MeriTalk recently sat down with General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) President Amy Gilliland to discuss the company’s new technology investment strategy.
GDIT announced the new strategy on May 17, with a focus on six “digital accelerator solutions” for its government, defense, and intelligence market customers. These six focus areas are zero trust security, automation for IT operations, multi-cloud management, software factory, 5G wireless, and AI/ML.
In the following interview – edited for length – Gilliland discusses what this strategy means for GDIT and how it’s helping to provide “digital consulting” to its customers.
MeriTalk: How did you decide on these six digital accelerator focus areas for the strategy?
Gilliland: They’re really defined by the mission, so it is what the customer wants. I find that it is imperative that GDIT remains aligned with where our customer’s focus is.
I just spent a whole bunch of time traveling, and I’ve met with all different kinds of customers, and discussed the current threat environment, mission demands and the dynamic cyber threats that we’re seeing. Government mandates such as zero trust are also forcing technology and requirements to evolve in unprecedented ways. We really look to the customer, and our knowledge of the customer’s environment, and where the budget trends are.
I would say the short answer to your question is the mission is driving our investment. But, I think if you take a step back and look at the broader environment, it’s very clear as to why.
MeriTalk: That makes sense. Could you expand a little bit upon the research and development labs throughout the country that are testing these emerging technologies? Is there one technology that’s the most exciting to you?
Gilliland: First of all, what I would emphasize is that the customer is also showing us now that they need speed. The warfighting requirements are evolving quickly, and so our customers don’t have years to procure and deliver something to the mission. They don’t want PowerPoint slides or a puffy conversation about big ideas. They actually want to come in and see something that has been implemented successfully or been tested to show that it could be installed in a customer’s environment and have immediate efficacy. So, that’s the context behind a lab.
I’ll tell you about a couple of our labs. There’s one called DeepSky, and this is a lab that we have built in support of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). They are building out their second headquarters in St. Louis, and we won a huge contract called User Facing and Data Center Services (UDS) last year. We run the enterprise IT for the agency.
What I’m excited about for this lab in particular is that it gives us an ability to develop in an unclassified environment. One of the things that limits the business in part is security clearances. There’s a really long pipeline for that – a lot of really clever minds and technologists, but they don’t always have clearances. So being able to allow that kind of creative development on everything from cyber to high-performance compute and artificial intelligence in an unclassified way in a lab where you can collaborate with the customer, other tech companies and academia is a real win for us. That has been great for helping us deliver next-generation technologies to the NGA customer.
Let me give you two other examples. One of the ways the customer is moving with speed is with Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contracts, and it’s basically a way for the services to procure capability faster. We won an OTA for zero trust and in particular, identity, credentialing and access management, also known as ICAM, two years ago. We had 45 days to deliver a prototype to the customer and we were able to do it in our ICAM lab. That product is successfully scaling and is now in full production.
The other kind of procurement is to spend a lot of time defining requirements, and then those get locked down. And so, you go back and forth, you have the requirements, and then you build to those requirements, and then ultimately, you deliver. Well, the requirements may change in the interim, but that traditional approach to contracting doesn’t allow you to adapt.
But in this prototype, in 45 days we put something together that was responsive, showed it to the customer, and then we continued to make changes to it along the way. And that’s a more agile approach and it has allowed us to work closely with the customer to ask ‘Does this work? Does this look like what you want?’ and move more quickly.
MeriTalk: Forty-five days is a pretty quick turnaround there.
Gilliland: Yeah! And it’s really an exciting technology. This summer, there’s an operational exercise in the Far East and Australia area where they will deploy this ICAM capability at the tactical edge. Not only does it work in a more traditional environment here in the States, but it can also provide these zero trust capabilities where the fight is. And that’s really important because often our customers are operating in disconnected environments where they don’t have the network to support them like they would in areas where access is easier.
MeriTalk: That’s great. I wanted to talk a little bit about your partnerships with other leading technology companies. Can you elaborate on some of those partnerships and which ones you think will be most impactful?
Gilliland: Yes, partnerships have always been a part of our playbook. The concept of partnerships is not something entirely new for us – we really try to be strategic about who we’re partnering with. For instance, we have great relationships with many of the cloud service providers – Amazon, Microsoft, Google etc. – and those are really important because we’re big players with 4,000-plus contracts. We’re delivering to a lot of customers and most of them are moving to the cloud in some way, shape, or form, so there’s an example of established partnerships.
We are reinventing the way we’re engaging with those partners. One of the things that we need to do to help our customers is to train our own employees. We’re looking at those partnerships to say, ‘Hey, cloud service provider, as you continue to evolve your products, how can you help train my workforce?’ Because they need to know: A) what you’re developing and updating in your own product portfolio; and B) our technologists need to be savvy in how to do it because we’re winning those contracts. And we’re the integrator that takes your product and puts it in our customer’s environment. We’re sort of reimagining how we partner in that regard.
