Robin Portman oversees business development function at Booz Allen Hamilton in her role as an executive vice president for the consulting and contracting firm.
She supports the firm’s work in the defense, security, civil and commercial sectors through leadership of a BD organization that seeks to understand and analyze market shifts for proposal development.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Portman discusses how the firm modified its BD organization in 2014, identifies the trends she believes shaped the GovCon market last year and offers a forecast for the trends that will shape 2015.
ExecutiveBiz: What are two main areas that you’ve focused on over the past year?
Robin Portman: I started the relatively new business development organization for Booz Allen at the beginning of 2012. Over the last year we focused on aligning our resources to enable the BD organization to be agile and responsive in meeting the critical needs of the entire business with its great diversity.
There are a number of areas I could key in on, but these two are top of mind. First, we make sure that we support the growth platforms of the firm, primarily the engineering and systems delivery capabilities, which are two places where we focus on building competitive capacity. For example, two years ago we acquired the defense Systems engineering and support division of ARINC, which is now Booz Allen Engineering Services.
In BD we continue to drive competition for the business and to bring solutions to complex client problems in aviation, maritime engineering, weapons modernization and sustainment, systems engineering and integration. We focus on providing the best for our clients which includes our specialized expertise in C4ISR, rapid prototyping, specialized software development and analytics.
Second, innovation has always been core to Booz Allen’s culture. Through investment in our Strategic Innovation Group we continue our commitment to entrepreneurship in the art of the possible and drive innovation as a value throughout our whole organization. Our BD resources are aligned to understand new alternative revenue streams, different sales channels, and the way product sales are attached to our services.
In the last year, we’ve created some cool and cutting-edge efforts including a mobile forensics device called VAMPIRE. It is very exciting to go beyond our great consulting heritage into creating solutions and products that strengthen partnerships with our clients and deliver real value. We consistently think of ways to augment and retool our BD organization to support this innovation growth engine.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the biggest shift you’ve seen in the GovCon market during 2014?
Robin Portman: Our clients need solutions that are effective, efficient and agile enough to adapt to their changing requirements, whether that be evolving technology, new legislation, agency mandates or best practices. This market is also consistent with what businesses are experiencing across our commercial markets.
The government isn’t saying that they want the same thing at the low price technically acceptable level. Over the last year, clients have been willing to pay more for something that can demonstrate a significant return on investment or if one can articulate the reason for purchasing the particular solution.
For example, in conversations with acquisition professionals at DHS, wherein they’ve put up a RFP for a pitching machine for 20 feet but are willing to pay the extra money for a pitching machine for 40 feet just as long as the reason for needing it is clear, the capability is well-described and the ROI of the solution is articulated. I am beginning to see that shift where clients that need complex solutions to tackle challenging problems are willing to listen to the story that tells the solution and the ROI.
ExecutiveBiz: Since business development functions have been retooled over the past year, how do you help your colleagues with proposal development?
Robin Portman: As an organization we are working to align best practices and proposal development regardless of the size and type of the proposal. There are some basic things that you need to do along the way, such as coming up with the solution and being able to articulate the solution’s specific value proposition throughout the proposal. We need to articulate the reason Booz Allen is the best organization to develop the solution moving forward considering the past performance and the key personnel requirements.
This is in line with the DoD’s emphasis on better buying power and emphasizing the achievement of dominant capabilities through technical excellence and innovation. One of our clients, Christopher Zember, the director of DoD IACs, emphasizes anticipating new and emerging technology innovation especially in commercial and being able to quickly integrate those technologies and innovations into government requirements.
It is very challenging to translate all of that into a compliant proposal that articulates the value to our clients at a particular price point but once done right it makes you compelling and very competitive.
ExecutiveBiz: Name two of the most complex challenges your clients face and that your team collaborates with on.
Robin Portman: Our organization works to increase our competitive edge by driving and integrating our deep domain knowledge inherent in our decades of consulting experience. Combining that in a powerful way with the innovations and technology solutions we invest in, is key for our work on federal government problems and challenges. We integrate our knowledge of complex environments with our tools and predictive intelligence on things in the cyber solutions and cyber resilience space.
