TOP 100: Booz Allen ramps up technology skills with new talent

Booz Allen Hamilton sees new hires with new skill sets as critical to growth in the federal market.

When Booz Allen Hamilton last year acquired the software services unit of SPARC LLC, a Charleston, S.C., company with deep expertise in modern development methodologies, the move emphatically underscored Booz Allen’s long-term shift toward technology and technical capabilities under its Vision 2020 program.

SPARC brought aboard 270 staffers who provide software-development services to the Veteran Affairs Department and other public- and private sector clients. The acquisition enhanced the Booz Allen’s ability to integrate technical and mission-related requirements to deliver cloud, mobile and modular services using Agile, DevOps and open source techniques, company officials said.

“We’re starting to see a greater percentage of our staff with technical skill sets than we had when we started Vision 2020,” said Gary Labovich, an executive vice president and head of Booz Allen’s systems delivery business. “We’re creating a staff that will have a greater composition of technology skllls because that’s where we see the business going.”

Labovich said Booz Allen remains “very committed” to its Vision 2020 strategy, which was launched three years ago. “We feel very strongly that it has demonstrated results, both in reshaping our portfolio, which allows us to align to our clients’ missions with respect to our capability, and in focusing our capability offerings in the area of systems delivery, engineering, cyber, management consulting and analytics. Behind each of those we’ve built a growth strategy.”

Labovich pointed to Booz Allen’s backlog as a sign of steady growth. Its total backlog rose 26 percent to $11.8 billion at the end of March, a record high for the end of its fiscal year.

The company is ranked No. 8 on the 2016 Washington Technology Top 100 with $3.4 billion in prime contracts.

Booz Allen also has been buoyed in recent months by key contract awards. In May it won a five-year, $400 million contract to provide enterprise-management services to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s chief information officer and other components of the Defense Department and the U.S. intelligence community. The company also was selected to support IT infrastructure modernization under the Veterans Affairs Department’s 10-year $22.3 billion next-generation acquisition program.

Last August, Booz Allen won a contract to serve as the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare’s marketplace system integrator, a deal worth $202 million and composed of a base year plus four option years. The contract involved supporting the most recent open-enrollment period for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

“It was a high visibility, complex undertaking that required us to ramp up quickly,” Labovich said. On a conference call with CMS officials last November, President Obama got on the line to give his personal thanks for a successful implementation. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can’t say that the President of the United States has ever called to say thank you. That was pretty cool,” Labovich said.

Among new strategies, Booz Allen has identified directed energy as an opportunity for increased investment, Labovich said. As a “proof point” of this new focus, the company has hired David Stoudt, former senior analyst for Office of Naval Research’s directed-energy program, to spearhead its efforts in this sector. The Navy’s program is developing a proof-of-concept technology to demonstrate the utility of directed-energy weapons, such as high-power lasers or microwaves.

Another avenue of new business, reflecting Booz Allen’s acquisition of SPARC, is in systems development. “Government clients are slowly evolving their systems delivery methodologies from the old waterfall model, where you went out, got a bunch of people, built the software and then client would say, ‘That’s not what I asked for’ versus a much more interactive process” such as Agile and DevOps methodologies. “It’s an exciting time to be working in this space and I think the federal government has really upped its game along those lines,” Labovich said.

Recent high-visibility security breaches in the government also represent potential new business for Booz Allen, who have mounted a new campaign to build security into software upfront instead of “being reactive” after a breach, Labovich said. The company plans soon to release a white paper to “showcase our capability” in dealing with cyber threats.

One of Booz Allen’s biggest hurdles is finding technical talent. “We need to address our backlog of business and focus more on the technical side, getting folks with skill sets in cyber, software development and data science,” Labovich said. “That kind of talent can be hard to find. The demand is huge, but we’re getting our share and slowly changing the composition of the skill sets of the organization.”

Officials at Booz Allen are optimistic that the government market will see more predictability down the road.

“We think it looks very promising,” Labovich said. “I’ve been through a couple of changes in administrations. There’s a little bit of uncertainty at the beginning. But we see change as an opportunity. I think the bulk of the work will stay pretty steady. I can’t imagine either party coming in and having a dramatic change on federal government needs or procurement.”