let’s say SaaS products and tools. The traditional model of buying, let’s say client server technology, or physical equipment has lended itself to a newer way of doing things. But, one thing still holds true. What are your requirements? What problem are you trying?

CF: What do the people need, right?

d? The people that [inaudible:

CF: The tool not wagging the dog.

AD: Yeah, yes. When I hear comments about how difficult the average process is, and I will say it’s not easy though, but what makes it easier is if you know what problem you’re trying to solve, and to your point, that the problem came from the people. You didn’t make this up in your own laboratory. It wasn’t the Dr. Drew made up a problem and he’s trying to solve his own problem. No. It is I put my ear to the street. I visited some VA medical centers. I went to the cemeteries. I was over at fulfillment centers. I was riding in the VA vans. I understand, and I lived with the problem, and now, I’m like, Okay, you know what? It makes the algorithm simple, because now you can articulate it back to the contracting officer, and then that makes the bidirectional engagement so much better when you can articulate the problem you’re trying to solve, and the requirement associated with that problem there.

CF: Well, and what you just said, you went to these places, you sat next to the people, and maybe even worked on the systems they were working on.

AD: [inaudible:

CF: But that perspective is so important because even if you identify, okay, the cemeteries have X problem, without you actually going there and embedding yourself with them for a minute, you don't really know.

AD: You don't know, yeah.

CF: Right?

AD: What they go through to prepare for a ceremony, or to be on the other side of that, to be a family member, such as myself, who had no visibility when my dad’s tombstone or grave mark was being created, or going be delivered. To go through that loss, and then to lose twice, because you didn’t know when you’re supposed to receive something to even have the funeral in the first place. Either you are meeting them where they are, which is very important, or you’ve lived it, which allows you to relate and commiserate with those who are working across a day-to-day basis, that’s what’s going to bring you organically to the problem. That’s going to allow both parties then to own the solution.

CF: I mean, all the new technology and tools that gets introduced even to me, in my job, honestly, it feels like debt by a thousand paper cuts, 10,000 paper cuts, because every time you get a new tool ... We were just talking about this before, the difference between these virtual platforms, they're just enough different that they can cause in me a lot of anxiety. They basically have the same functions, right?

AD: Yes.

CF: It's just you hit join and there you are. Well no, until you actually move from platform to platform, you don't realize things are placed differently. The interfaces are just enough different that there is a learning curve, and that one's a pretty easy learning curve. The people that have to actually use them, how do you get them to embrace them, because I'm telling you-

AD: That's a good question. I think from strategic standpoint, is make it so it reminds them of something that they already know. And you're like, "Dr. Drew, that was a word salad, probably coherent." Make it so it reminds them of something that they already know. As an example, a lot of your listeners are familiar with the whole, let's say, for example the Amazon or Amazon Prime interface, whether it be the mobile app, or on their laptop, or their tablet. You have a lot of companies trying to copy that so that way that instant intuitiveness becomes inherent in their solution, because their tool reminds the end user of something that they already know. If you can do that, whether it's the font, the color choice, whatever the layout might be, then that helps with the adoption of a system. It's not so drastically new or different, but there's some degree of familiarity. That's one of the strategies I've seen a lot of firms take in terms of building out that user interface, which ... And again, creating a user experience that referencing someone else's successes.

CF: When you're picking a tool and you get it down to the top three, do you ever do a user group with your practitioners and get them, I mean-

AD: Yes.

CF: It sounds so good, and at the same time, I've been asked to do that, and I'm like, I don't have time for this.

AD: Yeah, I've definitely done that. I find it effective to bring in actual end users and then have them in the room and whatever use scenario. Let's say, for example, we may have asked the seller to perform to see the system rehearse, because we did. Sellers have all the time to rehearse and practice whatever. Okay, great. And then we ask them to leave, and then there's our people with the same user scenario. Now, you go up there and do the same thing, whatever. And so, that feedback tells me more about usability than if the seller were to tell me, "Trust me, my system is highly usable and highly intuitive." I'm going to need to bring my own people-

CF: Right.

nd have the people [inaudible:

CF: Let's see how intuitive it is.

