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  • Data science and management are the first priorities when adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning, says the commander of U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command. Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock
     Data science and management are the first priorities when adopting artificial intelligence and machine learning, says the commander of U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command. Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock

NETCOM Commander: AI and ML Adoption Begins With Data

The Cyber Edge
May 19, 2021
By George I. Seffers
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Data science and management skills are a capability gap.


If the United States is going to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to maintain a technological advantage, data science capabilities are a must, says Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett, USA, commander, U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM).

Gen. Barrett made the remarks while serving on a panel of women cyber leaders on the final day of the AFCEA TechNet August Virtual Event Series, held May 18-19.

Asked about capability gaps in the cyber realm, Gen. Barrett chose to talk about data science rather than technological gaps. “Where I'm going to take this is the data science piece. And so [if you’re] really going to go down the ML and AI road and start really operating at speed against the adversary, then you have to have this capability,” Gen. Barrett said.

Sometimes organizations move ahead with technology without the proper data science, she noted. For example, she said she has seen people move data to the cloud and then realize it might not have been the best move once they get the bill. “And so we do have to be very thoughtful about our data.”

When NETCOM built a data science directorate, she reported hearing a lot of nagging about putting in place a chief data officer and someone to actually manage the data. While able to “manipulate” data, the command needed someone to think about as-a-service contracts and who owns the data, or whether the command would have easy access to the data. “This is actually a competency that organizations who want to go to cloud, who want to leverage it for AI and ML, really, if you do not have a team thinking about your data, you're not going to go there fast.”

When in the early stages of adopting AI and ML, the data needs to be the first priority, she indicated. “I'm not going to say we had it wrong, but this is a maturing area for us. If you are on this path of introducing and leveraging AI and ML and you think that this is where you want to go and you haven't even begun to think about the data, that's the first place that I would start, that data governance and management and the people and processes inside your organization.”

Venice Goodwine, chief information security officer, Information Security Center, Department of Agriculture, also chose not to talk about technology in answer to the question about capability gaps. Instead, she discussed the skillsets that women bring to the table. “I'm going to say this because this is a women’s event. There are a lot of inherent skills that we have that our male counterparts don’t: the ability to build and maintain relationships, the ability of critical thinking, multitasking, problem solving. That's what we do. And those are the skills that are needed in cybersecurity,” Goodwine asserted.

Goodwine added that the technical skills can be more easily taught than the so-called soft skills. “I could put you in a class and you have the capacity to learn. I could teach you technical. It’s those soft skills I need to make sure that I home in on in order to be successful in cybersecurity.”

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