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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

As Unisys deal nears, SAIC CEO lays out building blocks for the future

As CEO of Science Applications International Corp., Nazzic Keene sees both a company and a marketplace on the cusp of tremendous change thanks to new technologies and rapidly-evolving mission demands.

With SAIC since 2012 and CEO since August, Keene said her goal has always been to help SAIC as it enters its next chapter: “forming a new company that will withstand and thrive in the midst of government shutdowns, political uncertainty, technology shifts and much more.”

SAIC's changes have been significant since its spin-out from Leidos in 2013, most notably its $2.5 billion acquisition of Engility Corp. 14 months ago and the almost done $1.2 billion deal for Unisys Federal. Thoe acquisitions and other investments are aimed at positioning SAIC as a leading competitor to provide digital transformation solutions to the federal government.

“As with every company in the room, we aim to grow against a backdrop of market consolidation, budgetary uncertainty, aggressive competitors, and in many cases, risk-averse customers weary of adopting new technology,” she told attendees of a Northern Virginia Tech Council breakfast event held Friday in Tysons, Virginia.

SAIC sees the opportunities around digital transformation as falling into two buckets. One is IT modernization, such as moving applications and systems to cloud infrastructures and improving the IT lifecycle with analytics and automation. Second is digitally transforming the customer’s mission through digital engineering, digital twins, modeling and simulation, robotics and data analytics.

“One important aspect of both paths to digital transformation is the emphasis on speed,” she said. “DevSecOps and model-based systems engineering will help the government increase the pace of innovation.”

Keene laid out the four building blocks for SAIC as it moves forward in the market:

  1. Employees
  2. A focus on outcomes
  3. Show, don’t tell, customers about the value of IT modernization
  4. Invest in research-and-development and find great technology partners

Under each building block she described what the company is doing. With employees, the company has started what she called a 9/80 program that gives employees every other Friday off. They’ve also improved tuition reimbursement and training programs and increased support for working parents such as enhanced maternity leave, and time off for mothers and fathers for birth, adoption, and foster care.

Keene said she was inspired by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s book "The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age."

“That book talks about a new ‘employment contract’ where today’s and tomorrow’s employees want – and expect – professional development, mentorship, and a greater sense of purpose,” she said.

Training is critical and SAIC is focused on getting employees certified in high-demand areas such as cloud application development, data analytics, app development and other technical certifications.

“We are on our digital transformation journey in our own company and we will use our experiences internally to inform what we offer to our customers,” Keene said.

SAIC is "customer zero" as she called it and tries out new technologies first before they go to customers. The company has added artificial intelligence to their own help desk and they use AI for market research. SAIC has also modernized its data center with software defined technologies and a hybrid cloud architecture.

Focusing on the outcome means improving the customer experience, enhancing decision making, increasing operational efficiencies, maintaining national security, and speed, she said.

“There is a lot of emphasis and discussion in all parts of government and industry on data but we are at a point where there is so much data that sometimes there’s not enough information. This dynamic causes decision making to slowdown,” Keene said.

SAIC’s goal is to take data and make information. “Whether we are enabling the government to improve the way data is conveyed for intel analysts, the warfighter or citizens, better decisions have to be made,” she said.

Building block number three is where Keene most directly addressed the Unisys Federal acquisition because of the 2,000 highly-skilled employees it adds as well as valuable intellectual property. SAIC sees the people and technology as enhancing its competitiveness in areas such as digital transformation, application modernization, cloud migration, cybersecurity and data analytics.

Unisys Federal also adds scale to SAIC’s ability to offer solutions in a managed service-based business model.

“We are very, very pleased and excited by this acquisition,” she said.

The deal for Unisys Federal is expected to close in the next week or so.

Continuing to invest in new technologies is critical for any company’s success in today’s market, Keene said.

“Companies, and government agencies, that are not evolving digitally through technology are going to be left behind,” she said. “Our enemies will exploit us, competitors will take our market share, and our shareholders will take their money elsewhere.”

SAIC has partnerships with the large commercial technology providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and ServiceNow. But Keene said SAIC is also "increasing our aperture with non-traditional companies, like startups, who bring interesting, often leading edge, technologies."

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 06, 2020 at 1:07 PM

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