Retired Army Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence started her Army career as a stenographer in 1972, and she likes to joke that the greatest technological breakthrough she saw was the White Out tape that made it easier for her to correct mistakes.
When she retired last year, she was the Army’s CIO/G6 and was ultimately responsible for the service’s IT operations in theater and at bases around the world.
She saw a lot of changes over that career and over her current one as senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton’s defense business.
It was a message of change and transition that she and the man she replaced as the Army CIO, retired Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, brought to a media lunch put together by Cisco Systems.
The pace of technological change is torrid, so the question for IT leaders inside and outside of government is, “Are we going to be predictive or responsive?” she said. “Who is working in their garage right now on the next breakthrough and how do we react to that?”
The Defense Department is going through a significant transition as it pulls out of Afghanistan and brings the troops home. “We’re moving from an operational environment to an institutional environment,” she said.
That means the emphasis has to be on training and modeling and simulation so that soldiers, sailors and marines stay engaged and sharp and are ready for the next crisis.
The defense budget also is contracting, so “how can technology be the gap filler?” Lawrence said.
The changes also mean that industry has to look at the market differently.
“At Booz Allen, we are looking at new approaches to contracts and relationships with small businesses differently,” she said. “We’re looking at building strategic relationships that we wouldn’t have done before.”
The question is: Do you “sell to or sell with or sell through,” she said.
Sorenson’s take on the market was similar; he retired in 2010 and now leads A.T. Kearney’s government practice.
“Everything is an ‘as’,” he said, referring to the push of selling and buying software, infrastructure and platforms as a service. “The next thing is going to be security as a service.”
Another disruptive technology is the concept of the Internet of Things, which is particularly important to the military. It’s a powerful tool for battle space awareness, logistics and supply chain management.
He used the example of how important it is to understand and have visibility into all of the pieces of equipment and supplies coming back from Afghanistan. Where are they? Where are they going? What has happened to them? All are critical questions that the Internet of Things can help answer, he said.
Mobile technologies, the cloud and big data also are transformative.
“We have to figure out how to leverage all the technologies that are out there,” he said.
Industry needs to play a critical role in helping the government learn to create contracts for these new kinds of technology and new approaches to buying and implementing technology.
“They just don’t know how,” Sorenson said.
He pointed back to the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet as the first example of when the government tried to buy IT as a service. The troubles that program ran into in its early years are legendary.
“We didn’t have the right SLAs (service-level agreements). We didn’t have the right oversight,” he said.
Beyond education, industry also has to demonstrate that these new approaches can work, Lawrence said.
“People are server huggers,” she said. They want to know where the data is. They want to touch it.
“We have to change that mindset and build a culture of trust that the data will be there when they need it,” she said.
In the private sector, the “as a service” approach is commonplace. “Cisco does these things with its commercial clients like it’s falling out of bed in the morning,” Sorenson said.
The government has made a lot of strides, particularly with the use of enterprise licenses for software, he said.
Sorenson shared how the enterprise licenses with companies such as Microsoft, McAfee and Cisco paid major dividends when soldiers in the field began to connect with company engineers.
“When you put a soldier together with a corporate engineer magic happens,” he said.
The potential for “magic” was one of the big takeaways for me from the lunch because both Lawrence and Sorenson emphasized the importance of collaboration between industry and government.
It might be a challenge in today’s climate, but the payoff can be great.
Posted on Mar 07, 2014 at 1:37 PM0 comments
The government market has lost one of its pillars with the death earlier this week of Ray Oleson, founder of SI International and co-founder of Salient Federal Solutions.
Oleson, 69, died Monday, March 3, while playing golf near his home in Hilton Head, S.C.
Executives who worked closely with him at SI and Salient and during his time at CACI International Inc. described him as a gifted leader who brought a team approach to running his business and as someone who should be credited with helping create the business model of today’s government contracting market.
But you’d likely never hear him describe himself that way.
“It’s hard to pinpoint his legacy,” said Brad Antle, CEO of Salient and who was hired by Oleson to run SI’s first acquisition in 1999. “He was never trying to make a name for himself. He was very comfortable in the background.”
Oleson was more likely to credit others such as his former boss Jack London, executive chairman of CACI as a leading light of the industry. “He had great respect for Jack and others,” Antle said.
London credited Oleson with helping to launch CACI’s mergers and acquisitions program in 1992 and transforming CACI from a professional services firm to an information solutions and services provider. Oleson was an executive under London from 1987 until 1996. He rose to the position of president and chief operating officer of the company’s largest division.
“Ray helped set the stage for companies that are an integral part of the IT community today,” said Leslee Belluchie, who was chief marketing officer and executive vice president at SI.
“He was a positive force for our industry and an outstanding example of the ethical commitment we must all make to serve our nation’s critical missions,” London said.
Oleson’s commitment to the market was evident in how he remained connected to contracting groups such as the Professional Services Council, TechAmerica and the Northern Virginia Technology Council even after he sold SI to Serco North America in 2008 and moved to Hilton Head, S.C., Antle said.
“It is always hard to lose someone who was so influential in our community,” Antle said.
Antle met Oleson as he was putting together the financing to launch SI in 1998 and they were together pretty much from then on. Antle eventually took on the CEO role at SI and Oleson remained chairman. And after they sold the company to Serco they worked together to launch Salient, where Antle is the CEO and Oleson served as chairman.
“There are so many things he taught me,” Antle said.
One of his leadership lessons was that often the toughest decision is knowing when to say no, Antle said. “Saying yes is easy.”
