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By Nick Wakeman

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CSRA's tech strategy puts focus on partnerships

When CSRA came together, its leaders talked about how the company was being built to bring next generation IT to the market.

On one hand, that’s a marketing message to its customers. Here we are, we’ve got the cool stuff, the cutting edge. Want innovation? Come to us. That’s what they’ve been saying in the year since Computer Sciences Corp.’s government business and SRA International were brought together.

But CSRA leaders also know that marketing will only get you so far, and eventually you have to deliver.

And what you have to deliver against are rapidly shifting customer expectations.

“Five years ago, none of government customers talked about the cloud,” said CSRA chief technology officer Yogesh Khanna. “Innovation is a requirement we are seeing in RFPs.”

He played host at CSRA's Emerging Technology Day, but the interesting thing is that the target audience wasn’t CSRA customers, but rather CSRA itself.

The over 200 attendees were almost entirely CSRA chief technology officers, business developers and program and project managers.

The morning was spent listening to 15-minute presentations from eight companies that company officials culled from nearly 50 potential presenters. The afternoon was spent in more intense one-on-one meetings between specific CSRA teams and the individual companies. They brainstormed on customer problems and potential solutions.

Yogesh described it as a concrete first step to more long term relationships between CSRA and these companies.

“We want to match what is going on in the tech hubs with our customers,” he said. “We know we need to look outside of CSRA and bring that innovation in-house. If we don’t, our competitors will leap-frog us.”

This was the second technology day CSRA. The first one was in the spring of 2015, and the company is seeing positive results.

For the most recent emerging tech day, the company brought in eight companies:

  • Elastic
  • Fugue
  • Inronnet
  • ScienceLogic
  • Sonatype
  • Stormpath
  • Tamr
  • Tanium

To find these companies, CSRA tracked where venture capitalists are investing money and pulled in views from company CTOs, program managers and business developers.

Some of these companies, such as Elastic, which has a specialized search technology, already have federal customers, but CSRA sees the potential for a broader penetration.

Others, such as Fugue, which has a technology for managing cloud infrastructures, just launched its first product this year.

The technology represented by the group of companies covered a range of needs: network management, cybersecurity, search, machine learning and supply chain management.

What I like about CSRA’s approach is that CSRA is selling their expertise to these companies and that expertise is their domain knowledge of the government market. They know how procurement works. They know the customer needs. They understand compliance.

It is unrealistic to think an emerging tech company, especially a small one with a couple dozen employees, is going to spend the time and resources to master the requirements of the government market.

But they still see the federal market and the potential it holds for their technology. At the same time, the government customer is clamoring for innovation.

CSRA’s role is to take the different pieces of commercial technology and create the solutions.

CSRA might have a more formal process with their emerging tech days than others, but I have no doubt that others in the market have similar efforts underway..

What I liked about CSRA’s emerging tech day was how proactive they were about moving the connection from the CTO level down into the program and project management level.

When you look at how commercial markets are driving so much innovation and how government buyers have a desire to adopt more commercial technologies, the role of traditional government prime contractors has to change.

They need to be a broker and an evangelist. And it has to be more than hype. As CSRA’s event showed, you need to make a real connection from technology to customer need.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 08, 2016 at 10:32 AM

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