Senior Vice President, Division Manager, and Program Manager for the
Defense Information Systems Agency's Joint Service Provider Initiative
Empower AI’s Carla Thornton is a self-described “geek.” And she’s definitely OK with the label.
As the senior vice president and manager of Empower AI’s Service Delivery Division, Thornton is responsible for some of the company’s mission-critical federal programs that deal with artificial intelligence and cybersecurity for the Department of Defense.
So being of the strongest mind when it comes to technology is just part of the job.
“My customers love me because I tell them the truth,” said Thornton, who joined Empower AI in 2016 and currently leads the company’s AI efforts with the Defense Information System Agency’s (DISA) Joint Service Provider (JSP) initiative. “If we don’t have it, or we can’t do it, I will tell them. I believe that is how you keep good customers – always tell it like it is and deliver the solutions they need.”
That mantra has been her driving force for over 30 years supporting federal and defense-focused IT initiatives, including 10 years overseas supporting the Air Force in Germany and England. All the programs she has led over the years gives her great pride in serving the nation.
“I grew up as a Navy brat, and my grandfather was in the Air Force, so I was always around the military,” she said. “Service has always been an important part of my life, and even though I’m a civilian, I’m so proud to support our military operations every day. The work we do is meaningful, and it’s important for all of us.”
“Service has always been an important part of my life, and even though I’m a civilian, I’m so proud to support our military operations every day."
24/7 Operations, Even During a Pandemic
Important indeed. The JSP initiative that Thornton and her team supports today includes more than 40,000 military and civilian customers at the Pentagon and across the National Capital Region and manages over 70,000 IT assets. Not to mention the responsibility to ensure everyone and their IT assets have the proper patches and cybersecurity training, which was no small task during the height of the pandemic.
Thornton explained that when COVID-19 first hit and the waves of shutdowns began, there was no real system established to roll out a telework environment at such a large scale.
“This is the Pentagon, so as you can imagine, it’s an environment that needs to run 24/7,” she said. “It’s one of my proudest moments, to help ensure operations that went from about 5 percent telework on Fridays, to over 90 percent telework – securely – in about 21 days.
“It was truly an effort of collaboration and teamwork,” she added, noting that it meant being flexible to ensure everyone had the equipment they needed to do their jobs while adhering to the most stringent information assurance policies in the business.
“We had to deliver equipment to people’s homes and set up curbside pickups, and we had to do it quickly,” she said. “And I was proud to lead the effort, in the rain, in the cold, and everything else. In those situations, I believe leaders must lead from the front. I never ask my team to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I’m always going to be in the trenches with them to get the job done.”
Today, Thornton’s team is mostly back in person in the Pentagon, and as busy as ever. The program is operating some of the first federal AI-enabled service desk capabilities to reduce administrative burden. While the program’s work is ongoing, some initial results include 25-40 percent increased efficiency in service desk support and a more than 70 percent overall cost reduction.
“The automations are doing a great job, enabling DISA personnel to free up and do things that require higher thinking,” she said, adding that in one automation example that involved expiring user accounts, the time to complete the tasks were reduced from about 30 minutes per day to less than 30 minutes per month.
“Those kind of results are impressive to everyone, and the team is so proud,” she said. Thornton noted that soon, the team hopes to tackle automations for other important task areas, including asset management.
But no matter the task or technology, Thornton knows her team is ready for the challenge, and they are always preparing for what is next.
“We’re always looking for ways to ensure the team is growing and staying on top of the latest,” she said. “That helps us stay consistent with a customer-focused approach while also helping our team continue to learn.
“Honestly, it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but at the end of each day, we know we’re helping to make our country stay up and running.”