Brian McKeon helps lead Booz Allen Hamilton‘s systems engineering and integration work for the U.S. Army in his role as an executive vice president at the McLean, Va.-based consulting contractor.
He oversees a portfolio that emphasizes C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) offerings in the Army market for Booz Allen.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, McKeon discusses Booz Allen’s viewpoint on how the government can act as its own technology integrator, trends to watch in the international market and potential points of collaboration between industry and the military in the acquisition of new tools.
ExecutiveBiz: What trends in the Army and C4ISR arenas do you see as most prominent right now?
Brian McKeon: Overall, there is a long-standing concern for C4ISR to keep up with technology changes given the speed of the acquisition process, which has become even lengthier these days. In the C4ISR domain, where technology is literally moving at a speed of light, it means sometimes systems are fielded with outdated technology.
To deal with this situation, we see a strong move towards standards-based architectures and frameworks, as well as to open systems preventing proprietary advantage, enabling technology insertion and allowing more competition.
We advocate for the strength of the government as an integrator because new technologies can be integrated into the standards-based architecture without going through a new acquisition or dealing with constant change requests, which may cost extra money.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the most frequent request or demand that you hear from the Army and the C4ISR area?
Brian McKeon: First, it goes to standard architectures. C4ISR breaks into three different architectural areas: communications, command and control, and ISR. In the communications domain, many of the architectures are now based on the Joint Tactical Radio System model with open libraries that allow conceivably anyone to make the hardware.
For command and control, we hear many requests about getting to a standards-based infrastructure in an app-based environment.
Second, there is increased cyber awareness across DoD and particularly in the Army of the need to protect our systems at various levels, not just the networks. Millions of lines of code are embedded in our systems that were written long before cyber was on people’s minds.
Finally, there is increasing convergence between the cyber realm and other warfighting domains. This was featured in several TechNet conference briefings in Augusta, Georgia.
ExecutiveBiz: How can industry collaborate with the military on technology programs as budgets shift and realign?
Brian McKeon: The government has embraced the classic cliche of “Doing more with less” by more heavily leveraging commercial and defense industry investment. The more government leaders can talk with industry about available capabilities and resources that can be brought to bear for their needs, the better. Similarly, the more the government informs industry of their future needs, the better industry can respond.
That two-way dialogue is essential. There also needs to be a better understanding of the relationship between the written requirement and what drives the cost; this relationship is rarely linear. Sometimes the cost can skyrocket for a small, incremental benefit. Depending on how the requirement is written, it may even invalidate a commercial solution. It is crucial to maximize industry investment in our new systems.
Another ongoing issue surrounds balancing open standards and unlimited rights against corporate investment and return on investment. We need to find that balance, particularly in commercial technology areas. When setting standards, we need to look at this situation.
If there is a dual-use technology in commercial and defense, because of the relative size of commercial markets, firms are unlikely to give up the data rights and we should not expect them to. The risk is that without data rights, there is a fear of excessive compensation. However, due to standards-based interfaces, competition will allow other firms to seize the opportunity. As a result, prices are kept in balance.
Making the needs known, leveraging the billions being invested in commercial technologies, and getting them onto the battlefield is key to delivering more with fewer dollars. Dialogue is key to making this happen and allowing industry to shape its investment.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see opportunities with respect to international markets?
Brian McKeon: When looking at the international market, in terms of defense, the U.S. invests far more than any other country; therefore we bring substantially more intellectual property to bear. Finding ways to leverage that investment is critical.
The coalitions of today are quite different than traditional coalitions. It goes mostly to ensuring interoperability at every level — meaning in communications and in information. We have to create methods of information sharing among coalition countries that selectively sends information to only those nations we want to obtain that information and vice versa, but that does so without the very complicated network topologies used today.
Anything that simplifies information sharing from interoperability and data sharing perspectives is an opportunity. Interoperability at the radio level means ensuring we can communicate directly and get information into equivalent international command and control platforms to improve coalition-wide situational awareness.
The opportunity for international sales could be a combination of direct commercial sales or foreign military sales, depending on the desired outcome.
ExecutiveBiz: What market trend do you anticipate to heighten over the next year?
Brian McKeon: In terms of general interest, we will see new requirements about integrating cyber. In terms of market trends, I am hopeful that, with the release of Better Buying Power 3.0, there will be a renewed emphasis on best value procurements.
Our desire is for there to be a reversal of the trend of low-price, technically-acceptable procurements and a return to broader use of best value competitions.
Regarding LPTA procurements, to achieve the desired result, the real emphasis is on how the government defines the technical requirements to ensure our clients ultimately get what they need. An ideal situation would be where the technical acceptability is well defined, thus ensuring the government gets what it needs despite procuring it through an LPTA acquisition.