1on1-JimSoltiCCThe Air Force Academy’s new cyber center is beginning to take form.

Space, people, money, projects and partnerships have emerged, and the team is looking to get started next semester. To date, we’ve been focused on the center’s vision, alignment and resourcing, but now it’s time to roll up our sleeves, get to work and show what we can do.

The center’s inaugural project, a task assigned by the 24th Air Force, will reimagine a cybersecurity threat dashboard conveying complex and highly technical information to decision makers. Commanders at all levels of war rely on integrated threat analyses to inform decisions.

In the military, we talk about the strategic, operational and tactical levels of war. In the business vernacular, think about the different information needs of company presidents and CEOs, middle managers and office workers. The data aggregation and decision context differ and it takes time to format the necessary information for each group.

But in the cyber realm, we don’t have the luxury of time. The complexity and pace of operations within cyberspace have forced a unique merging of decision space.

Tactical decisions have strategic consequences and vice versa. Decision authority is increasingly stovepiped and policy driven, in many cases due to the misperception of risk. Concerns about unintended consequences can paralyze the decision calculus.

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The Academy’s first project seeks to simplify all this. Not with hard science and technology; rather, by taking a step back and asking a fundamentally different question: “What should the human experience here feel and look like?”

The approach, known as human-centered design thinking, is being taught at institutions such as the Stanford d.School (the Institute of Design at Stanford University) and Carnegie Mellon University School of Design, and at innovative companies like Google.

Designing from a human approach makes sense. To make sure a variety of perspectives are introduced and covered, the Academy is offering a new management course — notably not a computer science cybersecurity course — comprising private industry and academic partners working alongside cadets from each of 20 academic departments within the Academy’s basic sciences, engineering, social science and humanities divisions.

The course will be offered in the new 2,000-square-foot space the Air Force Cyber Innovation Center team recently occupied. An additional 10,000 square feet within the Academy’s famed library is being renovated as a more permanent near-term solution, while the Air Force pays for the construction of a new public-private 40,000-square-foot facility.

In total, the Air Force is poised to invest upwards of $58 million in establishing the new center. To date, the cyber innovation team has received in excess of $4 million and expects an additional $5.4 million this coming fiscal year. Col. Joe “Hark” Herold, the cyber innovation center’s industry liaison and its first full-time team member, is tasked with bringing in outside help.

There is no pride of ownership here. When it comes to cyberspace, in many cases, private industry is more efficient — faster, better, cheaper — at conceptualizing, designing and manifesting capability than the federal government. There is much we can learn from small, innovative companies, new startups in Silicon Valley and along the Front Range.

The Academy recently signed a new Partnership Intermediary Agreement with the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization, a local 501(c)3 that will serve as an unbiased and independent third party assisting with the identification and assembly of cyber innovation center project teams. Leveraging an entity such as the technology nonprofit, a group well versed in commercial business and negotiations, adds flexibility and streamlines bureaucracy.

This is just the beginning. We’re establishing new paradigms, built not on technology but partnerships, culture and mindset.

Dr. Jim Solti is the chief scientist at the Air Force Academy. Lt. Col. Mike Chiaramonte, the cyber innovation team’s director of operations, and Col. Joe “Hark” Herold, the center’s industry liaison, also contributed to this article. Reach them at james.solti@usafa.edu.