“If you are looking for a vendor that is innovative, cost-conscious and seeking every opportunity to do a great job in delivering a world-class positive client experience–that’s Jacobs.”
EM: Can you tell us about your background, roles and responsibilities since you first joined in 2014?
Vern Saunders: I joined Federal Network Systems in June 2000, back when it was Verizon. I had just left the Air Force when Verizon sold Federal Network Systems to Jacobs in 2014. At that particular point in time, I came into Jacobs as the Deputy General Manager of FNS for approximately a year. Then I took over as Vice President and General Manager back in 2015. I’m responsible for the Federal Network Systems’ LLC business unit as well as the former Van Dyke which we now call CSG in addition to the recently-acquired Blue Canopy LLC. Those entities are all wrapped up into the organization that we call Jacobs National Security Solutions.
EM: What trend in the government services market do you plan on observing for the rest of the year?
Vern Saunders: IT modernization and cybersecurity are two that come to mind upfront. The market has changed and clients now regardless of where they sit on the public sector side are looking for solutions and services, not just FTEs to fill seats. To be successful here and the next several years, you have to come to the table with a service. From an IT modernization perspective, just knowing that with the economy over the previous two years, some of the IT infrastructures are a bit antiquated. Getting those infrastructures upgraded and hardened to decrease the possibility of security breaches, I see that as being something that is extremely important over the next couple of fiscal years. Cybersecurity is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The secret sauce over the next few years will be how to leverage data analytics to find actionable and relevant information for that person and that operation center, regardless of the type of operation center (i.e. voice, video, data, cyber). These are major trends that we will have to focus on here at Jacobs moving forward.
EM: How can the public and private sector work closely together to implement IT services?
Vern Saunders: Something that is becoming a crisis is the availability of qualified cleared talent. This millennial generation is very connected in that they are used to having their smartphones and tablets with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are used to being able to be on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, which are not necessarily available on a day-to-day basis if you are working on a cleared environment. The fact that there are fewer resources available to conduct background investigations or polygraphs– that is driving up the cost of labor. I’m concerned that we may not be getting the “best of the best” in places, particularly whether it is a government staffer or a federal government contractor supporting a government agency. I am concerned that we are not getting the best talent that we could get because the pool already is small based on who can qualify for a clearance. We are going to have to work closely with the public sector to figure out a way to recruit and retain the best talent in the clear space or we are going to continue to have shortages of cleared labor, which is not doing government continuity good and not doing vendors any good. I have seen that as something that is critical. I see the cleared workforce getting smaller and older. An injection of fresh new talent is sorely needed. This is an area of risk that the public and private sector definitely have to work more closely together on to implement IT services particularly in areas of cyber and analytics. Finding a solution is going to be paramount in the next several years.
EM: From your experience, what are some of the lessons you have learned along the way?
Vern Saunders: One big lesson is when all else fails, client experience is going to carry the day. It is not necessarily just customer service, although it is a part of it, we want our client to be delighted with us and the service that we deliver on the day-to-day basis. Focusing on delivering a positive and beneficial client experience is something that we take very seriously here at Jacobs. With that, we want to deliver services that clients value. Commoditized services, the normal blocking and tackling may not necessarily be it for the most part. Where we want to be is the things that our clients value, the types of services they value are the things that we want to do for them. We want to do that at a high level and we want them to be delighted in the services that we deliver. The major lesson has been delivering things that customer cares about and making certain that they are delighted with what you are doing. I start and end with that focus in everything that I do here at Jacobs.
EM: Where do you see future opportunities for IT services within the federal space?
Vern Saunders: We have got to make certain that we identify data that needs to be protected and we actually protect it. We also are going to be limited by the people that we can attract and retain. Cyber is going to be at the forefront of every IT discipline. We have something called the Jacobs Connected Enterprise, or [our] Internet of Things. Helping our clients understand the data that they have, whether it is a smart building or smart city, and making certain that they have information that is readily available and secure so that they can make decisions about their business and how they interact with their ecosystems–That is the new territory that we are looking at for the future.
EM: Do you have anything else to add?
Vern Saunders: Jacobs is in this business to build long-term relationships with our clients. As you look at us, we are not in it for the quick buck. We are in it for the establishment of long-term partnerships with our clients. If you visit a Jacobs office, we are typically not very extravagant. We invest our dollars in our employees and our ability to deliver world-class solutions to customers. As you look at us, we may not sit in the most extravagant office space because we want to be cost-competitive. “If you are looking for a vendor that is innovative, cost-conscious and seeking every opportunity out to do a great job in delivering a world-class positive client experience–that’s Jacobs.” That will be the message for the market. The message to our competitors: we will let what we do speak for ourselves. We like to speak softly and just win.
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