, so going back to [inaudible:

CF: Yeah, because then you get a champion that says, "Yeah, I picked this tool," and now you get a champion within these different groups that-

AD: When they pick it, they own it. And then Dr. Drew’s name falls into the darkness of history, because all they hear about was the person that picked it, and then they own it, and then they got deployed, and everybody celebrates Billy. Congratulations, Billy. that's what I want to have happen. I don't want people to think I'm accepting a tool that Dr. Drew shoved down our throat. No, you welcome the tool that Billy picked. Yes, in that moment, that means I've won.

CF: And as much as I don't want a new tool, because the learning curve is painful, I would rather just stay in my own misery than try to learn something new. But, what are the risks of not implementing and modernizing these with modernizing with these new tools?

a laggard in this [inaudible:

CF: Dinosaur, you're a dinosaur

tive analysis, the [inaudible:

We would have been ready to go, and we probably would've coasted through it because we saw it happen before it happened. And so, as I said at the top of the conversation, there will be another thing, whatever that thing's going to be, but having that visibility, that's going to help us be proactive before it becomes an actual thing. And that's what we want going forward with respect to FY '24 and beyond, is for this massive department, massive as we are, to be nimble and agile enough to respond to the next global pandemic before it becomes a global pandemic.

ized specifically how, say in:

AD: I think the technologies were ... Yeah, they were there. The platforms were there and really can't [inaudible 00:30:30], but the ability to do data analytics, and that right there. And again, even if we had moved the data to a warehouse, or even a data lake at that point in time, the ability to do analytics on that data was there. The quality of our data and where it was located, not so much. Again, the hard dirty work, those dirty jobs hadn't been done yet. Even if I have the capabilities, I didn't do the work regarding the data, so that has to happen. You do the dirty jobs and the data, then you apply the analytics. Now, you can see what you couldn't have seen before. I would say it specifically was the predictive and the forecasting analytics.

CF: Was the dirty data job a technology issue or a people issue?

AD: I'd probably say a little bit of both. The tools we need to know, help us into cleansing and curating and standardize the data, being able to match that data, because again, what we don't want to have happen is there's the government way of describing something, and we'll even say in a healthcare example, there's the government medical way of describing something, and then there's the commercial open market way of describing that same thing. Stanford University Medical and the Department of Veteran Affairs should refer to the same clinical, expendable, or consumer item the same way. We can't have two different vocabulary or two different ontology describing stuff. We need to standardize on terms so that way we can talk to one another and understand what we're saying. Again, that's a combination of technology, and also, you're right, the people to actually perform that work though. Again, I'd say it was both were key, and are key going forward to getting it to the point where any analysis applied to the data are being applied to good data.

CF: There are a lot of government mandated security requirements such as the National Cybersecurity Strategy. There's a lot listed there. Do those requirements pose challenges for you?

I think the big one is the zero trust architecture one. I think from, what is it, memorandum M-22-09, I think we have to demonstrate compliance that by the end of FY '24, so building a boundary, implementing again, cloud hosting, multifactor authentication, leveraging attribute-based access control, sorry, role-based access control. Yeah, being able to stop longitudinal or east/west movements between systems of the same domain. Again, if an evil actor hacks one sense that they can't move on into another system, so again, being able to limit exposure and risk to other systems within a product line, or portfolio, or domain in the event that there is an export that takes place so that securing the devices, doing that authentication, and so forth from the device, and then having that solution also managing the access as well.

Yeah, it's a bit of a challenge, because again, you're looking at network access, application access, and data access within the zero trust automation framework. But, I think it's a great policy. I think we should already do it all along. This idea of just implementing trust blindly because similar systems are of like value or a person that has access to one, so they should already have access to others. Yeah, I think the world's not that utopic and friendly.

CF: Right. Well, and I'm conjuring the zero trust model in my mind, and I am reminded of back to the beginning of our conversation, the theme of visibility. I feel like there's a gray bar that goes across all those five pillars, visibility across those five pillars.

AD: Yeah, because you need to be able to track the trap, you need to track who's doing what, and what information is being passed. Again, one of the pluses of a zero trust architecture framework is that monitoring the visibility capability of all of your authenticated users. What are they doing? What data are they grabbing? Did they have permission to that data? Where are they sending it to? Where is everything being moved to, and who's doing what to who?

