How culture drives innovation

Innovation is a big buzzword in today's market and in this Washington Technology Executive Roundtable, we discuss what innovation and disruption mean. How people and company culture play a critical role in that was the group's key message.

Innovation is one of the biggest buzzwords in today’s public sector marketplace as government customers are looking for new solutions that promise efficiency and better mission outcomes, while contractors tout their ability to deliver those solutions.

Technologies that fuel the innovation are constantly evolving and creating a challenge for government contractors as they develop new solutions and try to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In reviewing corporate marketing materials, it seems many companies tout similar skills and offerings. That compounds the differentiation challenge.

One key question is what does innovation look like and how does a government contractor ensure that they deliver real results as well as separate themselves from their competitors. Much of the answer lies not in technology, but in culture and people.

To explore this issue deeper, Washington Technology convened a roundtable of top executives in the market to share their insights on innovation and culture. Also on the discussion agenda was what they expect from themselves and what they look for from their customers.

Our discussion was on the record, but we operated under Chatham House rules in that comments by executives will not be attributed to them or their companies. See the sidebar to view those who attended.

To look at the current and near-term innovations that are disrupting the market, we started by looking back at the evolution of cloud computing and how that has changed the market over the last decade.

“Fundamentally it has transformed the enterprise,” one executive said. “It has transformed how we develop software and how we deploy software.”

Broad shifts away from data centers and into public and private clouds have been the innovation driver of the last decade as it has changed roles and responsibilities of IT personnel, plus forced government customers to change how they buy and procure technology.

“The government had to go through a big learning curve on how to even buy it,” said another executive. “Some basic assumptions around how long it takes to do things and how to account for success from your suppliers really changed in that cloud paradigm.”

Cloud's continuing rise offers lessons and warnings for newer technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Several executives described cloud as "still in the early innings," which means it isn’t done as a disruptor.

But the cloud is certainly enabling and driving the adoption of commercial technologies and open architectures.

“There is a general trend toward commercial technologies that are widely used, are open and can be leveraged across many programs,” an executive said.

One lesson learned from cloud adoptions is that customers and contractors alike had to weather the hype cycle. For example, an early sales pitch for the cloud was the money it would save but the cost savings never came.

“The cost savings was pitched as so high, but we couldn’t hit them unless we were at scale and you can’t just jump to scale,” one person said.

Agencies pushed back when those cost savings didn’t emerge. The industry shifted its focus to outcomes and the impact on the mission as well as cybersecurity. Cloud's use grew, albeit over years, once people changed how they talked about it and their expectations.

That’s a lesson these executives carry with them as they advance new innovations.

“We should remember that its going to be hard for us and for our customers and it takes sustained effort,” an executive said.

At the heart of enabling and adopting new innovations are culture and people. One positive trend in the market is that as the government moves to the leading edge of technology adoption, younger workers are drawn in by the opportunity to work with these technologies and serve the critical missions of many government agencies.

The challenge with people remains getting them to change, particularly when in looking at government customers that want to hang onto to their turf.

“The most important part is to focus on the mission outcome you are trying to achieve,” an executive said.

Internally, companies need to work on developing an innovation culture. “You have to foster a culture where the best idea wins,” one executive said.

To get there takes time, patience and effort. “It’s got to be a culture. It can’t be an individual trying to be a hero and change things,” this executive said. “It’s got to be a groundswell coming from the bottom up, coming from the top down and it’s got to be pervasive.”

Participants

Jason Cunningham
Chief Technology Officer, Healthcare Management Solutions

David Dacquino
CEO, Serco Inc.

Paul Dillahay
CEO, NCI Information Ssytems

Sharon Hays
Chief Technology Officer, LMI

Srini Iyer
Chief Technology Officer, ManTech International

JLee Kair
Principal, The Chertoff Group

Glenn Kurowski
Chief Technology Officer, CACI International

Ricardo Lorenzo
Chief Technology Officer, Parsons

Petros Mouchtaris
President, Peraton Labs

Charles Onstott
Chief Technology Officer, Calibre

Kim Pack
CEO, Wolf Den Associates

Kent Wilcher
Chief Growth Officer, Linquest Corp.

John Griffin
Vice President, federal channel and FSI sales, Dell Technoloogies

Mark D'Alessandro
Senior Director of data center sales, Dell Technologies

Note: Washington Technology Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman led the roundtable discussion. The July virtual gathering was underwritten by Dell Technologies, but both the substance of the discussion and the published article are strictly editorial products. Neither Dell nor any of the participants had input beyond the comments at the July event.

This part of the discussion sparked talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion for some of the executives.

“At the end of the day, I need the best talent and I can’t achieve that if my company is perceived as one that favors people of a particular race or gender,” one said.

Once that talent is in house, they have to be on an equal footing to share ideas and their experiences that contribute to a solution.

“If I’m not fostering a culture of inclusion, then I’m not going to get the best idea,” said an executive. 

Diversity and inclusion also is more important with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning that can create ethical issues, another executive said.

“It is really critical to bring a lot of diversity into your design meetings and discussions because issues can get through that might be detected by people looking at it from different walks of life and perspectives,” that executive said.

A second people and culture issue that is critical to innovation is an atmosphere where it is OK to fail. That brings into view the concept of failing fast.

“The ability to fail fast is absolutely important and it is a concept that we need to inculcate with our all our talent,” an executive said.

“We have to accept failure and not just say, that was bad; we shouldn’t do that again,” another said. “But we have to learn from the experience and create a culture where people are allowed to experiment and learn.”

Related to this is creating a culture where people can disagree, and as leaders it is important to listen.

One executive shared that when there is a meeting in the conference room, everyone should sit at the table. People early in their careers will often sit along the wall.

“I asked them to come to the table,” that executive said.

A second technique is to make sure everyone speaks.

“If we invited you to the meeting, we want to hear from you,” the executive said.

The executives offered these other pointers on building an innovation culture:

  • Hire people who are curious by nature and help them find their voice.
  • Use internship programs to infuse talent and new ways of thinking.
  • Convert interns to full-time employees.
  • Connect early career folks and experienced employees with reverse mentorships where the younger person introduces the older one to new technologies and concepts.

Building a culture takes leadership but one executive laughed about CEOs who come in and say they are going to change the culture. CEOs alone don’t change cultures.

“You change the behaviors around how receptive you are to ideas,” an executive said. “It's the culmination of those behaviors that change the culture.”

NEXT STORY: VTG nets Navy hypersonics win

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.