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SDBJ Q&A: Smith Connects Deloitte to Navy’s Needs

DEFENSE: Retired Admiral Brings Perspective of an Officer to His Job

Every February, a military conference brings top leaders from the sea services to San Diego, where they mingle with defense contractors and each other.

The tech-heavy WEST conference is a place where Dixon Smith can feel doubly at home. Smith is a senior adviser for Deloitte. Until recently, he was an officer in the U.S. Navy. He retired as a vice admiral in June 2019 after working closely with the Chief of Naval Operations.

Dixon Smith
Senior Adviser

Today, the 62-year-old Smith is marking his first anniversary with Deloitte. Part of his job is making his employer aware of the Navy’s needs and making the Navy aware of Deloitte’s capabilities. Deloitte’s technical workforce is “wickedly smart,” Smith said (a choice of words that shows his Connecticut upbringing). Mentally, he can put himself back in the officer’s seat, evaluate his needs and consider the kind of help he would ask for.

He helps the Navy see where cutting-edge technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, can drive digital transformation. The Navy, like any large organization, is using tech to get a better handle on day-to-day processes, including running manufacturing operations and streamlining office work.

Smith was a surface warfare officer who spent the second half of his Navy career focused on the service’s shore installations. At one point while stationed in San Diego, he held the job informally known as “Navy Mayor.” In fact, it was more like a city manager’s job, he said, overseeing installations in California, Nevada and other states in the West.

Smith now lives on a 48-foot trawler on the bay with his wife Kiki. Visitors who have a can of sparkling water while seated at the stern of his home occasionally feel the soft rocking from wakes traveling over the surface of the bay.

During his Navy years, Smith recalled, his fellow officers and sailors would get as far from the water as possible when it was time for shore leave. They marveled at Smith, who stayed by the water.

Call it force of habit or call it affection. Smith loves being on the water. He sailed competitively and got into the U.S. Naval Academy based on that aptitude. Today he enjoys crewing for other people aboard large sailboats.

Smith recently took some time to answer some questions from the San Diego Business Journal.

SDBJ: How would you describe the consulting services Deloitte offers its military clients?

Smith: Amid an array of complex and constantly evolving national security challenges, Deloitte leverages the depth and breadth of our capabilities to support our military clients in both the short term and the long term. Our people are fueled by firsthand experience. We are veterans, military spouses, and the children and grandchildren of service members. We are commercial experts, first-class innovators and technologists who find purpose in supporting our nation both personally and professionally.

Deloitte deploys our people and our capabilities to transform digital enterprises in the back office, modernize financial systems to improve performance and transparency, make critical infrastructure more resilient, tackle readiness challenges, enhance cybersecurity and provide data analytics to address emerging threats.

We’ve lived it and learned from it, making considerable investments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), smart factories and warehouses, cloud migration solutions, and secure zero trust architectures.

Our collaborative efforts help empower military clients to deploy more predictive and cost-effective solutions that enable them to take on what’s next.

SDBJ: How is Deloitte bringing digital transformation and automation to the U.S. Navy?

Smith: Our approach to digital transformation often starts by identifying and establishing critical management building blocks, like future visions and governance structures to prioritize investments. We help experiment with digital technologies that transform everyday processes and transcend the traditional tradeoffs between making things better, faster or cheaper. While we are certainly able to help move our clients from paper to digital in key areas, we are also introducing capabilities from the cutting edge of commercial manufacturing at our Smart Factory and Smart Warehouse, using tech demonstrators to articulate how digital technologies like 5G [wireless communications] or advanced analytics can redesign some everyday business processes – rapidly making them better, faster and cheaper.

SDBJ: Artificial intelligence is a hot topic right now. Is Deloitte helping the armed services leverage AI, and if so, how?

Smith: Deloitte works closely with leaders across our nation’s armed forces to develop and deploy AI/ML platforms, systems and solutions. To that end, we help our DoD clients in several ways – including the development of AI strategy and governance, Trustworthy AI implementation, and scaling operational AI/ML systems. This includes everything from examining where technologies like Generative AI are most effective to developing bespoke AI/ML solutions that help make data more accessible.

Leaders across the DoD are using AI to improve mission outcomes, especially by moving prototypes from lab environments to deployed capabilities. Deloitte helps enable this process by applying ML operations, a critical capability for our nation’s military.

SDBJ: How does Deloitte help an organization as large and complex as the Navy adapt to new technology and new ways of doing things?

Smith: Deloitte has guided and collaborated with large commercial and public-sector entities on a range of technology modernization efforts – offering AI/ML capabilities, cybersecurity services and cloud transformation solutions. We understand the unique challenges that organizations, like the U.S. Navy, face in their technology transformations.

The type of work we generally provide on large, complex projects includes:

  • Helping leaders draw insights from enterprise data using advanced analytics to better inform their real-time decision making.
  • Driving the adoption of enabling technologies, while injecting cybersecurity into the fabric of all technology and moving toward a zero-trust environment.
  • Supporting efforts to train and upskill the workforce to achieve optimum technology modernization results.

SDBJ: The military contributed $36 billion in direct spending and 356,000 jobs to San Diego County during fiscal 2022, according to the annual SDMAC study. As Navy mayor, you contributed to such studies. You also say that having sailors, Marines and their families living in the region offers many intangible benefits, things that are hard to quantify in a report. Can you elaborate on these intangible benefits?

Smith: Sailors, Marines and their families are incredibly active within our local communities. You’ll find them in their children’s schools, tutoring and mentoring young students. You’ll find them coaching on the sports fields and leading scouting troops, summer camps, and other youth leadership development programs. Military members and their families are committed to public service – not just to our country, but also within our local San Diego neighborhoods.

SDBJ: Living on a boat in the harbor, I imagine, has advantages and disadvantages. That life probably has its particular joys and frustrations. How has the experience been for you?

Smith: Kiki and I have been living onboard our Selene 48-foot trawler, Highlander, for just under four years and we love it. It is definitely a unique, small-house living experience, but we get to do every day what others take vacations for. We’ve cruised the eastern coast of the U.S. – from Maine to Florida – and look forward to getting up to the Pacific Northwest in a couple of years. As Kiki is fond of saying, “It’s portable waterfront property!”


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NOTABLE: Deloitte bought San Diego defense cybersecurity firm Sentek Global in 2021 and is working to build its business with the federal government


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