Insignia's situational awareness feeds success

Mission focus helps it thrive in tough times

Fred O’Brien, CEO of Insignia Technology Services LLC, has an idea about what companies have to do to drive business in a turbulent government budget environment: “It’s important for organizations to constantly look at how to reinvent themselves and have situational awareness.”

Insignia, a 90-employee firm located in Newport News, Va., is a case in point. Offering a range of IT services, from system and software engineering to help desk and desktop support, Insignia has won two Army contracts and other Defense Department contracts since 2006, the year it was founded. But anticipating that DOD budgets were going to shrink in the coming years, company executives started to focus on competing for awards from other, non-DOD agencies. In particular, they targeted the Veterans Affairs Department, O’Brien said.

“About a year ago, we sat down and said, ‘What’s our strategy for continuing to diversify across different market segments? Let’s really understand the mission of the VA, get some small jobs there, work with the clients and build up a reputation,’ ” he said.

Last September, the strategy began to net results when Insignia won a $5 million award from the VA to convert legacy applications and databases into modern application structures. But the big reward came in late June: Insignia was one of five awardees on a $480 million, multiple-award task order contract to provide IT services to VA.

The five companies, including heavy hitters Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services and SRA International, will compete for task orders under the Veterans Relationship Management IT Solutions and Support Services contract.

“That’s pretty cool,” O’Brien said. “HP was a winner. SRA was a winner. And a small, little business in Newport News was a winner.”

O’Brien also credits Insignia’s ability to make a decision and quickly compete for the contract as a factor in capturing the VA award. “One of the reasons we won this award is that we were able to get together, make a decision and turn around a response in 13 days,” he said. “Very few large businesses could respond that quickly. I think it’s a benefit of being a small business, and it works well for us.”

For a five-year-old company, Insignia has made impressive strides in the government market, its annual revenues rising sharply to $10.9 million last year from just $135,622 in 2006. Along with CEO O’Brien, the firm is also led by David La Clair, its president. The company ranks No. 4 on the 2011 Fast 50 with a compound annual growth rate of 199.76 percent.

In addition to astute marketing strategies and agility, Insignia executives see their employees as a key asset. About a third of the employees are military veterans, a third come from industry and another third from academic backgrounds, O’Brien said.

“We invest heavily in our employees and our workforce,” he said. “We allow those individuals a little latitude. We call it generating opportunities. We provide a framework for them to be successful — the right tools, the right environment, the ability to make decisions. We try to foster a culture that makes everybody think about how they can add value [to the business]. Obviously, we’ve been rewarded by following that philosophy.”

Insignia prepares for growth by grooming senior leaders and program managers who can manage and take ownership of critical company areas. “We try to make sure we bring in the right leaders,” O’Brien said. “We work with them for a while and make sure we put them in the right position so he or she can be successful. That allows us to scale.”

A service-disabled veteran-owned small business under the Social Security Administration, Insignia also is adamant about finding the right fit with clients. “There are a lot of opportunities that we won’t pursue because we don’t believe in the mission of the client, or it’s not the right environment for our workforce,” O’Brien said. “We try to find opportunities out there that align with our core competencies and have missions that we really believe in, like the Army Department or the Veterans Affairs Department.”

The company currently holds contracts with the Army Training and Doctrine Command to help deliver Web-based training to soldiers around the world and with the Army’s Non-Commissioned Officer Education System for supporting a customized learning management application and deploying it to end users via the Web. 

Looking to the future, Insignia executives feel that diversification, across both market segments and among areas of expertise, is the way to continued success. “We just want to make sure that we’re well diversified across markets where we believe we can add value,” O’Brien said. One of the areas they’re taking a look at is the health care market, he said.

As for future revenues, Insignia is “closing the books this year at about $14 million,” O’Brien said. Officials expect significant growth in revenue over the next couple of years, in the neighborhood of $40 million to $45 million, he added.

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

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