Executive Spotlight: Salient Federal CEO Brad Antle on the LIST Acquisition and New Tech Offerings

Brad Antle serves as president and CEO of Salient Federal Solutions, a federal IT and engineering solutions business he founded in 2009.

Prior to founding Salient, the U.S. Navy veteran was president and CEO of SI International, where he oversaw the integration of nine acquisitions and the purchase of the $600 million company by Serco Inc.

Antle previously grew Lockheed Martin‘s engineering organization to more than 1,700 engineers, supporting 21 sites and 70 programs.

In his interview with ExecutiveBiz, Antle discussed the Salient acquisition of LIST, the Agility as a ServiceSM software investment offering and the company’s focus on cyber and mobility.

 

ExecutiveBiz: When you spoke to us in April about the ATS deal, you mentioned access to civilian customers was important and a motivating factor behind the pick up. Did you have those same goals with the LIST acquisition and how are the two similar in their intended outcomes?

Brad Antle: Our goals have continued to remain that as along as we are heavily dominated by DoD and Intell, we will continue to diversify and gain broader exposure to the federal market. After the LIST acquisition, we will sit at around 35 percent Fed/Civil and 65 percent DoD/Intell, with the balance in commercial.

This is the direction in which we intended to drive the posture of Salient so we could strike that balance between the major sectors of the federal marketplace. Diversity in customers and contracts provides us a better foundation for longer-term growth and it benefits both our customers and our employees. Everyone benefits from that kind of stability. LIST continues to do that with their exposure at OPM and a more recent but vibrant relationship with the US PTO.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Bill Parker said that LIST works with a lot of agencies that were self-funded and support essential needs, with a particular focus on the ‘resiliency’ this could bring Salient. Is that resiliency one of the more important things a diversified portfolio will provide Salient?

Antle: We don’t anticipate sequestration to happen in the peanut butter approach where everybody gets an equal cut. There will be winners and there will be losers in the budget pressures that are looming and will find their way in the 2014 and the 2013 budgets.

Anytime a customer has greater predictability in their budget it allows better planning and more effective use of their available budgets. If an agency doesn’t have sequestration looming over top of them, PTO certainly doesn’t and OPM to great extent does not, it gives them better visibility for their budget and the opportunity to deliver a greater impact is tangible.

Uncertainly in the 2013 budgets is causing significant issues across the board in the federal government. That’s stopped major programs from being initiated and curbed the way customers ordinarily spend to support their missions.

There are some agencies like VA that we know are totally exempt from some of these drastic budget cuts like sequestration. Although I think even VA will probably find some budget reductions and line items are a more reasoned approach to dialing down the spending.

 

ExecutiveBiz: How is it different delivering similar services to different parts of the government?

Antle: I’d say there are more similarities than there are differences across the breadth of government customers in terms of how they like to have services delivered. Most agencies view their mission with the same zeal. That’s the whole reason for existing. Clearly, if you’re an intelligence agency, intelligence is your prime mission and if you’re military, then the projection of force is clearly an important part for your mission. Civilian agency view their missions as equally important to them and they want services delivered in a very similar way.

So although some missions are directly operational in the field, customer-facing and internally focused, they’re equally important. There are customers across the spectrum that will use LPTA approaches to their acquisitions, but there are still plenty using best value. It would be hard for me to say DoD is using one kind of approach and civilian agencies are using a different one.

For best value acquisitions, the benefit of getting the best possible support for the dollar spent seems to be the major driver. Customers are looking for unique benefits that they get from a particular solution, whereas LPTA is really focused on getting an “acceptable” service for the least amount of money. They are not willing to pay for extra quality or innovation. They’re really buying a commodity and you’re going to find customers in the government space interested in doing that regardless of their end mission and other customers who are going to be driven down a different approach.

 

ExecutiveBiz: As LIST is both a COTS and GOTS integrator, will that help Salient do well under more acquisition policies?

