After spending more than 15 years in a large corporation, Mike Bowers took the plunge and joined a smaller company, working his way to the position of senior vice president of the homeland security and civilian sector at INDUS. He recently talked to GovCon Executive about being an underdog in the corporate world, what it takes to be a successful partner with the government, and how he once pursued trout farming for a year in North Carolina before returning to the big-city life of Washington, D.C.
GCE: What are some of the hot trends that your customers at INDUS are asking about?
Bowers: One of the big things we see, and it’s really a product of the Obama administration, is folks looking for transparency of accessibility to their data, and being able to share not only within the agency itself but with the public. Obviously, the Recovery Act is a driver for that. One of our biggest customers is the Federal Highway Administration, and as you know it’s responsible for billions of dollars of grants that are being allocated to the states. One of the things they have to do is track and make that information available. They’ve got systems that have historically grown up, but these are not systems where citizens can plug into a website and find out what’s going on in [their] district and get that data. We were called in and looked at a number of tools, business intelligence tools for example, that they could use to slice and dice the data. We looked at using some GIS technology to wrap around it so someone could click on a map and see what’s happening in a particular Congressional district, for example. So that’s something that’s resonating across our customer base: We’ve got agencies who are interested in what we’ve done, so we think this is going to have a play at least of some size in the industry.
GCE: How will INDUS grow its DHS business going forward?
Bowers: Obviously, DHS is an important customer. We are not as well-known as we want to be, nor as we need to be. We’re doing work right now within Customs and Border Protection, we’ve done work with FEMA, we’ve done work at ICE in the past. We’ve put together a dedicated capture team, they’ve got a couple of objectives. One is to win Eagle 2, to position us for that and go through that process, as that procurement unwinds over the next year or so. But also so in the near term, DHS has lots of projects that don’t go under Eagle, that are getting teed up right now so we’re looking at those that are consistent with our capabilities, whether it’s GIS or business intelligence, or cybersecurity. We also do secure networks solutions–ICE has a procurement that’s getting released fairly soon– and the IT infrastructure support we do. It’s a combination of let’s focus on Eagle because that’s the long-term event we need, but in the meanwhile, let’s look at these kinds of single awards, funded opportunities that are out there and pick and choose the ones where we can compete.
GCE: What does it take to be a successful teaming partner for DHS?
Bowers: The standard answer–I’m sure everyone gives you this–is you’ve got to understand the mission, you’ve got to articulate how your solution enables the mission to be accomplished. What I think a company like INDUS brings, in addition to this, is that we are a mid-tier firm, which in many ways can be an advantage to a customer. Clearly, we don’t have the depth and breadth of some of the large integrators, but in certain technical and program areas, we can bring the same level of talent, and we can couple that with the agility of a small firm, with the ability to get to senior management and have the visibility of a program within a company. We think that’s something DHS embraces, and we think it’s something that will make us successful there.
GCE: What new and emerging markets are you pursuing?
Bowers: Call it what you want: social media, networking, collaboration, Web 2.0, this administration is very focused on improving communication and the sharing of information. We just recently completed a project at Goddard Space Flight Center you may have heard of it: It’s called NASA Spacebook. We supported that customer, assisted in building that application, and we are taking what we learned from that on the road. We’ve called on a number of other customers and have several proposals in the works. We think that’s an area that’s going to get some play in the future. I don’t know if you’ll see hundred-million-dollar projects, but I do think what you’ll see will be projects that will be very visible and they are sitting at the highest level of a customer organization. And I think that’s important to us.
GCE: You’ve been in the industry for a while, working at SAIC and Vangent before INDUS. What’s it like working at a smaller firm?
Bowers: That’s another way of telling me I’m old! The biggest difference frankly, at a company like INDUS is our ability to make and implement decisions very, very quickly. We don’t have bureaucracy here, we don’t have a board of directors since we are privately held. Our leadership team is four people: our CEO, our CFO, my counterpart who runs the defense business, and then me. We have a weekly meeting where we can sit down and talk about cash or operations, business development, or whatever, and get the issues out, work through them and come up with answers. The ability to do that is to me the biggest difference between SAIC or Vangent and INDUS. But something I found kind of similar, and this really surprised me, was when I was at SAIC, I always felt like I was competing against Lockheed or Northrop or General Dynamics. We were always the underdog; we were the little guy. We didn’t have the resources those larger companies had. Then I go to Vangent, and now I’ve got to compete against SAIC, which is 10 times the size of Vangent! I ran the health business, so I also had to compete against ACS, EDS, Convergys, as well as outsourcing operations that were part of the health insurers. So again, we have to punch above our weight. And now at INDUS, I see the same thing: We’re a mid-tier firm, but we are competing against all the large integrators as well as the larger mid-tier firms. We are all constrained by the resources we have, the time we have, etc, it’s just a different scale, and you’ve got to focus. To me, that was kind of eye opening to see that. At this point in my career, I’m really enjoying being at a company the size of INDUS. I think that everything I learned at my previous two companies is very beneficial to me, doing my job here is very beneficial for the company. I very much enjoyed my time at both SAIC and Vangent, but I really like the agility and flexibility we have here at INDUS.
GCE: What political developments are you tracking closely as a business (i.e. immigration reform, healthcare reform, etc.)?
Bowers: A couple of things. Climate change and the legislation that’s being formed around that. We have a number of customers who are in that space: EPA, NOAA, Goddard Space Flight Center, for example. We look at it and think regardless of how this legislation pans out, it’s going to drive new business opportunities around data, data acquisition, data management and data dissemination. And those are all things that we have strong capabilities in; we’re well-known within those customers, so we’re tracking that. The other one that’s of interest to us is healthcare reform. We’ve got projects at NIH, we’ve done projects with other components of HHS. And a number of folks who are within the company, me included, have relationships with public health agencies like CMS, CDC, FDA. Again, we think the big attraction here, at least for us, is going to be the increased need for data access and the management for that data. We’re taking a hard look, [but] not quite sure what we’re going to do. That might be more of an uphill climb for us, because there are a lot of players in that space right now who are very well entrenched.
GCE: What’s something most people don’t know about you, personally?
Bowers: In the early 1980s, I was in graduate school here in D.C. at George Washington University. I decided to take a year or so off. A good friend of mine was–believe it or not–starting a trout farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. So I went down there to become a trout farmer for about a year. It was great; it included everything from getting investors to back us and building the darn thing to putting it in place. Remember, this was in the early ’80s so we were dealing with IBM micro computers that were just coming out. We were putting accounting systems in and developing marketing materials. It was great; I had a great time doing it. But ultimately, I really missed D.C. and came back to finish my degree and have been here ever since.
GCE: What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from that experience?
Bowers: That’s a good question. It probably is: Never go into business with your best friend. I mean, we are still best friends, almost 30 years later. He is godfather to my kids, I’m godfather to his kids, but that stretched us back for a while. So I wouldn’t do that again!