GDIT moves ahead with CSRA tech strategy

With CSRA now in the fold, General Dynamics carries forward "Emerging Tech Day" for commercial vendors and agencies amid the public sector's desire for more innovation.

With CSRA now in the fold of General Dynamics, their “Emerging Tech Day” event Wednesday in Washington was the largest post-acquisition gathering for the combined business since the deal’s April closure.

Technically, it was the fifth such event carried over from legacy CSRA that sees eight commercial technology companies give 15-minute presentations to educate and start conversations between the now-larger General Dynamics IT, those commercial vendors and government officials in attendance.

CSRA’s first Emerging Tech Day in August 2016 saw around 100 people -- none of them government clients -- visit its former headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. Fast forward to Wednesday and that number swelled to nearly 550 people in the room and 120 clients, GDIT Chief Technology Officer Yogesh Khanna told a group of reporters.

“The reality is that we can’t get all the best ideas from within the company. That’s why we go also outside to seek those innovations,” Khanna said. “It’s all about co-creating, we’re not trying to jam any technologies down anybody’s throat.

“We’re trying to have meaningful conversations that allow our clients and ‘techies’ across the enterprise to imagine the ‘what if’ and do things slightly differently.”

When CSRA launched in 2015, the government IT integrator pursued a mantra of being “Customer Zero” for agencies as their primary broker, tester and implementer of next-generation commercial technologies in cloud computing and other areas.

Agencies’ collective desire to bring in those commercial tools has only accelerated since then, GDIT executives said. And the past year has seen new IT modernization initiatives come down from the White House and other senior officials, along with the MGT Act’s revolving fund to help agencies get started on work to overhaul their IT infrastructures.

Even with that added air cover, are agencies ready to take the leap forward and look at technologies in what executives termed as the “art of the possible?” The answer is moving closer to yes, according to Donald Robinson, CTO for GDIT’s defense group.

“In the last 12 months and we’re going to see it for the next 24 at least, the appetite for innovation in IT in the government sector has gone way up,” Robinson said. “The advent of new technologies, processes and the way that commercial enterprises have achieved cost savings and mission benefit, the public sector is seeing the benefit to that.

“There’s not an appetite for risk (in government) that a lot commercial enterprises have, and that’s just by the nature of spending taxpayer dollars… for judiciously important missions.”

Khanna said the role of integrators like GDIT is to also educate themselves on the art of the possible and bring government customers “on the learning journey we are on.” Agencies get more comfortable after seeing a proof-of-concept in something “that is not an immature technology that they’re going to take a huge risk on.

“They know they have to do things differently,” Khanna said. “Our customers are creatures of habit… and change for many is hard to embrace. The biggest hurdle is getting past that, getting comfortable and helping them manage that change.”

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