Antle: I don’t think so. Clearly, GOTS and COTS integration is more cost effective. But I think what we’re developing in terms of Agility as a Service is more meaningful.

Many systems across the federal government are antiquated and clearly in need of modernization. They’re still using 1970s technology and it may be hard to believe, but as we get closer to the end of the decade, some systems will be 50 years old without serious modernization. And those are expensive to maintain, they’re more fragile and they’re not leveraging the best capabilities that today’s technologies offer.

Modernization unfortunately requires initial investment and with the challenging budget environment that we’re in now, that’s a big leap for some customers to make. Even though the promise of long-term savings is huge, its coming up with that extra dollar in a tight fiscal environment that’s tough.

We’re building this distinction that we call Agility as a ServiceSM (AaaSSM). It will allow our customers to try small investments in agile software development and deliver new technology without jumping in full bore. We’re able to scale our CMMI level 3-assessed agile software development capability to fit the needs of our customers.

Our focus is to try to get some customers who haven’t been exposed to Agile to allow us to do some Agile development for them on a small scale, implement some current technologies, see the benefits and then expand over time.

We think that we’ll be able to attract a broad spectrum of customers who want and need that kind of transformation without a high dollar commitment.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Is the Agility as a ServiceSM offering one of the more central offerings you are focusing on for your federal customers?

Antle: We’ve got lots of distinctions, but it’s the one when talking about the need to modernize larger antiquated systems, Agility as a ServiceSM (AaaSSM),allows customers to take small bite sizes as opposed to ‘big bang’ system modernization, which I’m not a fan of. I think it’s too difficult and its unnecessary.

I am a big fan of biting off bits of a system, modernizing the capability, demonstrating the value that it creates and allowing that to generate greater investment in modernizing the legacy system. It can be a significant benefit to our customers in the long run.

 

ExecutiveBiz: Where else are you excited about Salient moving towards in the future? What offerings and solutions are you going to be rolling out that you are particularly excited about?

Antle: LIST has been providing some exceptional development for OPM and PTO but I think the fact that we bring a much stronger agile capability should expand our opportunities with those customers. LIST also brings to us a case management capability that they developed with OPM that will have broad applicability across the government. Their case management credentials and capabilities are important to us.

Also, we need to complete the integration of LIST into Salient but I’m certainly excited. LIST has been providing security and benefit systems to OPM for years as well as providing PTO with patent application systems and tools. Those are all capabilities that we’re all anxious to get more exposure to.

Agile software development is one of our core technologies and cyber is another area that we are focused on. We know that the government has to migrate to IPV6. Unfortunately, most of the customers are ill equipped to deal with the cyber-related issues of an IPV6 environment. We’ve been focusing significant effort on IPV6 and I think we are uniquely positioned to help customers mitigate the threat in an IPV6 world. That’s another area where I think there’s broad applicability across our customer base.

We’re also trying to help our customers in mobility to help them bring disparate data feeds and databases together into mobile applications. In general, the government is moving more toward telework and mobility.  I think that will continue to be a trend. We’re trying to build a set of distinctions across a broad set of customer engagements.

 

ExecutiveBiz: You picked up spots on a few BPAs with the List deal and now cover 90% of your customer base with prime federal software or app development contracts. How does that play into your growth in the long run?

Contracting remains a challenge in the federal government. Whenever you have a vehicle, whether it be a multiple-award contract or an IDIQ or a BPA, it provides the customers with easier access. I think the problems are real and the needs for services are clearly there. The government’s no different than anyone else and will find the easiest services working for them. These vehicles provide a ready mechanism for doing that. It’s easier to bring what we offer through those. We’re still seeing plenty of other contracts being awarded, but we’re seeing Alliant, CIO-SP3, FBI Triple 3 and BPAs all of these getting work done in a more efficient way.

Even in the constrained budget environment, there is still a large demand for services to support the federal government and we’re trying to position ourselves to the services that matter most to our customers. Once we get some budget clarity things will get a lot more straight forward.

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