CF: Yeah, we're not just talking about people. We're talking about your systems talking to each other too.

AD: Exactly.

CF: Massive.

AD: All these systems are simply making calls to application programming interface and getting data. Well, let me see what's being moved, because if that system is doing something that it wasn't supposed to, was there a shift in terms of the type of the payload that system X was moving, or has that system been compromised, and now it's pulling different data than it's supposed to be pulling, right? Because again, sometimes the malicious attack isn't a person, it's I got a system to grab data and send data somewhere else. Once I exploit a system, I can have that data sent anywhere. Well, if I didn't have eyes on that system, that might be a true statement. But now, I can see everything that system is doing. And the moment we start identifying anomalous behavior, that's where the crackdown happens, and that's what we're looking for. We're looking for anomalies.

CF: I want to go back to the acquisition of new technology, and I think we've talked about the different steps, maybe not in the right, or not necessarily in order. I'm going to put you on the spot here. Going back to when you acquire a new technology, what are the steps that you take? What are you looking for, and how do you go about it?

n I go back to our [inaudible:

And I go forward, I market that out there in the open market space, or I'm really fond of a particular technology that does the thing I need it to do, and maybe it's a niche solution. And then I go through a series of [inaudible 00:37:20] with justifications for why A, I'm not competing, and B, why I specifically need that product. And I've done that before as well. But I do work with Mitre to do that whole sole source justification because there was a specific technology that I wanted, and I got it. That process is working with our lawyers, working with our acquisition center to secure that technology.

CF: This might be a little bit of a simple question, but let's back up. Before you even start looking at technology, how do you know that you need a new tool?

AD: That’s a really good question. If you are unable to address the shift, because normally these problems come out because there’s been a shift in the business you’re trying to do, and the tools you had before you, don’t address that shift, that change of dynamics, then that’s when we have this gap. That’s that delta between how you did business then, and how I expect to do business tomorrow that will signify or call that ignition of this solution acquisition process.

CF: All right. Before we jump to our tech talk questions, do you have any last words of advice you'd like to give our listeners?

AD: The journey can be a bit frustrating, and it is not linear, much like life. Information technology at the enterprise level is not linear. It zigs, it zags, it stops, it starts, then it starts all over again. But, the one thing that I enjoy about this process that gives me hope, and I keep doing it all over again with every single project is, at some point, you get to done. At some point, it happens. You get through it all for the requirements, to the acquisitions, to the design, to the build, to attach, to deployment, to the congressional hearings, to the budget meetings, to the most of your planning, to dealing with the customers and the stakeholders.

At some point, the system is deployed, and people use it. And you know in that moment, you have successfully redefined their normalcy, and the momentum takes over. And when more sites use it, and more people use it, and then you feel as the IT person, you can back away, and focus on the next lump of clay that you now should also turn into a deployed system a year or two or three from now. That's the joy of it all, right? Be patient, it's going to happen. Remember, it's not linear.

CF: It sounds like it never ends, right?

AD: Oh no, it never ends.

CF: Yeah. But, I can tell that you actually thrive on it. We’re lucky we have people like you that want to solve these really hard problems. All right, let’s go to these final tech talk questions. Just fun, quick questions, mostly to build my reading list, or my tourist list. That’s my first question for you. Do you have a favorite museum or place in the DC area that you like to go to?

AD: I mean, the top two places I like, although DC Museum, I need to step it up. I like the Holocaust Museum and second of the African-American Museum, but they got to ... The African-American Museum, you need to set your game up. I was there recently, and my great uncle, Dr. Charles R. Drew wasn't listed. I'm thinking the man developed a blood bank and how's he not in there?

CF: You called them out. Oh, my gosh.

AD: Yeah, I called them out. Yes I did. I was like, I came all the way here to see my great-great uncle, Dr. Charles R. Drew, and he is not in here.

CF: All right. Raven, my friend at the Smithsonian that actually works at that museum, a call to Raven. You just heard Dr. Drew, his great-great uncle is not there.

AD: Not there. I'm coming back. I had the family last time. I'm bringing the family again because I told them before I leave this earth, I want to go to that museum. I'm going to take a picture. From one Dr. Drew to the next, I'm going to take a picture with them. He needs to have a place.

