by CIO staff

MITRE CIO John Wilson on embracing complexity

Nov 27, 2021
Collaboration SoftwareInnovationIT Leadership

The pandemic and the new world of hybrid work has changed how Wilson approaches instrumenting the organization. Learn how he is overcoming hybrid's hurdles.

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Credit: IDG

Like many organizations, MITRE is wrestling with how to make hybrid work effective and seamless and adapting and applying new technologies and lessons learned along the way.’s Maryfran Johnson sat down with John Wilson, vice president, CIO and chief security officer at MITRE, to discuss just that.

A 35-year veteran of MITRE, Wilson took on his current CIO/CSO combination role two years ago, in November of 2019.  In this role, he oversees the 450-person enterprise computing information and security (ECIS) organization, and he also guides MITRE’s business transformation, a strategic multi-year effort to transform the business operations and the systems.

With dual headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts and McLean, Virginia, MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that manages the federally funded research and development centers, supporting various U.S. government agencies in aviation, defense, healthcare, information technology, and cybersecurity. 

Following are edited excerpts of Wilson’s conversation with Johnson on how to overcome hybrid work hurdles as part of’s Leadership Live series. To hear directly from Wilson and get additional insights on how he makes his dual role work, what’s next in his zero trust journey, how he has transformed the ECIS organization, and more, watch the full video embedded below.

On managing the hybrid work environment:

Wilson: When we went remote, like a lot of organizations, we had to make some very quick technology shifts and make some changes.  But by and large, I’d say within a couple months, everything was up and running.  And then really the question at that point was across our organization, different business units and 10,000 employees, how are they using what we put into place?  So we put a lot of work into instrumenting the enterprise and the different tools to really get insights to see… patterns of collaboration and usage around the tools. 

Where we’re at now as a company is there are obviously some things that don’t translate as well to remote collaboration as they do in person.  So, we encourage teams really to figure out how best to work remotely together and how best to work onsite together, to get the best out of both experiences. 

Then, as a company, again, we are trying to really instrument that, pay attention to where there may be certain barriers that are getting in the way, whether they’re technology barriers or certain groups in the company are just perhaps struggling with some of the emerging practices around hybrid work. 

On addressing organizational complexity:

Because of the pandemic,… we probably went a bit in the direction of making sure we had more tools to support the different needs of the business to collaborate and get their work done.  So, for example, pre-pandemic we had an on-premises collaboration capability, using Skype.  We had had that for a long time.  Very early in the beginning of the pandemic, we switched to Microsoft Teams.  And then the Healthcare Coalition stood up, they needed to do a lot using Zoom, because of the member organizations that were part of that. 

So, our mindset was, “We are willing to put different tools into play, so that the company can continue to deliver on its mission.”  I think once we [reach] a stable state then … that’s the opportunity to kind of take a step back and take stock and say, “How do we do some consolidation?” 

On innovating around hybrid work:

There are always lots of good ideas that are coming up every day inside the organization.  And unfortunately, they can often go sort of unseen to the company.  So [we developed] the concept of the micro grant … to allow someone with an idea to run with it for a few days to further develop it, and to do that without a lot of oversight and review.    

A recent [example of something that came out of this program], that just came in literally a couple days ago, was this concept of a Project War Room.  So, in the government and the sponsors that we serve there is this concept around projects called a “war room.”  And traditionally, years and years ago, you’d block out a conference room, the team would basically live in the conference room.  The conference room would have the walls covered with schedules, with artifacts, with analyses….

And so the micro grant was [to address the question] how do you create a war room in this hybrid world, across virtual and physical spaces?  And there are really no commercial tools that we found that sort of go after that directly.  So, it’s really going to be a combination of some technologies and working models to allow us to create that type of experience of Project War Room in the hybrid world that we’re working in.