If ever there was a time for companies in the federal marketplace to be agile, this is it. “The Bush administration had a fairly consistent ideology and spending pattern,“ says Brad Antle, president of Bradford Strategic Consulting Group. “I think we're going to see significant changes, not only in the 2009 budget but in the 2010 budget that's taking shape,“ he says. Antle knows first hand what it takes for a business to position itself for growth. As former CEO of SI International (since merged with Serco), Antle helped steer the company toward growth in excess of $575 million. Antle is now bringing that same passion and expertise to work on behalf of businesses looking to grow in the federal government services sector. So, where do the greatest growth opportunities reside? Read on.
What areas hold the most growth opportunity?
Brad Antle: If your focus is intelligence, if it's cyber warfare or cybersecurity, or the medical arena, such as the VA or some other initiatives in terms of medical records and security, then you've got growth opportunity. You're in the right place, you've been in the right place, and you'll continue to take advantage of the growth in that market. If you're not, if you're looking for traditional DOD spending in areas where it's been spent in the past, that's going to change. With similar agencies, I think you are going to see shifts in homeland security and domestic spending, so now's a great time to leverage the talents and skills you have in the areas that are going to benefit from that change in the administration's priorities.
What's your take on M&A activity this year?
Brad Antle: This is a market that's constantly regenerating. New companies are cropping up all the time and small companies are starting to combine. In talking with owners of smaller companies, they are increasing their consideration of acquiring for growth. Smaller companies are coming together more frequently as opposed to just mid-sized companies buying smaller companies. I think that trend will continue, where small companies leverage each other's capabilities to accelerate their growth.
What challenges do you think larger companies will face in this marketplace?
Brad Antle: It depends on the nature of the larger company. For some it is difficult for them to be agile. It takes them longer to launch new programs, they have more approvals to get and typically are not as responsive to customer nuances; they are more insulated from their customers and their market. The larger companies that are visionary, who see the trends and position themselves in the right markets ahead of the trends or in concert with the trends fare well and will continue to do well. I think larger companies will continue to acquire in those niche areas that offer higher grow potential such as cybersecurity, intelligence, and healthcare. Smaller companies who service these markets or make strategic shift in these directions will be well positioned for growth and a potential exit.Larger companies will continue to buy and be aggressive in acquiring; companies that are well positioned with technologies that are leading edge or with customer relationships are also going to be important.
Let's talk about cybersecurity. How ready and willing is the government to tackle this issue?
Brad Antle: If you think back to the Y2K timeframe, everybody thought that once Y2K was done the government would start investing in computer security. You know what? The funding never came. This time will be different. The cyber threat is more real than any nebulous concern about data security was back in the 2000 timeframe, and so I think we will see some investment. I don't know if it's going to be huge dollars, I do think the government's still going to expect agencies to take a fare amount of it out of current funding for operations, but I believe the accountability will force funding into the cyber security arena. That said, we've still seen so many more problems with data security crop up, we need another government mandate to make federal agencies step up. Some sort of FISMA on steroids and then someone to take Tom Davis' role of holding agencies accountable. “¨ What does new funding in cybersecurity mean for federal contractors, specifically? “¨ Brad Antle: Every agency is going to have to be different [in its approach to cybersecurity], so if you have customer relationships within an agency, you can retool for cyber security in terms of your workforce. There is going to be work there, plenty of work. I think investment in cybersecurity is going to grow significantly over the next two to three years because the threat is going to grow.
All that said, do you think it's clear what the Obama agenda will be?
Brad Antle: No, there is a lot about the Obama agenda that we don't know yet. We're not going to find out until we start to see how the administration and congress work together to execute. It's going to require a lot of patience to figure out how that's going to unfold. On the cyber front, Melissa Hathaway has been appointed to lead a 60 day review of Bush administration policies. From that Ms. Hathaway will likely be helping to set the direction for the Obama Administration. Given her experience in dealing with the cyber threat from the ODNI perspective, I believe she will lead the right long-term strategy coupled with the requisite investment.
Interview conducted by JD Kathuria
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