CF: All right, I'm tagging Raven. Raven can make this happen.

AD: You can put it next to Ben Carlson. Ben Carlson has a whole thing. Put it next to Ben. It's not that hard.

CF: All right. All right.

AD: That's my uncle.

CF: You love that museum, and will love ... You returned to that museum because you're waiting for them to fix something. But, it is a great museum though.

AD: It is a great museum, yeah.

CF: It's interactive, and you could spend a year in there and it's-

AD: You could.

CF: Well, and what's so great about it is partly the technology behind it because it keeps it updating. I bet your great-great uncle's there now.

ut of this museum. [inaudible:

CF: That museum wrecked me. That museum absolutely wrecked me. I've only been once, and it was a profound experience, and I don't know if I can go back. I mean, it took me, when I say wrecked me, I mean I was down for about a week, at least a week. It was hard.

e like, so that's, [inaudible:

CF: That's the trick. Okay, I'll go to the diamond after.

AD: At the Holocaust, I walk across the thing, I'm all feeling kind of like, I can't believe that happened. And then I walk in there, I see that big old diamond going, okay.

CF: Or do you know what I could do? I could go to the Air and Space Museum in Sterling. I love that place.

AD: I think I actually was ... I went there for the first time maybe a year ago. My wife took all of us there, and I like that place.

CF: Right?

AD: That's a good one, yeah.

CF: I mean, and the scale, standing next to the spaceship, the shuttle.

AD: The shuttle, yeah.

CF: The space ship, the shuttle. Yeah, it's just incredible.

AD: The ship [inaudible:

CF: Spaceship.

AD: Yeah, that's another one that kind of turned the spirit around. You'd be like-

CF: There you go.

AD: ... the marvels of man. Well, the marvels of personkind of men and women, because without the marvels of personkind in terms of what we create with imagination, and a few requirements, yeah. Literally, we were able to achieve that.

CF: Yes. And you just touched on ... Well, I don't want to skew your answer. Well, you touched on why I love some of the favorite genres that I love. Why I love them, the imagination, why I love books, and podcasts, and movies, and the fictional stuff, not just ... I mean, I love nonfiction too. What are some of your favorite books, podcasts, movies?

AD: I love the geopolitical message of the Avatar series, especially with the ... I think there's two or three more movies that are about to happen. For me, it's more than the-

CF: Airbender avatar? Oh no, I know. Avatar, Avatar.

D: Oh, no, there's [inaudible:

CF: Got it, got it, okay.

AD: Yeah, because I think it's supposed to be like five movies, and two already came out, and three more are in production.

CF: Okay. But Dr. Drew, I wanted to love the second one. I felt like it was the same story, just in the water.

t. It was a little [inaudible:

CF: It was so long. But the visuals were incredible and intense. And man, I wanted to slap that one kid.

AD: Yeah, yeah. I like movies that speak to us on multiple levels. Visually stimulating, yes, my brain reacts to, but that have a message that from our lives that we can relate to, whether it's the struggle of a minority, or the challenges of being a woman and a male, a seemingly male, seemingly male-dominated society, one that has a message beneath the story. You'd be like, I was drawn into because I saw my life through those fictional characters. I saw my woes and my struggles played out on the silver screen. And so, I like stories that they take a hold of me, but also speak to me. And so, I chose that one because James Cameron consistently goes after those type of issues and so forth. Others movies was kind of skirted by, but he was like, "Hey, you know what, someone has to talk about it, and if we can't talk about it, I bet you I can get you to watch and listen about it." And so, mission accomplished.

CF: No, I agree. I mean, he tackles them head on, and in a brutal way. I mean the hunt for the-

AD: That's [inaudible:

CF: I forget the creatures that they hunt, the big whale like creatures. I forget the-

AD: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

CF: Yeah, I mean that, just even that thread alone was-

with whaling, like [inaudible:

CF: Exactly.

AD: ... right now on our own planet.

CF: But man, talk about really making it personal with that thread, and how you get into it, and then you see, oh, this is what they take.

AD: I know, yep.

