Strategic plan aims to boost Springs’ cyber reputation

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The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC is nearing the first milestone in its work toward the community’s first Regional Cybersecurity Strategic Plan.

A survey of community assets is due to wrap up Jan. 26, and the study that will form the basis of the strategic plan is expected to be finalized in the second quarter of 2018, according to Chamber & EDC Director of Cybersecurity Programs Vinnie Persichetti, who is leading work on the project. The strategic plan will ultimately “elevate Colorado Springs’ status as a cybersecurity hub on a national and international level,” he said.

The work is funded through a $1 million Pikes Peak Regional Defense Assistance Program grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment. The grant was awarded last July to Pikes Peak Community College, with the  Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC as a sub-grantee.

PPCC is using its portion of the grant to develop the National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education (CAEY2) information assurance program at the college, while the Chamber & EDC is conducting an industry assessment to build the strategic plan and a cybersecurity resource website.

The goal is to develop a coordinated strategy for the city’s cybersecurity economy, and to keep Colorado Springs front-of-mind for cybersecurity investors, professionals and businesses. And with the Springs’ cybersecurity ecosystem expanding rapidly, it’s a way to take stock and be deliberate about direction and growth.

To evaluate the Springs’ cybersecurity landscape, Persichetti brought on Simon Everett, a D.C.-based global strategy firm with experience in cybersecurity and working on a number of OEA grants.

Persichetti said the work includes a military separation skills inventory and analysis, which looks at the cybersecurity skills that service members have when they leave the military, and the certification and training programs available locally to ready them for the cybersecurity workforce.

The military separation skills inventory and analysis is important, said Dan Spector, principal and founder at Simon Everett, because “it’s so crucial to maintain a vibrant workforce to try and keep as many of those separating military members in the Springs, especially the ones who want to be here and are happy to make their home in Colorado Springs.”

Colorado Springs’ five military installations average a total of 500-600 active duty service members separating from the military each month, Persichetti said, and while about 75 percent of them would like to stay in Colorado Springs, only 40 percent are able to find the jobs and opportunities to do so.

That gap represents an important untapped resource for cybersecurity companies that need employees with leadership and critical thinking skills, he said.

The chamber’s research also involves an assessment of cybersecurity programs offered by universities across the city, from 12-week certification programs to two-year, four-year, masters and doctoral programs.

Simon Everett is also working on a comprehensive analysis of Colorado Springs’ cybersecurity capacity — the survey of community assets wraps up next week and is designed to capture information on what cybersecurity companies exist in the Springs, and the specifics of their products, services and markets. Spector said it’s “a census of sorts, and also a mechanism for us to gather perspectives from the community.”

While still early, the research has turned up useful observations, Spector said.

From a strategic perspective, he said, the city needs to attract more commercially oriented cybersecurity companies to balance the military focus in cybersecurity.

“What we’ve noticed anecdotally and also through research and through stakeholder engagement is that the cybersecurity industry in Colorado Springs is obviously defense-heavy — it has grown up around the five military installations — and that’s an asset for the economy and it’s an asset for the cybersecurity workforce,” Spector said. “If we take a step back and look at where Colorado Springs fits nationally and even internationally in terms of cybersecurity hubs, for the city to continue to elevate itself and be in that top tier of cities for their cybersecurity industry … we’re going to need to attract more of the commercially oriented companies that service financial services and health care and other non-defense sectors.”

That balance will make the city’s cybersecurity industrial base even more resilient and more attractive to professionals, investors and businesses, he said.

Spector noted the region’s “tremendous assets” including education institutions, tech transfer resources, and the National Cybersecurity Center.

“Our initial observations are that Colorado Springs has the ingredients to enjoy continued success in terms of the growth of its cybersecurity economy, but one thing I think many people who are involved in cybersecurity in Colorado Springs would agree on is there needs to be an alignment of sorts, a plan that ties that all together,” he said.

When Simon Everett has determined Colorado Springs’ cybersecurity capacity, Persichetti said, “they will compare us to other cybersecurity hubs both around the country and internationally to see how we match up, and they’ll use that data to help inform the strategic plan going forward as to where we need to improve to get to that next level.”

Per the limits of the current grant, Persichetti noted, the research must focus solely on determining potential measures that could be implemented as part of a Phase 2 study. PPCC, with help from the Chamber & EDC, is working on a package for a follow-on grant that would include an as yet undetermined amount of funding to implement those ideas.

The survey is at surveygizmo.com/s3/4077063/Colorado-Springs-Cybersecurity-Survey

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