“He was a firm believer of sticking close to your core capabilities and letting them evolve overtime.”
Antle shared with me Oleson’s four guiding principles, which he called axioms.
AXIOM 1—Happy customers will figure out how to get you more business not less.
AXIOM 2—Long term, multi-year contracts simplify marketing and sales efforts by reducing the yearly volume that needs to be replaced.
AXIOM 3—People buy from people; therefore, you need to talk to the client.
AXIOM 4—Fill the client’s needs. Don’t push old projects, pet projects, or what you think a customer needs unless it is needed. Listen to what a customer tells you.
I interviewed Oleson several times over the years, particularly during the SI days and the impression I always came away with was that of a warm, generous person with a beefy handshake and a big smile.
Without mentioning his name, I’ve often think about him when I talk about the different personality types of successful CEOs. Some are stern. Some are gregarious back slappers. Some are driven to be the center of attention.
Oleson was all about collaboration. I once had a briefing with him and his senior management team at SI. The atmosphere was remarkable in how open and comfortable it was. The rapport among the executives was genuine.
They were knowledgeable and serious about what they did but they weren’t overly serious about themselves. No one in the room was larger than the whole, including Oleson, who was the chairman and CEO at the time.
There was humor too, and Oleson wasn’t above being the target of some good natured ribbing.
“Ray believed in the kitchen cabinet type of meeting where you’d get together with a cup of coffee and share ideas,” Antle said. “He was very open. He didn’t care where the idea came from. If it was a good one, he’d go with it.”
“He was this big mountain of a man, but he was so gentle,” Belluchie said. She joined SI after the company went public and "Ray and Brad really made me feel like a part of something special."
While many of us will remember him for his business acumen, his most lasting legacy likely will be his family.
“He worked so hard and was so invested in SI and when he founded Salient he did it with vigor and gusto but he also wanted to spend time with his family and his wife and daughters,” Belluchie said. “At his peak, he stepped back and found balance. He could have easily plunged back in. That really struck me.”
Part of the motivation was his grandchildren. “He made a concerted effort to be part of their lives,” she said.
His wife Kathy also played a huge role in the slowdown. “Rarely do you see a couple married as long as they were be as close and caring as they were,” Antle said. “They were an incredibly close couple. Another area where he was a great role model.”
Oleson is survived by his wife, Kathy Oleson, a sister, a brother, two daughters, and three grandchildren, according to the obituary from the Island Funeral Home in Hilton Head.
Posted on Mar 07, 2014 at 1:01 PM0 comments
A recent Government Accountability Office decision upholding some small business awards under the Homeland Security Department’s Eagle II contract might finally kick loose some activity under the $22 billion program.
Or maybe not.
GAO denied a protest in February by USmax Corp. over DHS’s award decisions in the small-business track of the service delivery category, under which the agency made 27 awards. GAO released its decision this week.
There are no pending protests in that category now, so in theory, DHS should be at liberty to proceed with the contract.
But nothing is ever that simple.
GAO has dismissed multiple bid protests –43 at last count – that spread across all three functional categories. A dismissal generally means that the agency, in this case DHS, is taking some sort of corrective action such as re-evaluating bids.
What DHS is doing with those bids isn’t exactly clear. A re-evaluation doesn’t automatically mean an award, so the companies have the right to resurrect their protests if they want.
So, the impact of the USmax decision, if there is any, won’t be known for a while, but GAO’s decision does give some interesting insights into Eagle II and the process DHS has been going through.
USmax objected specifically to awards to Citizant Inc. and Applied Computing Technologies. The two companies were the lowest bidders, and USmax argued that DHS’ price realism evaluation was flawed.
GAO walks through the process including how DHS compared the prices bid to the prices on each company’s General Services Administration schedules. They also looked at the technical portions to see if the companies understood the requirements.
Both companies were found to have bid within what DHS concluded was a reasonable range. GAO agreed.
GAO also found that the evaluation process of bids by Citizant and Applied Computing did not prevent DHS from awarding a contract to USmax. In other words, an award to Citizant didn’t take an award away from USmax.
Here are some interesting facts that came to light in the GAO decision:
- 151 – That’s the number of bids DHS received for just the small business portion of the functional category 1. Granted, category one is for service delivery, the largest and broadest area in Eagle II, but that’s a lot of bids to evaluate.
- 17 – Number of small business bidders with pricing “significantly” below the independent government cost estimate that DHS was using to evaluate the bids. DHS compared pricing from each contract to the independent government cost estimate and the mean of the pricing from all the bidders.
As I read the legalese of the GAO document, it dawned on me just how long Eagle II has been in the process of getting off the ground.
According to the Eagle II timeline at Deltek, the industry day for Eagle II was July 29, 2009, so we are just five months shy of a five-year anniversary of the kickoff of the procurement. The GAO document references the Nov. 1, 2010, release of the solicitation and the due date for proposals of Feb. 23, 2011, more than three years ago.
I appreciate wanting to get it right, but the wheels certainly grind slowly.
Maybe an alternative is needed for these huge task order contracts that can deliver the kind of services the government wants and the competition that it needs.
I wonder if the pain, expense and time it takes to get these behemoths off the ground is outweighed by the benefits they bring.
In an age when technology changes at a pace measured in months, should it take the government years to get a contract awarded?
I don’t know the answer to this questions; it’s just something to ponder.
Posted on Mar 06, 2014 at 1:06 PM0 comments