I think a good example of reimagining how we do partnerships is the 5G coalition that we’re building. As the customer is sorting through how they’re going to use 5G, the industry is sort of aligning itself in how it can help deliver 5G to the customer. I think if you look at our 5G coalition – we have Cisco from a product perspective, we have AWS from a cloud service provider perspective – so there are lots of pieces of that coalition who all have a unique role in how we will ultimately deliver it to the customer, and T-Mobile is a part of that also. Everybody’s sort of defining their roles and figuring out ‘Hey, how do all the puzzle pieces fit together?’ I think for us, that is very responsive to what the customer has said which is ‘Hey, I’m going to start considering these things. But you know me and my requirements as well as I do, so can you help me think through what some of the use cases [might be]?’
We have a lab here near our headquarters for 5G where we test ideas and build prototypes with our partners, and we’re bringing customers into the lab and showing them these ideas about how this might be applicable in their environments. And they’re super responsive to having something that is up and working – it sort of helps you get your head around it and be more creative. The U.S. Postal Service is a great example. They’re looking at some ways that 5G could help them with their operations. And that is the result of coming to our lab.
Then, we also have a number of emerging partners. These tend to be smaller, nimble companies and we’re working with them to test technologies and find potential opportunities.
MeriTalk: How often are your customers in that lab or how often do these coalition members meet?
Gilliland: We have an emerging innovation center in our headquarters, so there’s two R&D environments that are quite near each other in Falls Church, Va. I really think about them as a corridor of opportunities to show our customer and to invite them in. So, I would say when you think about the innovation center and 5G lab together, we are getting together with pretty good regularity. Our customers – I don’t know if it’s pent up post-COVID demand – they want to get out there, they’re willing to come out, and particularly if you show them a technology roadmap that is applicable to them.
One of the things that I’m most proud of with these technologies that we’re investing in is we really listen to our customers about what they want. They want a commercial technology that is customized to them and has the kind of cybersecurity rigidity and infrastructure that Federal customers need right now. So, it’s really important that you not try to sell the Postal Office what you sold to the Air Force, right? They have different requirements. And through these labs and the innovation center, we’ve been able to bring customers in and sit down and talk to them about their short, middle, and long-range strategy with illustrative demonstrations of technology at work today.
MeriTalk: You are also expanding employee growth. Last year, more than 5,500 GDIT employees moved internally within the company. What are you expecting this year?
Gilliland: This is really a larger investment in people. When you think about all the things that we just talked about, we’re investing in these technologies, we have these labs, they are the foundation for driving innovation at GDIT. The other piece is we have to invest in our people to be able to deliver those technologies to our customers. They have to evolve at the pace that technology is evolving, and you can do that in a variety of ways.
One way is, as you mentioned, through the internal mobility, and we’re really excited about that. I have about 28,000 employees and 4,000-plus programs, so suffice to say we have lots of open opportunities. In the past, it was quite a manual process for employees to find their next opportunity. Either their current program was ending and they needed to find something else, or they’re looking for their next new challenge, or they’re ready to move into a new business area.
Those employees might be inclined to take the easiest route, which might be going on LinkedIn and finding a job somewhere else. So we instituted an internal mobility tool called Career Hub that has Netflix-like capabilities. You can go into this tool, upload your resume, tell it what you like and don’t like, what your certifications are, and then it will use those filters to feed you opportunities that are aligned with your experience or desires and the training that you might need.
We’re using AI technology to support our employees’ career progression. We find that to be a really important retention strategy.
I mentioned earlier about investments that the company is making to help employees develop new technical skills. We have quadrupled our certifications in emerging areas like AI and cyber and zero trust that our customer wants. We’ve also doubled our investment in training and tuition for employees who are seeking new skills, so kind of doubling down on how we help our workforce evolve both for the benefit of their own careers and desires but also for the benefit of our customers.
MeriTalk: What do you hope this investment strategy accomplishes, say five years down the line?
Gilliland: GDIT is focused on bringing the best technology to the mission. And so ultimately, what I hope that this strategy does is it continues to keep us one step ahead of where our customer needs to go. Because they’re looking to us in this time of dynamic change to provide them with consulting advice. Digital consulting is a big part of what our customers need right now, and they want our experience and our investments to benefit them. How can we continue to create this culture of innovation in the company? These are financial investments we’re making. Our technologists love them, because it’s really cutting edge, but how can we inculcate that in the culture and drive it into our programs so that wherever we’re showing up, we are bringing great ideas to our customers that are proven and driving that technology into the mission.
The only other thing I would say is having this digital consulting focus, that is also a relatively new thing for GDIT. I think in the past, we have been more viewed as an executor. We come in and deliver on large scale enterprise IT projects for our customers and we do it very well. But these investments showcase that we have the latest technology to deliver also. And we know that in order to do that we need to be out there talking to our customers about where they’re headed and helping them develop technology roadmaps – which look very much different than they did before COVID, they are quite accelerated. So GDIT is getting that consulting mindset in place and helping customers establish their strategy based on their requirements, their budgets, and where technology is going.
We have structured the digital consulting practice very deliberately so it sits across the organization at the top, and their job is to make sure that what we’re investing in is aligned in the business. So they need to be in the business looking at the pipeline, understanding customers’ needs, and when we have successes on contracts, it is their responsibility to know them because the idea is to leverage successes – and frankly, failures – in different parts of the portfolio to the benefit of other customers from these learnings.