Spotlight: Our Information Management Team
By Robert Richard, Chief Information Officer
Tell us about your role as Chief Information Officer at Athena Global Advisors.
Athena has an amazing group of some of the most creative and talented people I’ve ever met. Essentially, my role is to ensure that they have everything they need to access and share information with each other and our clients so they can be their best, while keeping it out of the hands of anyone that’s not supposed to have it.
What is a typical workday like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical workday with my role, but every day would certainly involve checking for and reviewing any anomalies, working with colleagues to identify new needs for the organization, keeping up with security audits, reporting, and reviews. There is almost always a new project or opportunity at Athena, so there’s always something new to tackle.
In what ways is Athena on the cutting edge of technology?
At Athena, we’ve embraced 100-percent cloud technologies. This allowed us to be almost completely unaffected from a systems standpoint when the pandemic hit. Athenians have been able to be completely remote with seamless, secure access to everything they need. With full remote management and oversight of all systems and computers, we were able to keep every system monitored and up to date in real time, without needing to physically be there.
What is your professional background? Have you always been interested in technology?
I have, unless you want to count the few years that I did jewelry assembly and polishing! I always liked working on computers. The Providence Journal used to print snippets of code for a game or utility to run on different brands of computers in the Sunday paper so you could program your Apple or PC. My dad and I would always find time to do those and make up our own modifications to them. My dad had worked in electronics for RCA and Raytheon, and so I came by it organically. So growing up when he and I weren’t working on cars, I became the computer person of the family when anything needed to be done. But I really didn’t have any intention of pursuing it as a career. All I knew at the time was that I eventually wanted a job that I needed to travel for.
After high school, I worked at Staples in the Capital Goods department selling office furniture and electronics. I eventually went to college, and was accepted into a program for chemical engineering. For some reason, during the summer orientation I decided to switch my major to Computer Information Systems at the last minute.
Shortly before graduation, my Networking Technology professor reached out to a contact of his and recommended me for a support role for Microsoft Backoffice products (Microsoft Windows Server, Exchange Server, etc.) I interviewed and was offered the position, which was an amazing trial-by-fire opportunity where, for three years, I virtually troubleshot some of the largest and most complex Windows enterprise systems in the world. I specifically opted to stay in the off-hours support shifts (late nights and weekends) due to the global customer base that it afforded—they referred to it as the Super-Queue—since it was more challenging and interesting.
That launched me to my next role as a senior technology architect where I was tasked with the technology unification for a merger of 13 companies across the U.S and managing the datacenter systems for their hosted web applications. I eventually moved into the role of the information security engineer there which was the first specifically focused role I held in information security.
During this time in 2001, the Enron collapse happened, and then the resultant legislation from it (Sarbanes-Oxley/SOX) in 2002. I moved to a pioneering eDiscovery firm at that time, where I eventually focused on data recovery for evidence retrieval. Shortly following, I received a call from a brilliant and forward-thinking associate I had previously worked with in the Microsoft Back office support role, and I moved into SOX compliance consulting with him and some other amazing associates, and started traveling to consult and review on compliance systems. The rest is history.
Your expertise in technology even led you to sit in on interviews conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Is there anything you can share about that experience?
My compliance consulting led me to what was supposed to be a two-week engagement in France, where my charge was to identify sources of information that would be relevant to a multinational, U.S.-led securities class-action lawsuit. That two-week project turned into a permanent role with a forensic accounting and electronic discovery firm. For the next 14 years we helped multinational organizations navigate technological issues when responding to information discovery requests in government-led investigations and litigation.
The interviews with the DOJ were the culmination of many months of meetings with the client’s technology teams, reviews of in-place and archived systems, and compiling evidence on all identified information sources spanning over 15 years of systems and petabytes of information. I was able to present to the DOJ a clear picture of exactly what was available, and the most efficient (for both the DOJ and the client) way to respond to the DOJ’s data discovery demands. Those recommendations were accepted by the DOJ, and we were able to comply with the request on schedule.
It’s also worth noting that it was during my time here that I first worked with Athena CEO Maggy Wilkinson. She came on board as Chief Operations Officer and I reported to her in my role as Senior Director of Technology Operations.
Tell us one thing you want companies to know about data security.
Awareness training, awareness training, awareness training. Did I mention awareness training? Train your employees – but keep the material engaging! The overwhelming majority of successful hacks are because an employee was tricked into doing something or revealing something important. Help your employees understand how to recognize when they are being conned, and give them good, positive reasons to stay vigilant.
What is the most serious threat facing technology today?
Cybersecurity. As we continue a remote or hybrid work model, bad actors continue to find new ways to infiltrate organizations using phishing, spam, etc. The first line of defense is your employees. Keep them engaged and aware!
What is the best way that people can protect their personal information?
Vigilance. Most attacks don’t come from fast-typing, code-cracking super-genius hackers like you see on TV. It’s someone making you feel comfortable enough to click a link or provide information you shouldn’t have. Notice how most of those quizzes on Facebook ask the same questions that your bank does to secure your account (e.g. “what street did you grow up on, what was your first car, where did you meet your significant other,”)? Of course they’re the same! They’re fishing for your security question responses!
What will the world of technology look like in 2025? Are any major trends on the horizon?
I expect not only a continued but rapidly accelerating move to public cloud technology, due to a need to further integrate mobile connectivity and accessibility in the enterprise. I think (or at least hope) traditional passwords will be a thing of the past, supplanted by trusted device keys and authenticators.