Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Beyond a labyrinth of halls in Accenture Federal Services’ West San Antonio office, past several secure doors, is a conference room where the company’s top cybersecurity officials meet. An opaque window turns transparent with the flick of a switch, and the work at the company’s newest facility comes into focus.
A wall of screens displays the numbers of potential incoming incidents, animated lines curve from place to place on a digital map, and a team of professionals works to snuff out any cyberattacks against Accenture’s clientele of mostly small federal agencies.
The global technology services provider has doubled down on San Antonio as a Southern hub for its cybersecurity operations, announcing in February the creation of 500 full-time jobs and injecting $5 million into expanding its capabilities in the city. The firm opened its new Cyber Center in April.
“Cyber’s one of the key industries in San Antonio that we want to be known for,” said Ben Peavy, managing director of the local office. “Our headquarters are in the D.C.-Virginia area, but we’ve always had large operations here in San Antonio. And when we really started looking at all the resources and the capabilities here and the support from the City and the County, the higher ed institutions, as well as the military, it just made a lot of sense for us to build a center here.”
Accenture Federal Services spun out of its parent corporation, IT consulting and services firm Accenture, in the mid-2000s in response to an increasing need for professionalized information security services among smaller government entities that lacked the budget to build an in-house team. AFS has staked its claim helping those agencies and siloed offices within the federal government to detect and defend against cyberattacks. The firm also contracts with private companies that have federal government-level requirements for cybersecurity operations.
In today’s cybersecurity environment, where thousands of cyber incidents happen every minute, manually squashing every cyber bug just isn’t realistic. That’s why AFS uses artificial intelligence to fight hackers. The firm creates what it calls “playbooks“ for finding patterns in the incoming data, said Jen Combs, managing director of the firm’s security group.
“We’ve used a bunch of cutting-edge technology to take all of the noise out in the internet, sift through it, and find things that look like they might be problems,” Combs said. “We figure out if they really are problems and then, if they’re easy-to-solve problems, we’ve automated the response to fix it.”
About 40 cyber defenders work in the newly established Cyber Center, and the facility is hiring, Combs said. Positions at AFS range from requiring less than a four-year degree to calling for a Ph.D.
AFS has become increasingly embedded in the local cybersecurity scene, becoming the anchor industry partner for the soon-to-launch Cyber P-Tech program at Sam Houston High School. The program will prepare its cohorts for a role in the information security sector by conferring an associate’s degree with a cybersecurity focus to graduates. The company is also a founding partner in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s ambitious National Security Collaboration Center, which aims to become a nexus for research, education, and workforce development in cybersecurity, data analytics, and cloud computing.
Peavy said creating a pipeline of local talent is a big part of its investment in area CyberPatriot programs, a U.S. Air Force-created competition and curriculum to teach middle and high school students the fundamentals of cybersecurity. The organization is excited about new curriculum being developed for elementary school students.
“One of the things we hear from kids and people in general is cyber’s hard,” he said. “But, really, once you start getting more familiar with it, understanding the language, and understanding the different skills you need, it really isn’t. There’s a lot of support that we have in San Antonio that we’re trying to get people to have those experience as early as possible.”
The need for qualified talent will only become greater as more devices are hooked up to the internet and as the global cyber threat increases. AFS will need highly trained personnel if it wants to expand locally by 500 employees over the next few years.
“One of the things we’ve been watching over the years is cybersecurity from a job-scale perspective and a personnel perspective, it’s crazy,” Combs said. “It’s hard to find good people. You find them, you train them up … and it’s still not enough. And we see that becoming a worse problem in the future.”