COMMENTARY

How an issue-based approach can make you a better government contractor

We all know what a critical role the federal government plays in support of the American people. From providing national security to managing social benefit programs to ensuring safe foods and medicines, each agency has its own distinct mission. And, each agency obviously faces its own unique challenges.

For example, did you know that:

  • Every 2 seconds…a high school student drops out
  • Every 22 minutes…a child dies before his/her first birthday
  • $78 billion… cost of opioid abuse in medical care and treatment, lost work productivity and court and prison costs
  • 5 million … people around the world that are ensnared in the web of human trafficking
  • $136.7 billion … amount of improper payments across 121 government programs
  • 7 million … number of records lost or stolen in attacks against government agencies

These are monumental issues requiring agencies to pursue monumental solutions. To solve these issues – or at least make a significant dent – both agencies and their industry partners need to think differently, establishing a more strategic direction and driving new approaches.

Changing the Thought Process

Traditional government contractors are focused primarily on getting products into the hands of their agency customers. Although this is often important, we are taking a different view by focusing on an issues-based approach to our government business, looking more at the ultimate outcomes and impact of our solutions. This focus has resulted in real-world, positive benefits for the government in terms of reducing human trafficking, insider threats, fraud, waste and abuse and terrorist funding, to name a few.

But, what does that really mean?

An Issues-based Approach

An issues-based approach transitions the focus away from the day-to-day “blocking and tackling,” to a higher-level, more comprehensive view of the issue at hand. This includes:

  • Elevating the target. Generating a sale to address a specific area of concern is great, but to deliver a real benefit to the government it is important to look at the overall issue or mission. How can your product or service impact the ultimate goal? How can it integrate seamlessly into the higher-level system? What are the real-world benefits it provides? For example, consider all of the different aspects that go into the opioid epidemic. From our perspective, that would include the systems that are associated with things such as medication/prescription distributions of legal drugs, illegal drug use, overdose tracking, patient admissions, Medicaid/Medicare claims, and the like. Where do these systems reside? Who owns them? And, most importantly, how can we work together to ensure a higher-level of interoperability?
  • Altering the structure. Aligning a company’s organization with the structure of the government will put it in a better position to help federal leaders meet their goals. This includes hiring subject matter experts with a primary background and expertise in a given subject or agency. This enables your organization to have the knowledge needed to make internal changes that make the most sense for the current government environment. For example, we hired the former Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Biosurveillance Integration Center to lead the company’s global government strategy. This was an influential move to ensure we continue to focus on the right programs at the right level with the right solutions.
  • Walking in the government’s shoes. As mentioned, an issues-based approach is all about the outcomes and impact. How is the government leveraging the solution you provide and, importantly, who is that affecting? We try to engrain our employees with the end user, having them participate in a ride-along with law enforcement; spending time with recovering opioid addicts who are benefiting from the system; placing them alongside social workers to see positive child welfare programs. If your employees see the results of their work firsthand, it provides a more energized, dedicated resource.
  • Believing in the end goal. Above all else, in order to effectively change a company’s culture, it requires individuals who work for a higher purpose, who are dedicated to the cause and understand the client mission. Our mission as contractors does not need to be about just helping our bottom line, but working with our customers to meet their missions. I am a mother. The plight of at-risk kids in this country is never far from my mind. I meet with government leaders on this topic to try to help the situation. I serve on the board of a non-profit dedicated to preventing child abuse. I evangelize the power of creating brighter futures for children. I do this because I care about the issue.

The work we do as contractors to help government can have a real impact. Last summer we wrote, A Practical Guide to Analytics for Governments: Using Big Data for Good, a book of stories from government leaders about how technology provided them with tangible results.

We saw how agencies used available data to reduce infant mortality rates in their local areas. We saw school districts using data to improve student outcomes and reduce dropout rates. We saw other leaders use technology to deliver smart city functions, improving the daily lives of their citizens.

This is the type of impact that we can provide as contractors if we move away from the traditional mentality. If we re-think the approach, and partner with government, we can create communities that are safe, healthy, educated and employed.

About the Author

Paula Henderson is the vice president of the government business at SAS.

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