"Always a Patriot"

$3,000 first-place prize for his painting “Always a Patriot” at the veteran art competition held by cybersecurity firm Acronis SCS during the launch of its SCSVets Initiative.

From Baltimore to Atlanta to the Flagstaff Unified School District, local governments of all sizes across the country are falling victim to cyberattacks at an unprecedented rate.

That is one reason why Scottsdale-based Acronis SCS, a cybersecurity firm serving the public sector, launched SCSVets, a new initiative to give veterans the skills and certifications needed to obtain employment in the cybersecurity space.

“In launching this initiative, we’re doing our part to narrow the cyber workforce shortage while providing American veterans and their spouses with the skills they need to succeed in this demanding field,” Acronis SCS CEO John Zanni said.

Through its SCSVets Initiative, the company has committed to providing 300 veterans, active-duty military personnel and their spouses with the skills and certifications needed to begin a career in cybersecurity.

The program is part of the larger Arizona Roadmap to Veteran Employment program launched by the state in 2015.

Acronis SCS, opened shop one year ago, and launched the initiative, in its new southern Scottsdale headquarters on Oct. 8, with a standing-room-only crowd consisting of Arizona business leaders and public officials, including U.S. Sen. Martha McSally and U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton.

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane also attended alongside council members Virginia Korte and Suzanne Klapp.

The company marked the occasion by holding an art competition showcasing work by local veterans, which will remain on display in the company’s headquarters.

John Fontana, a Navy veteran and 2017 inductee into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Society, won the $3,000 first-place prize for his painting “Always a Patriot.”

The new SCSVets initiative will help inject much-needed talent into a cybersecurity workforce that is woefully understaffed.

McSally said there is a “growing threat in the cybersecurity space, not just from organized crime, but from sophisticated state actors, state-sponsored actors.”

Stanton echoed those comments, saying the need for more trained professionals in the industry is urgent.

According to Cyberseek, a project from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, there were over 313,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the U.S. between 2017 and 2018.

In Arizona alone, over 7,000 cybersecurity positions were open during that time period.

Zanni said this shortage comes at a critical time as local governments across the country are facing imminent threats and are not prepared to protect their infrastructure.

“The other concern frankly is a lack of urgency in the public sector around this problem of cyber attacks… For some reason, they all think they’re immune or they’re too embarrassed to talk about being attacked,” Zanni said.

Zanni said the reason for lack of action on the part of local governments can often be due to lack of funding and understaffed IT departments – a function of the overall worker shortage in the industry.

Zanni said the initiative is an attempt to meet shortage problems and match veterans with high-quality jobs. Too often, he argued, veterans returning to the workforce are matched with positions that do not take advantage of their skills.

The current veteran unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in the U.S. is actually below the national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, but Zanni said there is still an issue of veteran underemployment.

The SCSVets Initiative will also provide training for military spouses. Active duty military spouses had an unemployment rate of 24 percent in 2017, according to the Department of Defense.

McSally said veterans are uniquely suited to enter the field of cybersecurity, because of the “nexus” between cybersecurity and national security.

Zanni said the program’s initial commitment is to provide training and certification for 300 veterans, active-duty military members and spouses at a cost of $15,000 per student.

The initiative is partnering with New Horizons Computer Learning Centers to provide training and nationally-recognized certification.

The program will rely on the use of military-related benefits, such as those provided under the GI Bill.

Acronis SCS is also partnering with the non-profit Arizona Coalition for Military Families to secure donations to offset costs not covered by those benefits.

The initiative is partnering with the Veterans Transition Mission to connect with veterans interested in the program.

Zanni said he has already secured funding for the first 100 students and he is confident the organization will raise enough money to meet its 300-student commitment and eventually train more veterans.

The initiative launch coincides with Acronis SCS’s one-year anniversary in Scottsdale.

The company, a spin off of Switzerland-based Acronis AIG, launched in Scottsdale in Nov. 2018, with an eye on providing U.S.-based cybersecurity solutions.

Zanni said the Scottsdale company, which holds federal and local government contracts, is a separate entity from the parent organization and maintains all customer data on U.S. soil.

In Nov. 2018, Acronis SCS employed three staff members and worked at a Deskhub coworking space.

Now, Acronis SCS operates out of its own secure facility within The Quad development at Thomas Road and 68th Street and employs 37 employees.

Zanni said the company plans to hire around 40 more employees over the next year because parent company Acronis received an investment of $147 million from Goldman Sachs.

Zanni said he chose to locate in Arizona due to the talent pipeline from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona also noting the state’s quality of life. 

When asked why he chose Scottsdale specifically, Zanni pointed to Lane and the Scottsdale city government, commenting on the ease of accessibility to government leaders and ease of doing business.

According to Lane, the decision was also a win for the city as it builds up a burgeoning technology industry to supplement the travel and hospitality sectors, the city’s bread and butter.

“The City of Scottsdale has been known for a lot of great things, but it wasn’t necessarily as a tech center,” Lane said. “We’re quickly developing that aura about our city.”