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QinetiQ NA's Suzan Zimmerman: Four essentials in wartime contracting

QinetiQ NA's Suzan Zimmerman: Four essentials in wartime contracting - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Suzan Zimmerman
Suzan Zimmerman

Wartime contracting has faced more than its share of criticism lately. Just last month, the Commission on Wartime Contracting released its interim report, which offered this bleak assessment: Since 2001, America's reliance on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has reached “unprecedented proportions.“ But where some defense contractors might want to switch the subject, Suzan Zimmerman welcomes it. As senior vice president of corporate development for QinetiQ North America, Zimmerman is known in the industry for a commitment to defense consulting that spans 28 years. Recently, Zimmerman offered ExecutiveBiz her perspective on what it takes to stand apart in an imperfect industry:

1.) Be the go-to source. When Zimmerman joined QinetiQ North America in the fall of 2006, the company had a strong presence in almost every agency except the U.S. Air Force. Zimmerman changed that balance through greater attendance at industry events such as AFCEA and AFA. She then began a systematic plan of meeting with the Air Force Site Commanders at strategic bases to let them know of QinetiQ North America's capabilities. Fast-forward three years. “One of the greatest compliments we received was a request from the Air Staff asking us to discuss specific technology we had built to keep the warfighter safe and respond to specific IED threats,“ says Zimmerman. QinetiQ North America also began working with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) on systems to enhance the kill chain while winning a contract out of Space and Missile Command to support their efforts.

2.) Backup your presentation with substance. “Right now, as you know, the big buzzword is cybersecurity,“ says Zimmerman. “A lot of companies are going in to talk to the government and saying, “˜I've got this cyber capability,' when it's not really a cyber capability at all,“ she says. “Through our acquisition of Cyveillance, we are now uniquely positioned to provide government customers with cyber capabilities previously only available within the commercial markets.“ Cyveillance will continue to deliver internet risk and threat information to commercial organizations worldwide, but now provides QinetiQ North America with the technology and expertise to enhance its government-focused cyber security solutions. “In very basic terms, it gives us a solution that provides our customers the ability to predict and see a threat to their network coming,“ says Zimmerman. “That way they can mitigate, respond, and eliminate the threat before it becomes detrimental to their mission,“ she adds.

3.) Lead with cutting edge technology. Here's something you don't hear from a government contractor every day. “I believe the government has the right idea to increase insourcing,“ says Zimmerman. “It actually helps us having the government do their jobs better “¦ there are specific areas that will greatly benefit from having highly qualified and well-trained people focusing on their areas of expertise so a) we can respond to more contracts [focused] and b) we can get technology and other solutions into the government more rapidly,“ she says. Zimmerman cites a couple of examples. For instance, contract officers with a vast knowledge of procurement activities will help shorten the life cycle of RFPs, thus saving industry millions of dollars in bid and proposal money. Insourcing Accounts Payable and Receivable will also aid in bringing down cost for both industry and government. Additionally, any position that stretches longer than 8-10 years should be considered for insourcing. This will allow the government to retain its legacy knowledge in areas where people will not have to be retained after the life of a program.

Outsourcing is better suited for high-tech programs, says Zimmerman. As an example, among the cutting-edge technologies QinetiQ North America offers is SWATS (Soldier Wearable Acoustic Targeting System), which is a sniper detection system designed to audibly cue U.S. forces with direction and distance in just a fraction of a second from the first gunshot, without being confused by surrounding sounds. “That technology, along with our suite of TALON robots, has already saved hundreds of lives,“ says Zimmerman. Other breakthroughs include Ultra High-Speed Wide Bandwidth Receivers, Optic Laser Communications, Virtual Ice Surveillance Array, a next-generation Smart Container for the U.S. military, and PADS (Precision Airdrop System).

4.) Put the government's needs before your own. “I keep going back to this point because it's so important to all of us in the industry: We're here to save a life,“ says Zimmerman. “Industry,“ she adds, “has to be focused on saving a life and whatever it takes to do that “” putting the country before yourself and making sure you do the right thing is what makes our military the best in the world.“ Zimmerman offers a powerful example: The letters QinetiQ North America has received from soldiers and Marines whose lives have been saved by the TALON robots that destroy improvised explosive devices in the road. “When you read these letters thanking us for technology that is saving lives “”to me it doesn't get much better than that,“ Zimmerman says. “The thanks we get from our military is unnecessary. It is us who should be thanking them for keeping this country safe!“

What tips would you add to the list? Share your comments here.

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