Paul Dillahay, president and CEO of NCI Information Systems, Inc. (NCI), and two-time Wash100 Award recipient, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz to discuss the company’s recent $807 million GSA DIGIT (Digital Innovation for GSA Infrastructure Technologies) task order win.
In addition, Dillahay also discussed the challenges of driving adoption of the latest emerging technologies in the federal sector, the continued advancement of NCI’s artificial intelligence solutions to meet customers’ mission and critical needs as well as potential goals for 2021.
“GSA has a reputation of being a forward leaning, innovative and fast moving agency that is ahead of the curve from an adoption perspective. Having them as a partner as we implement this contract will be an accelerator, especially with the strong reputation they bring to the table.”
ExecutiveBiz: Can you discuss how winning this huge task order will impact the company’s growth and your customers heading into 2021?
“With a contract of this magnitude, it takes a village. We had a very good internal team that was positioned to capture it. Equally as important, we had a great set of industry partners who helped support us for the win.
In regard to how it positions us for 2021, a contract of this size will accelerate our momentum. What had been some headwinds in 2020 have now become tailwinds as we move into the new year.
Our artificial intelligence (AI) solutions have been adopted by our industry and federal customers, which has set us up for a very strong 2021. Our contract will accelerate the growth that we’ve already seen, and we’re incredibly excited about it.”
ExecutiveBiz: What have NCI’s IT teams done to push the envelope to drive adoption of the latest emerging technologies in the sector and empower the federal workforce?
“Early on, we identified several non-traditional commercial companies that had innovative technologies, which we thought would be good fits with customer missions that we support in the federal government. We established exclusive partnerships with them, and this has enabled us to approach procurements in a totally different way.
Next, we invested a lot of time on proof of concepts and focused on how to drive adoption. So, 2019 and 2020 were years where we were responding to OTAs, developing customer use cases and delivering on proofs of concept.
We’ve moved to the back end of that phase, and we are at a point where the technologies are proven out, and their applications to the federal government are understood. Now, it’s a matter of doing things that will lead to even greater success: respond competitively, propose prices effectively, differentiate our solutions and position ourselves for growth.
One of the things that we have prided ourselves on over the last three years is being the bridge between commercial innovation and adaptation to government requirements. That’s exactly what we’ve done. We started down this path very early on, as part of our transformational journey to become a trusted systems innovator in the public sector.
Because of that, we have had an increased focus on AI and the ability to get commercial technologies prepared for the authority to operate processes, procurement processes and integration into programs. We have had a very large head start because we went all in on AI from the beginning.”
ExecutiveBiz: How will NCI work with the GSA to drive innovation and strategy to adopt and advance the agency’s technological capabilities toward a modernized AI-based infrastructure?
“When we started down this path, we started out as a service. We’re not selling shrink wrap software, or just doing implementations, or selling someone else’s product. We’re using AI as a service, and that’s the business model we pursued.
Our model is directly related to how we proposed on DIGIT. There’s a level of staff support that the contract requires. We fully expect to meet those expectations. We also plan to continue to bring the very best tools to the federal government.
In some instances, those will be NCI tools, and other instances, they’ll be either current partners’ tools or tools that we discover over the life of the contract that we believe will be the best of breed to bring to GSA.
The model that we originally established was to find the best commercial partners, and we continue to evolve our search for new technologies, as well as companies to partner with, which plays out perfectly for the requirements of this contract.
With regards to AI as a service, we had that vision early on. We believed that it was the right way to do it. Having that validation from GSA shows that we understand the customer and the service. GSA asked us to think about how we can improve the ability for workers to scale. We want to enable more missions at a higher quality.”
ExecutiveBiz: How are you planning to use NCI Empower to leverage technology such as AI, machine learning and automation to support innovation for the GSA IDT team and develop an improved service delivery model?
“We want to make sure we offer solutions that enable GSA to meet their goals, such as improving business outcomes and enhancing the customer experience. There are two areas of focus where our feedback was very strong in our debrief.
The first was our Empower IT platform, which is a robotic process automation (RPA) solution that enables us to reduce mundane tasks, enabling humans to do more critical thinking tasks.
Additionally, we proposed our Evolve Wall, which we had previously publicly announced. The Evolve Wall provides transparency to the customer of the AI projects, implementations, return on investment and visibility into the overall AI lifecycle.
We want to ensure that our Evolve Wall improves over time, so we have a module that monitors how the AI is learning, as well as evolving its knowledge. As we implement AI capabilities into GSA’s environment, we will monitor its impact on employees and the customer base. We’re really excited to be able to deploy that, and expect to do so early in the contract.”
ExecutiveBiz: With this big win for NCI, what are your biggest goals to continue to drive growth for the company heading into 2021?
“We want to transition as smoothly as possible on GSA DIGIT, and optimize the service delivery. As we step back and look at the rest of the portfolio, we will continue to drive adoption of our AI solutions to our existing customers.
We will also work to identify new potential technology partners to bring into the portfolio. We plan to bid close to $2 billion of RFPs this year to continue to maintain our very strong win rate in 2021, which will facilitate and accelerate growth in the future.”