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05 19 2023

Meet Martin Fenn, Programme Manager at the NCI Agency

Due to his remarkable and dedicated work as the Programme Manager for the POLARIS Programme, Martin Fenn was recently awarded the NATO Meritorious Service Medal (MSM).

Having retired as a Colonel in the Royal Engineers after a 34-year career, Fenn joined the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) when it was established in 2012. Fenn's previous operational tours included serving in several NATO missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Meet Martin Fenn, Programme Manager at the NCI Agency

During his last military post, Fenn served as the Branch Chief for Alliance Crisis Response Urgent Operational Requirements, covering areas of the globe such as the Mediterranean, Horn of Africa, Libya, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Whilst in this role, he was able to work closely with liaison staff from the predecessors of the NCI Agency and NSPA, forging a cohesive team through mutual trust and close collaboration.

We sat down with Fenn to delve deeper into his work experience, insights and lessons he has learned throughout his tenure at the NCI Agency.

How does the POLARIS programme contribute to NATO's digital transformation?

The POLARIS programme is contributing in a number of areas to the NATO Digital Transformation Implementation Strategy. It aims to establish a NATO Digital Backbone with foundational components that include federated networks, cloud computing and a design based on service-oriented architecture. This ambitious plan of change is already in place and will most likely be endorsed by Defence Ministers in June 2023. POLARIS is currently contributing to the strategy not least ensuring its Information Technology Modernisation (ITM) projects support the realisation of a robust, resilient and secure IT services across the NATO Enterprise for non-deployable sites.

How do you deal with unexpected events that come up in your work? What do you learn from these experiences?

The POLARIS programme has faced a number of significant challenges in the past four years. For instance, we had to deal with the abrupt departure of a prime contractor that left a major IT project unfinished in 2020 and then, last year, the facilities previously reserved for the new NATO data centres managed by a non-Agency entity were declared no longer available. Such instances are not the norm but are to be expected to some degree given the complexity and transformational nature of the projects in the programme. However, these situations showed me the incredible support network that I have. I never felt problems were mine alone as, help was willingly provided from across Business Areas and Directorates when I needed it. We have a great leadership team too. The unwavering support and priority lent to the programme and ITM from the General Manager has been critical to our successes to date.

What is the key to manage a team successfully?

To me the key is to trust the team to know their job and to get on with it. I feel blessed that the programme has such committed project managers, technical leads and Acquisition, Finance and Security staff. My own very small team is made of stars too! In fact, the greater challenge our management and I face is to protect ourselves and our highly dedicated and motivated colleagues from overworking in order to avoid burn out.

In terms of managing a team, I am very fortunate to have a deep reservoir of managerial and leadership experience and training to call upon. One needs to know when to help the team and individuals to succeed, and when to take a step back, even if sometimes this requires being a bit provocative. I am also happy to pass on my knowledge and experience and provide coaching if anyone needs it. In this way, I feel I get the best from the individual person and the most out of the team.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

It may sound cliché to say the people is the most rewarding part of the job, but it really is. It motivates me that I work with and lead a superb group of professionals drawn from across almost all NATO nations. Furthermore, working at the NCI Agency itself is also highly gratifying. When I first joined the Alliance, I had the opportunity to work in a number of areas but I chose the Agency because I saw it as providing the most technically and professionally challenging of all options open to me. Ever since, I have not been disappointed. So when I make progress at work, and my teams deliver success, it is doubly rewarding.

What are the failures that you most cherish?

I do not really cherish any failure itself, but rather appreciate the lessons that come from it. I do expect to learn from things that go wrong or could have gone better. That is, I approach failure with a growth mindset. In fact, failures can provide useful insights and opportunities for growth, and I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others to avoid repeating the same errors.