Isman also serves as a senior leader in the company’s technology business and strategic technology and innovation center and presents offerings to federal customers in IT strategy, demand management and governance.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Isman discusses the role of the center within the company, how his customers are looking to transform their IT environments. He also offers his perspective on sequestration’s impacts in the federal market.
ExecutiveBiz: Introduce our readers to your position at Booz Allen and some of the work your team does with federal customers.
Michael Isman: I’m a vice president at Booz Allen, where I work within the federal civilian market. I have also been a management and technology consultant to the federal government for the last several years and prior to that, had served the commercial sector as well.
The work our team does is primarily work in what we call our strategic technology and innovation center of excellence, in which we work the front end of the technology life cycle and work with customers to move their technology forward, gain efficiencies from their technologies, advance their programs moving forward and with a line on driving the federal mission of those individual agencies to be successful.
We will do everything from working with them on the decision-making and governance of the technology programs that they’re considering. We help them in building out the architectural standards and the direction that their agency is choosing to go with their technology. We will help them to then move forward and implement those technologies in a meaningful way. Our goal is to advance our customers to optimize any future technology that allows them to gain efficiencies and increase the effectiveness of their technology for their mission.
ExecutiveBiz: Explain what the strategic technology and center of excellence does and how that fits into Booz Allen’s overall business model.
Isman: We’ve organized ourselves around these centers of excellence or communities of practice for capability on one axis and against our client environment on the other axis.
On the axis of the capability or functional area, the strategic technology and innovation center of excellence has been responsible for working with clients to bring their technology forward, to drive to innovative solutions, to work with federal CIOs and their offices to help them move to standardized technology, reduce redundancies, gain traction within their agencies for technology.
We might help agencies in thinking about how to move to a cloud computing environment or helping them to decide when programs are not functioning and how do they get them back on track. Or, we’ll work with them more generally to help them to manage major programs within the technology realm and ensure that those are moving in the right direction.
The strategic technology and innovation team performs work that is the logical lynchpin between the technology organizations and the mission organizations or business organizations that they serve and are in the position to help to bring the requirements that are necessary to make the business operate to bear and to drive their technology to meet that mission.
ExecutiveBiz: What kinds of changes and results in IT transformation are your customers looking to accomplish?
Isman: One of the big areas that agencies are looking to accomplish right now is to figure out how to perform their missions better with fewer resources. This idea of better with less is a really important one as we work with our clients. What we’re seeing is a number of different technology advancements that are helping our agency customers move forward.
We see a lot of energy being placed on mobile solutions for a mobile workforce and for mobile missions and we see a lot on moving to the cloud or similar services that allow them to position themselves to pay only for what they use with respect to technology and also to allow them to enhance the value of the data and information that they house in these systems.
We also see our clients thinking about social media and how that can drive both efficiencies and effectiveness and enhance the communication with the workforce in place. One of the things we like to think about when we’re working with our clients is not treating any of these things solely and individually, but to look at how the combination of those different types of technology paradigms and different ways of technology moving forward fit into what we’re referring to as the digital ecosystem and really thinking about how the agencies can leverage these different types of technologies in a combined and collaborative way to actually move their focus forward.
ExecutiveBiz: What impacts of sequestration are you seeing in both the market and within your daily work?
Isman: I think we’ve already seen some impact as agencies prepare for sequestration and we’ve seen some impact on some programs, where in the past they might continue to move those programs forward, now they’re starting to think about whether those programs are providing the kind of value that they need under the circumstances that they find themselves in.
We’ve put in place processes to manage our business under the unknown conditions of sequestration if we need to go there. We’re planning for a number of different potential scenarios that could come out of this and we’re also in very close contact with our clients to make sure we understand their needs, understand where they’ve got challenges and we’ll be able to properly support them as sequestration occurs.
ExecutiveBiz: How difficult is it to prepare for something as uncertain as the sequester?
Isman: It’s definitely a challenge but it’s a challenge that we as a firm are used to because we deal quite a bit with unknowns in a number of different circumstances. The best thing we can do is set up the scenarios. We’ve held a number of internal exercises to say “if this plays out this way, how would we adjust to it?”
We feel like we’ve got the right model in place that not only can we react to different scenarios, but we can react quickly and we can actually react in a way that helps our clients as they’re dealing with the same unknowns. We are all in this together to try to make the best of whatever situation we’re in. Whether sequestration occurs or not, we’re in a pretty new normal for the federal government where budgets are tighter and they’re going to continue to be tighter.
It’s just a different way of operating and so we’ve been working very closely with federal agencies both our existing clients as well as other agencies in the market bringing them together to talk to each other through some activities that we’ve done with the organizations like the Partnership for Public Service and the Center for New American Studies to actually bring agencies together to discuss the issues and to get advice government to government as well as ideas from their contracting partners about how to do better with less.
ExecutiveBiz: What got you interested in biomedical engineering initially and how you apply that education to your current profession?
Isman: It’s funny, I get this question a lot when folks see what my major was. I think the easiest way to answer how I applied and I’ll start with that is, the engineering discipline is applied mathematics whether it’s biomedical or electrical or mechanical or civil. Applied mathematics has a great deal to do with logic and tangible outcomes.
After I got my biomedical engineering degree and worked for a little while, I went back and got an M.B.A. from the Stern School at NYU because I needed to figure out some of the practical applications of some of the things that I had learned within the business realm.
I found that the whole engineering upbringing of there being a logical approach to a problem, working through the approach to the problem from start to finish thinking about the outcomes and what that’s now telling us and going through experiments with different ways of working has translated really well into the technology consulting field because I apply a lot of the same techniques in just a very different realm.
When I came out of my undergrad, I started to do some research in the medical field and I realized quickly that it just wasn’t for me. So I needed to do something to go in a different direction, and at that point in time I actually looked around and said, “What do I want to do with my life. I’m 22 years old and I haven’t figured out what’s next.”
I found an ad in the New York Times which was still used back then to look for job opportunities that was titled “Mathematics Consulting.” I said, “All right. Well, that seems to be up my alley.” It turned out it was in the 401(k) industry which was a relatively new industry at that time. It was with a small firm where I went and interviewed and I liked what they had to say and how they were applying mathematics to financial issues which I had a great deal of interest in from my whole life.
I got into that industry and from there I consulted with the banking insurance and industry. After a while, I started to do a combination of commercial and government consulting jobs and I liked working with our federal clients and I realized there were a lot of things that we can do to help our federal clients.
It’s a little bit of a journey but I think what sticks with me is the engineering side not as much as biomedical but the engineering side.