CF: Oh, they kill this magnificent creature. Let’s talk about the sharks. And they take the fin. That’s it?

AD: They take the fin, right.

CF: Yeah. Okay, all right. I will give you Avatar.

AD: [inaudible:

CF: Yeah. And how's that working out for you, the non aging?

AD: Exactly. How's the anti-aging working out for you? We pulverize it. As then, I see us doing similar things in our own humanity, or in some cases, lack there of with the animals that we share that this world with, that are part of this greater ecosystem. And we do things to offset that balance. And we can't complain when El Nino comes back. You do know it's all connected.

CF: Exactly.

AD: That's what entertains me, because as far as reading goes, I'm knee-deep deepen textbooks from the classes that I teach, so I don't get a chance to read for pleasure as opposed to read to enlighten my own understanding of certain concepts and constructs so I can try to put it in my own words to teach my students. I tell people, you take an engineering MIT professor, and then you take Dave Chappelle the comedian, and you merge the two together, that's when you have me as a professor. I try to make engineering fun.

CF: Yeah, I believe that. And Dave Chappelle's one of my favorites. His early stuff too, man. Talk about tackling issues head on.

AD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. He did a great job talking about Daphne.

CF: Where do you teach?

AD: I teach at the University of Maryland, and I also teach at New York University.

CF: And you teach engineering?

AD: I teach engineering at the University of Maryland, and I teach healthcare information technology management at New York University.

CF: All right, impressive.

AD: Thank you. It's funny. Keeps me on my toes because you never know when someone's going to ask you question and stumps you. In order to avoid ever being stumped, I'm always reading, I'm always prepared. And so, prepping in my academic life, prepared me for my professional life, and vice-versa.

CF: Yeah, I was a teacher in another life, and I loved it, and I agree. It definitely keeps you on your toes. I taught 13-year olds though.

no, it's been one [inaudible:

CF: They were a lot of fun though, because they were still young enough that they would be like, "Sure, we'll do this project. Yeah, let's turn our classroom into Anne Frank's attic, and let's do that."

AD: Oh, that'd be great.

CF: Yeah. But they were old enough to do it, right?

AD: To do it, yeah.

CF: It was really fun. It was fun.

: Oh, I like that. [inaudible:

CF: Yeah, it was a good way to study Anne Frank. All right, well thank you so much for your time today, Dr. Drew

AD: Well, thanks for having me. This was fun.

CF: It is the best part of my week when I get to talk to people, and I mean, just interesting, fun people like you. I love your description of yourself that you're Dave Chappelle meets, who was the other boring professor?

AD: An IT and engineering professor, especially if you teach in a class in the summertime, in a classroom of no windows. Now, how do you keep people excited for 14 weeks in the summertime in a class with no windows?

CF: Man. Yeah, you are a superhero. Dr. Drew is the absolute right name for you.

AD: I got a cape behind this black chair-

CF: I believe it.

AD: ... for after the meeting is done.

CF: Well, thank you very much, and thanks to our listeners for listening today. Please smash that like button and share this episode. Thanks for joining Tech Transforms sponsored by Dynatrace. For more Tech Transforms, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for Tech Transforms, sponsored by Dynatrace
Tech Transforms, sponsored by Dynatrace
Tech Transforms talks to some of the most prominent influencers shaping government technology.

About your hosts

Profile picture for Mark Senell

Mark Senell

Mark is Vice President of Federal at Dynatrace, where he runs the Federal business and has built out the growth and expansion of the Federal sales team providing unparalleled observability, automation, and intelligence all in one platform. Prior to joining Dynatrace, Mark held senior executive sales positions at IBM, Forcepoint, and Raytheon. Mark has spent the last twenty years supporting the Federal mission across customers in the U.S. Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and Civilian Federal agencies.
In his spare time, Mark is an avid golfer and college basketball enthusiast. Mark earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia.
Profile picture for Carolyn Ford

Carolyn Ford

Carolyn Ford is passionate about connecting with people to learn how the power of technology is impacting their lives and how they are using technology to shape the world. She has worked in high tech and federal-focused cybersecurity for more than 15 years. Prior to co-hosting Tech Transforms, Carolyn launched and hosted the award-winning podcast "To The Point Cybersecurity".