Kate Maxwell is only a few months into her job with Microsoft’s Worldwide Defense & Intelligence (D&I) division, but her authority in the field is beyond question. Previously she spent 17 years in the aerospace and D&I community “as a civilian” using her training in computer science and systems engineering to understand the frontline of defence technology, principally working for the defence contractor Raytheon Technologies.
“At Raytheon, I truly learned what it meant to be first an engineer, then a leader,” she explains. “I came to understand what the defence community is all about, what challenges are being faced by our service men and women, analysts, operators, maintainers, and the entire defense workforce in general – these are all really brilliant and dedicated individuals. Everyone that serves the industry is utterly focused on mission, and sometimes that means I'm working side by side with people who themselves served. That is a sobering reality, and it makes you realize just how important this work is. We work to bring our service members home to their families at the end of every mission. ”
Finding that innovation in a corporate environment was difficult (“because corporate entities are set up for execution, process repeatability, and risk reduction”) she founded a global defense innovation engine to supplement the big company machine and seek more agile routes to promote disruption and turn big ideas into reality.
“That's ultimately what led me here, to this digital transformation opportunity [at Microsoft]. Innovation is all about speed. How do we cultivate a diverse, growth-oriented, fail-forward environment in which to create new mission capabilities for the defense community? If a big idea doesn't work, we need to talk to the customer and refine, or off-ramp. But if it does work, how do we accelerate it to a mature capability and field it quickly? Speed is the name of the game. And that's similarly the name of the game for digital transformation, because the fundamental goal is to condense the time cycles around development and iteration and feedback, so our customers can get new mission capability deployed to the field at speed.”
When the opportunity to join Microsoft in worldwide public sector defence work came along, Maxwell jumped at the chance. “I've always had a deep admiration for this company, and the Microsoft mission resonates with me: ”To empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more.” It's an amazing company to work for. It's a great time to be involved in digital transformation.”
Digital transformation at government level is a daunting prospect, but Maxwell remains excited by the opportunity, where “information dominance is the key to success in an increasingly digital battlespace.”
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“Sometimes automation is seen as a panacea. We see it as one of a number of solutions, not a silver bullet.”