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In This Period of Change and Challenge, Engagement Is Key

December 1, 2012
By Kent R. Schneider

In our professional lives, most of us have not seen an economic environment or a budget climate such as those we face today. We are approaching the ramp-down of the longest period of continuous conflict in U.S. and allied history. Technology is changing at an unprecedented pace, and to help address budget declines, we are relying on some of these technological advances—enterprise networking and service approaches, cloud computing, data center consolidation, more effective cybersecurity and better use of mobility solutions. The U.S. defense strategy is changing with a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. NATO is undergoing the most fundamental restructuring in its history, impacting headquarters structure, force structure and agency reform. Most of us do not remember a time when the government information technology budget was not growing year over year. This paradigm changed in 2012, and it will change more as new budgets reflecting debt reduction take effect. If sequestration occurs, an additional 11 percent will be cut from every budget line item, further aggravating the problem.

Since its start in 1946, AFCEA has been committed to an effective and ethical dialogue among governments, industry and academia to ensure that critical decisions are informed and that options are understood. It seems to me that the requirement for focused information exchange is greater today than ever before, because more uncertainty exists than ever before. Many of you have heard me say that we need to step up engagement at every level in order to understand the need fully and to respond effectively.

AFCEA headquarters has reorganized this year to promote engagement with each element of the association’s constituency. New engagement departments address defense, intelligence, homeland security, AFCEA regions and chapters, international and industry. These new departments are focused entirely on this mission and will lead all AFCEA activity in these areas. But, this is a chapter-centered association. Most contact with members and with national and local governments is accomplished through the chapters. It is important that everyone understand and support the engagement effort.

This engagement effort means communicating extensively with each element of the constituency, understanding their issues and direction, and facilitating the interaction among governments, industry and academia. This certainly includes conducting conferences and symposia, but it is not limited to these types of forums. AFCEA has SIGNAL Magazine; its online media; small tailored forums such as workshops, roundtables and technical exchanges; webinars; virtual meetings; social media; studies; white papers; analyses; and other vehicles. Only through detailed discussions with government and industry representatives associated with AFCEA headquarters, the regions and the chapters can the association determine the right mix of support to provide and the topics that are most relevant.

No one can assume that the status quo is right in this dynamic period. If AFCEA is not in an ongoing, active dialogue with its constituents, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant because it would just continue to do what it always has done.

We also must consider that events or forums we have conducted in the past need to continue, but they must change to meet new requirements. One great example already has been realized. AFCEA long has held classified intelligence events for many years, and all have been in the Washington, D.C., area. AFCEA began to receive feedback that a new kind of intelligence event was needed to support the larger community involved in providing or using intelligence to support asymmetric warfare, nontraditional requirements and the cyberdomain. This feedback said that the association needed to take such events outside the Washington area and hold them at the unclassified level.

So, we listened, and this message gave birth to the AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum. We now have held two such events, one in the United States in San Antonio, on intelligence support to the cybercommunity, and one in Brussels, Belgium, on how intelligence has changed since 9/11. The Brussels forum represents our first-ever international intelligence event. I report in detail on this first international forum in Intelligence Concerns Shift on Both Sides of the Atlantic in this edition of SIGNAL. Both of these events have been successful, and both will be repeated in future years because the feedback we received was right on target. It is a good thing that we listened, and we will continue to do so.

AFCEA has been supporting the intelligence community for more three decades. It took us a long time to recognize that there was a requirement for a different kind of forum. How many other requirements are out there that we may have missed? We need to step up engagement across the board to discuss and listen to ensure we are meeting needs. And, we need to collaborate internally to determine how best to execute efforts once we identify one of the new requirements. Again, engagement across the AFCEA community is vital to our success.

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