Karen Duncan, chief technology officer at Northrop Grumman’s Chief Information Office, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about her more than two-decade history with the company, the impact of its company culture, and the business challenges of innovation and emerging technologies during the latest CEO Spotlight interview.
ExecutiveBiz: Congratulations on your recent transition into your new role! What are the aspects of Northrop Grumman that have kept you with the company for 21 years now? What do you hope to achieve with the company?
Let me tell Duncan: “I started my career at Northrop Grumman about 21 years ago, and what drew me to the company then is the same reason I’m still here today. I believe in our mission, our people and our drive to innovate. This has always been the main motivation for me as an individual and as something I have seen in my daily life in the company.
How many people can get up in the morning, go to work, and solve some of the toughest problems in space, defense, or cybersecurity? That plus the opportunity to work alongside some of the most talented people in the world who I truly respect and love working with every day.
In our company, we must “define possible”. We can use science, technology, engineering and analytics to create truly new things from new ideas and turn them into reality. This is our approach to developing the products and systems that Northrop Grumman delivers to our customers every day.
The air of innovation and mission is connected back to our customers, which is absolutely critical. On my first or second day at the company, one of my first managers said, “You’ll appreciate the mission here.”
We’re a little different from what you’ll find at other companies – the mission really is what drives us and our people. It is the passion to be a pioneer and innovator in this industry. This has set the tone since the beginning of my tenure here, and I’m excited to get to work every day.
In my team, I lead a number of curious architects, engineers and project managers for our own mission. We embody these personalities and explore key areas. Our team is made up of tech activists, innovators and great advocates. We are all intensely curious as individuals. This is where we can be the visionaries and change agents of our company.
We truly challenge our current approaches and try to create value-driven solutions to meet the ever-evolving needs of the day. That’s always exciting.
This is where my team as architects come in. Northrop Grumman is leading the deployment of the next generation of systems. We look at digital technologies and areas that can scale across the enterprise to support multiple customers. We are also very committed to our vision and our various business transformation initiatives.
At Northrop Grumman, we also develop strategic partnerships with our suppliers. We continue to optimize existing technology and there are also things they already have that we should continue to take advantage of.
The fact is that there are always emerging technologies. This is a key area for us in terms of supporting our product development, monetization activities and maturation. There is the technology side, but then I also mentioned the people side.
Our team also strongly advocates and champions the development of technical talent and ensures that our talent has the right resources. We continue to improve our recruitment and retention strategies, especially given some of these evolving needs in today’s landscape.”
ExecutiveBiz: With the impact of emerging technologies impacting every aspect of business, how has your company been able to drive digital transformation efforts to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape for you and your customers?
Let me tell Duncan: “While we talk about the importance of delivering at the speed that’s right for our customers, at Northrop Grumman we work to ensure that we always strive for speed efficiency in our delivery. It’s all about developing our leadership in digital transformation in the space and defense industry.
We use a variety of digital tools and platforms to virtualize solutions as we design them, allowing us to quickly conceptualize, design, build and support solutions directly for our customers. In addition, we also provide our expertise that specializes in integrating these digital capabilities.
Northrop Grumman has a variety of functions and customers that we support. The question for us is how do we integrate these digital capabilities that may have been developed to support engineering? Can all these pieces be brought together as part of a complete digital thread and digital ecosystem? That’s our strategy, our mission, and it’s been our focus for quite some time now.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are the core values that are important to your company culture? How did your team develop their workflow and ability to succeed in such a competitive market?
Let me tell Duncan: “Our company’s leadership fosters a strong culture that is based on ethics, integrity and a commitment to an inclusive, diverse and equitable workforce. Already in 2020, we adopted new company values. We learned how important it is to do the right thing. We do what we promise, we are pioneers and we are committed to our shared success.
These are the four core company values we established two years ago to address the biggest challenges facing our industry today. These four aspects really form the foundation of how I see Northrop Grumman as a company. We do the right thing and that is based on earning the trust of our customers and acting with integrity and living by strong ethics.
We keep our word to deliver for our customers and focus on quality. At Northrop Grumman, we are committed to our shared success through collaboration and partnership to develop new solutions. We pioneer and enable this curiosity and are always looking for new solutions and ideas to address the challenges that impact our business today.”
ExecutiveBiz: We often discuss innovation from a technical or capability perspective. What are some of the unique challenges you’ve seen on the business side of innovation that haven’t been addressed or discussed enough?
Let me tell Duncan: “I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many different industry forums and conferences where a number of these challenges have been discussed, and one thing that comes from people outside the company is that there are many different aspects of our business. Northrop Grumman has a comprehensive strategy that addresses business processes and operations in terms of how we “define possible.”
We take a holistic view from the beginning all the way through the actual product implementation to see the complete transformation and the impact it has on our customers. When I hear the word “transformation,” I immediately think of company culture.
I think about the values of our company and I go back to the fact that at Northrop Grumman we are pioneers. The first thing you say when you do this is to pioneer and transform our company to meet what our customers need from us. It’s about culture. It’s about our people and our processes.
Northrop Grumman brings the technology capabilities together with the other elements of digital transformation that support our customers’ missions, but it always starts with business goals, processes and business architecture.
During the forums and conferences, I heard others talk about these challenges. For Northrop Grumman, we have a solid strategy that ensures we are constantly evolving as we turn to them to meet the challenges of tomorrow. From a business process perspective, it’s all about what our customers really need and technology will always follow.”