Years of effort and investment lead to NCI's biggest win

NCI Information Systems spent several years building towards its biggest-ever contract win at $807 million. Now it will deliver artificial intelligence and machine learning to the General Services Administration for that agency to transform its IT infrastructure.

Over the last few years, I’ve had several conversations with NCI Information Systems CEO Paul Dillahay about investments the company has made in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies that can drive digital transformation for government customers.

When I spoke with him over the summer, Dillahay admitted that growth for the company driven by these investments had not come at the pace he wanted. Momentum was slower at that point, but he remained optimistic.

His optimism bore fruit this week as NCI announced the largest award in its history -- the seven-year, $807 million Digital Innovation for GSA Infrastructure Technologies contract known as DIGIT.

GSA’s Office of Digital Infrastructure Technologies oversees that program to drive the adoption of digital technologies such as intelligent automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning across the entire agency. The work is broader than moving GSA off of legacy systems.

“We’ll be modernizing service delivery across GSA for all of its constituents,” Dillahay said..

“They have 18,000 users who interact with the IT organization, whether it is dialing in from home or sitting in the office,” he added. “There are a lot of different interactions and the IT organization has to support them.”

The contract also was reportedly pursued by Perspecta, Science Application International Corp. and General Dynamics, was a multi-year effort by NCI.

DIGIT was a multi-year effort by NCI. Dillahay said they began talking to GSA over two years ago about the potential for AI to impact their infrastructure and make it more efficient.

At the same time, NCI began making the necessary investments in people including hiring a program manager and shifting key personnel to work solely on the pursuit.

“The level of effort that goes into this and the pre-positioning with the customer and building out the team is pretty significant,” Dillahay said.

NCI’s team includes notable names from the market such as Leidos, IBM, Dell and IntelliBridge.

Dillahay credits the team’s thoughtful and deliberate approach to innovation as a key to the successful proposal. Part of that includes a way for the agency to track how digital innovations are being implemented and what the return is.

“Through our Evolve Wall, you can monitor the return on investment and the adoption of new technologies,” Dillahay said. “You have an unbelievable view into the innovations we are bringing.”

That transparency was a major differentiator for NCI in the competition, he said.

Managing culture change was another key to their proposal, NCI Chief Growth Officer Bridget Medeiros said.

“We are managing the culture of change, not just AI tools,” she said. “The culture has to change along with the business and the tools and that was one thing they liked about our approach.”

Dillahay said the technologies and change management techniques that NCI is taking to GSA are the same the company has used internally.

The win is about three times larger than its next largest contract, the $269.9 million DISA Joint Service Provider contract won in 2019. But the number of people that need to be transitioned is similar. NCI is ready to ramp up, he said.

The new win also adds another past performance reference that is large and will help the company’s growth going forward.

“We were positioning for a very strong 2021 and that was before DIGIT,” Dillahay said. “This just provides incredible validation of what we’re doing from a people and technology perspective and it’s going to position us for more opportunities in the future.”