Change is what you make of it

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COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Army Rapid Capabilities Office,; System of Systems Engineering and Integration (SOSE&I) Directorate,; Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology
TITLE: Chief engineer, Army Rapid Capabilities Office; director for engineering and integration and chief engineer, SOSE&I
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in systems engineering
EDUCATION: M.S. in strategy and planning, U.S. Army War College; M.S. in electrical engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology; B.S. in electrical engineering, Drexel University. Also attended Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executive Fellows and Senior Managers in Government programs and Aberdeen Proving Ground Senior Leadership Cohort 3 Program.
AWARDS: Outstanding Achievement Award from the former Program Executive Office (PEO) for Integration and the PEO for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical, for Brigade Combat Team Integration Exercise; Commander’s Award for Network Integration Evaluation; Outstanding Achievement Award for Association of the United States Army Integration; Outstanding Achievement Awards from SOSE&I and its predecessor organization, System of Systems Integration; the Honorable Dr. Claude Bolton Jr. Engineering and Systems Integration Professional of the Year, an Army Acquisition Executive Excellence in Leadership award

Ms. Susan L Follett

Having encountered shifting missions and numerous reorganizations over her 28-year career as an Army civilian, Nickee Abbott knows a few things about change: It’s good, mostly. It can be a little stressful. It offers tremendous opportunity. And it’s one of the biggest challenges she faces in her work.

Abbott is chief engineer for the Army Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and chief engineer and director for engineering and integration for the System of Systems Engineering and Integration (SOSE&I) Directorate within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. In those roles, she is charged with engineering, designing and assessing the performance of current and future architectures based on incremental Army modernization objectives and materiel development efforts that address immediate, near-term and emerging operational requirements.

With RCO and the recently formed cross-functional teams, “the Army is embarking on new initiatives to rapidly modernize, equip and provide increased capabilities to the warfighter,” Abbott said. “These initiatives require disciplined systems engineering methods to design capability in a robust and extensible way so it is capable of incorporating emerging technologies into existing or future architectures. The key to building a good architecture is defining specific operational scenarios and then developing solutions that address the functional and performance characteristics derived from those scenarios. My greatest satisfaction comes when these solutions are deployed and the system performs as designed and meets all the operational requirements—as well as unexpected scenarios—as a direct result of the upfront systems engineering for flexibility and expansion.”

Hers is not a position for the introverted. “In my work, you have to be integrated and involved, to be able to understand the problem and think outside the box,” she explained. “There’s so many moving parts involved in systems engineering, within and across our organization, and if you are not hands-on or don’t understand the big picture, you can build a house that has a second floor but doesn’t have a staircase.” Behind those moving parts are people, and Abbott works hard on developing relationships. “I know I can’t do it all myself. I rely on subject matter experts within and outside of my office. It’s also important to have a clear blueprint of what we’re trying to accomplish and to be able to articulate how each moving part fits into the scheme and what value they add,” she said.

Abbott, second from left, receives the Army Acquisition Executive’s Excellence in Leadership Engineering and Systems Integration Professional of the Year Award from Dr. Mark T. Esper, secretary of the Army; Hon. Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)); and Mr. Jeffrey S. White, principal deputy to the ASA(ALT).

Abbott receives the Honorable Dr. Claude Bolton Jr. Engineering and Systems Integration Professional of the Year Award from Dr. Mark T. Esper, left, secretary of the Army; the Hon. Dr. Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)); and Jeffrey S. White, principal deputy to the ASA(ALT). The awards were given at a Jan. 18 Pentagon ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Secretary of the Army).

Whether it’s a transformation in mission, a change in leadership or a reorganization, SOSE&I has evolved in the past several years, bringing with it some uncertainty. “Usually, as we’re working through a reorganization, we draw boxes,” she said, “and that can be stressful for some people: What box am I in? Who’s in charge of it? Why is it smaller than the other boxes?” But change can also be a chance for growth, she added. “I tell my staff to try to keep a positive outlook, to be flexible and to look for new opportunities that changes can bring. The challenge is to look at each reorganization as an opportunity to do something good for the Army and for your career, to ask yourself, ‘How can I demonstrate the value of what I can do for the new mission—and how can I do that in a short period of time, given that the mission is likely to change soon?’ ”

Abbott got her start as an Army civilian with an internship as a software developer. “My father was a lieutenant colonel for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. That influenced my decision to be a civil servant and instilled my passion to serve our military,” she said. Following that internship, she worked in research and analysis at the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate within the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. “From there, I went to a PM [program manager] shop, where I gained the knowledge of managing the acquisition of a system, then moved up to the PEO [program executive office] level, where I was responsible for integrating a family of systems within their portfolios.”

During that time, she also earned a master’s degree and attended the U.S. Army War College, thanks to mentorship and support from the late Maj. Gen. Harold J. “Harry” Greene. “At the Army War College, I learned the operational and strategic side of acquisition and the power of being a jack of all trades,” Abbott said. “Knowing how to connect all these dots—from research to system-of-systems integration—is the most important aspect of my career growth. It taught me how to apply those skills and experiences to enable the Army.”

Much has changed in the course of her three-decade career. “The biggest change, which I’m excited to be part of, is this current period of transformation—the RCO and the cross-functional teams that the Army recently stood up to improve the quality and speed of delivery of new materiel and capabilities to the warfighter.” Network Integration Evaluations were the first step in that transformation, Abbott noted, “where we emphasized working with the Soldier to get feedback to be sure that the capability met their need. Now we’re seeing the next step in making acquisition faster: involving users, developers, the testing community, looking at doctrine and requirements, trying to see where we can streamline and get to a program of record faster.”

Thanks to her efforts on that front, Abbott was recently named the Honorable Dr. Claude Bolton Jr. Engineering and Systems Integration Professional of the Year as part of the Army Acquisition Executive’s Excellence in Leadership Awards. “I was very honored and grateful for the award because I know I was competing against many great professionals across the Army,” she said. “When I was presented with the award, I received it on behalf of the team that contributed to my accomplishments.”

She’s hoping it’s not a one-off. “When I shook the secretary of the Army’s hand and he said to come back again next year, I immediately was thinking about the next challenge that will bring me, or anyone from my team, back on that stage to continue to represent our organization.”

“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-664-5635.

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