For example, we have a cyber M3 offering that helps organizations assess their own maturity model as it relates to their cyber resilience posture or cyber readiness and maturity. Another example is the use of predictive analytics tools for commercial and government clients that support smarter risk management in compliance with complex regulations, or advanced analytics and cyber technologies to protect businesses information and customers’ privacy. Those are two areas where we invest a lot of time and attention.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the trend we should watch in 2015?
Robin Portman: Dynamic and changing paradigms in federal acquisitions is a positive trend we see. Earlier this year I read an article where Tom Sharpe, the commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Services, indicated in May 2014 that the agency plans to increase their market share from 14 to 33 per cent by the end of fiscal year 2016. We also know that many legacy contracts are either being consolidated or cancelled to create efficiencies, or simplify the acquisition environment, as we saw with OPM’s Training and Management Assistance acquisition.
We already saw a memorandum of understanding between the Air Force and GSA to use OASIS. The use of government contract vehicles like OASIS Small Business, or Alliance Small Business, is going to help drive efficiencies and cost savings by reducing excess costs associated with award and administration of multiple IDIQs or stand-alone contracts.
Specifically, OASIS consolidates the scope of multiple contract vehicles and the GSA vehicle. As a result, it creates this one-stop shop for professional services and simplifies access because the decentralized ordering process allows clients’ contracting shop to maintain control of the ordering. All of this is going to reduce cost on the government and industry sides.
Instead of spending a lot of money on getting bids out and understanding a batch of different contract vehicles, we will be able to invest in technologies and innovation to bring back to the government. The transparent, formulaic and cost-effective OASIS process of bidding and awarding solves this problem. Industry players need to applaud and champion that where we see it.
ExecutiveBiz: What parts of the firm’s corporate social responsibility programs will you focus on this year?
Robin Portman: Corporate citizenship is in the DNA of Booz Allen and it is truly something we care about from our former CEO on down. For our 100th year last year, we announced a centennial community challenge encouraging employees to perform 100,000 hours of community service in calendar year 2014. We met that goal two months early with a total of 135,000+ hours of community service in the middle of December and we expect that to go higher. Through the challenge impacted more than four hundred non-profits last year alone.
As an indicator of employee commitment, at least six employees had volunteered more than a thousand hours and more than 200 employees volunteered a hundred hours or more. That is just simply amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of our staff at Booz Allen. It is absolutely phenomenal that as a corporation we don’t just write out checks but we actually support specific causes our employees are championing.
Personally, I have a huge passion for and attention to veterans’ issues. I was one of the founders of our own internal veterans’ agenda, executive hearing committee, which I co-chaired with former partner Carl Salzano. As part of that initiative for veterans’ and wounded warrior issues we strategically focus on key pillars and relationships. Most recently, we established a relationship with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation to push forward the agenda and support for military family caregivers. We are working with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation to create local summits and bring the community together to talk about this issue.
I am also heavily involved with Easter Seals as a member of the board for Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia, a great organization that has facilities around the greater D.C. metro area for veterans and wounded warriors. They focus on things like veteran staffing and employment, child care development and respite care. Their veteran staffing network assists in readying returning veterans and wounded warriors for employment and then helping them find employment appropriate to their location, skillset and aspirations.
We also provide childcare support for families of wounded warriors at Walter Reed. For displaced families and where childcare is not necessarily available, Easter Seals will provide tuition-free state-of-the-art daycare and child development opportunities for kids of wounded warriors. Easter Sales also provides respite care to families so that wounded warriors and their spouses can go out and have a date.
As a result of our strong partnership, this year Easter Seals is recognizing Booz Allen and Ralph Shrader, our current chairman, for the contributions to this advocacy work. We are participating in the Easter Seals Advocacy Awards Dinner on May 13, 2015. Booz Allen and The Elizabeth Dole Foundation are being recognized for contributions in this area of the community. We would love to get more industry and community players involved and interested in becoming part of the advocacy dinner.
We are proud to be part of this elite group of award winners, including Holly Petraeus and General Campbell, who won last year. Deborah Mullen and I will chair this year’s dinner. It is a phenomenal organization and a great event.