(US and Canada) Eileen Vidrine, Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer, Chief Data and AI Office of the U.S. Department of the Air Force, speaks with Adita Karkera, Chief Data Officer for Government and Public Services at Deloitte, in a video interview about her journey and shares insights on ways to take advantage of the untapped potential of data and AI.
Vidrine begins by acknowledging the honor of serving as Chief Data and AI Officer for the U.S. Air Force and Space Force. She recalls that it was a startup in a mature organization. Vidrine adds that her team faced new responsibilities upon signing the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. She mentions Major General John Olson for his assistance in adding AI to the portfolio.
AI integration made sense as the majority of the work draws on high-quality data, and bringing these two capabilities under one leadership strives to accelerate change, says Vidrine. She reckons that her team is dedicated to making the Department of the Air Force "AI-ready" by 2025 and "AI competitive" by 2027. The roadmap includes measurable outcomes and the team is strategically focused on the following priorities:
Operationalizing data and AI for information and decision advantage
Increasing data savvy and data-centric workforce and culture to support data and AI initiatives
Vidrine adds that the team ensures collaboration across the Department of the Air Force, the Defense Department, other government agencies, industry, and academia. Additionally, her team is working to lead the responsible AI and ethical consideration for the Department's defense mission systems and programs.
Emphasizing the importance of data governance, Vidrine states that it starts with individual responsibilities and scales up. So, data governance must happen as an enterprise. She concurs with the Department of Defence (DOD) data strategy principles including valuable, visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure.
Additionally, she shares that a data governance board is in place to ensure both the Air Force and Space Force have equal equity. To accelerate the time-consuming work, the data services team is conducting a soft launch pilot involving metadata tagging, says Vidrine.
Next, she highlights tagging and cataloging as vital components of governance to have available and dependable data. Further, she asserts that an organization can use its workforce for more strategic endeavors.
Shedding light on the importance of collaboration in missions, Vidrine mentions that data-sharing agreements, as well as dual-use agreements, should be established not just to share data but also to anticipate future needs.
She then talks about the partnership between the Department of the Air Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AI Accelerator. Vidrine confirms that this partnership has led to various challenges, like the C17 Puck Scheduler, which aims to use open data to find solutions to problems. One of the most recent challenges, Cog Pilot 2.0 was centered around pilot training optimization and included multiple stakeholders like airmen and guardians, industry, academia, and foreign partners, she shares.
Moving forward, Vidrine believes the most valuable resource of an organization is its people. She asserts that to build a multi-generational workforce, organizations need to take a multi-pronged approach. She mentions bringing in new talent through internships, pathfinders, and having cadets at the United States Air Force Academy majoring in data science.
Vidrine further mentions the upskilling programs at the Air Force Institute of Technology for both military and civilians. With new technologies developing every day, offering endless opportunities to learn, grow, and serve, she advises youngsters to be relevant in their field and credits her success to having excellent mentors who encouraged her to take risks and embrace new opportunities.
In conclusion, Vidrine notes that only 20% of North American positions in AI are filled by women, demonstrating a massive potential for growth. Her advice to young mentees is to utilize these opportunities.
CDO Magazine appreciates Eileen Vidrine for sharing her insights and data success stories with our global community.