Artificial intelligence has rapidly grown across the government contracting space in recent years. According to Rich Aves, executive vice president of business development for the defense and intelligence sector at Parsons, AI will be “the hallmark of solutions going forward.”
ExecutiveBiz spoke with Aves to learn more about how AI can be used in the federal landscape, what it takes to attract and retain talent that can support emerging mission needs, the major contributing factors to Parsons’ recent growth and more.
Read below for Rich Aves’ full Executive Spotlight interview.
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about recent growth initiatives at Parsons? How are you driving value for your customers through contract awards, acquisitions and other aspects across the federal sector?
Rich Aves: Our recent growth is based on a concerted effort to ‘move up the value chain’ for our customers. We achieve that by providing next-generation intelligent solutions that are leveraging the full capabilities of our pioneering and technically diverse organization, which spans two major market segments: critical infrastructure and federal solutions.
On the critical infrastructure side of our business, we’re leveraging top-tier engineering capabilities all over the world, and we’re finding that we’re able to pair that with technology solutions and customer assets on the federal side of the house, which is driving positive results. That synergy has enabled us to bring truly unique, and in many cases, one-of-a-kind solutions to our customers and underpins Parsons as a trusted source for micro-and-macro solutioning – from earth to outer space.
We’ve also grown our portfolio to broaden our defense capabilities through strategic acquisitions. Xator and BlackHorse, two of our more recent acquisitions, have significantly enhanced our offerings by expanding our counter-UAS and electronic warfare capabilities. Weaving the Xator and BlackHorse capabilities into the Parsons portfolio has bolstered our overall growth and, in many cases, is guiding the trajectory of our defense sector and we’re focused on pursuing opportunities to be the premier provider of these differentiated solutions.”
ExecutiveBiz: Following the success of your recent quarterly results, what were the key factors that led to that company-wide performance and how will you continue to work to capitalize on that success moving forward?
Aves: “We’ve had a very strong quarter, and it’s been a team effort. From a revenue perspective, we are focused on maximizing and optimizing our opportunities. Achieving that objective starts with a solid team and we’ve had strong recruiting and retention across the business. This is critical to sustaining the high-performing team needed to help us grow revenue on existing contracts and position ourselves for continued growth looking ahead.
We’ve also had a good year from a growth perspective. We have some established task order contracts that we’re able to drive work to, which have been a good pillar for our growth this year. We’ve been able to use those contracts to leverage a variety of clients’ needs and bring solutions to the table for them. We have the contract vehicles in place to readily get into a revenue generating state.
In federal solutions and critical infrastructure, we’ve seen pretty strong growth this year through awards. The critical infrastructure sector in particular is benefiting from international growth and the infrastructure bill is going to create many opportunities for us to drive more results going forward within our federal solutions sector.
The markets that we’re in are well funded, and growing, and we think that we’re well positioned to grow. But the cornerstone of our success is always going to be execution, excellence and the ability to recruit and retain the right people, and so far we’ve been doing that very well.”
ExecutiveBiz: With artificial intelligence and machine learning impacting most industries and the U.S. military dramatically as we move forward, what has impressed you the most about the technology’s capabilities to improve decision making across the federal sector? How can AI be used to address some of the biggest challenges you see in your industry?
Aves: “AI is a tool that all of our customers need and want, and the main driver for it is digestion of data and being able to make better, more informed decisions at scale and volume.
From a defense and intelligence perspective, we’re seeing a lot of information that needs to be digested and analyzed, and it has gone beyond the capacity of human staffing to be able to effectively make use of all the data that’s available for us.
We’re leveraging expertise we’ve had in this area for several years, and we’re using AI to make sure that we’re creating better informed decisions.
We’re using that expertise on the critical infrastructure side with regards to things like volume metrics of traffic and using AI to develop smart cities — lots of data needs to go into that design. We’re looking at things such as 5G placement and human behaviors that will shape the landscape and scale of 5G infrastructure. When we are able to consume and streamline that data through the use of AI, we are able remove the guesswork and design the infrastructure of the future that meets the needs of the end-users.
On the space side of the house, we’re applying AI to do things such as automate the ability to do ground control for satellites — we oftentimes call it ‘lights out operations,’ where you don’t need to have a person behind a console to continually do the ground control of a constellation. We can automate that, via artificial intelligence, to set the right parameters and have the right data analytics to make sure that the best trade-offs are made when it comes to resourcing of things such as antenna time.
We have also developed an AI-enabled weapon target pairing algorithm called TEMPO, which stands for Tactical Electronic Warfare Machine Learning Planning Optimization. This is something that we’ve produced from an electronic warfare planning perspective that optimizes our ability to deploy assets and defeat some of the adversary’s electronic warfare capabilities.
These are all things that Parsons is involved in, and it’s exciting for us. We think that AI is going to be a hallmark of solutions going forward.”
ExecutiveBiz: We often discuss innovation from the technical or capability side. What are some of the unique challenges that you’ve seen on the business side of innovation that haven’t been addressed or discussed enough?
Aves: “The challenge is making the right decisions and innovating in the right spaces for the market that you’re in. I think Parsons has done a really nice job with that, and it has mainly been driven by close communication with our customers and knowing what the challenges are that we need to innovate against.
That’s one of the reasons why we developed our PALADIN Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground — it’s our hub for innovation, where we work in partnership with customers to showcase new capabilities. Customers can come in and test out these capabilities against their mission needs and use the lab as a place to collaborate and identify the capabilities that we need to invest in and that are going to be the best value to their mission.
Innovation is core to the culture here at Parsons, and it’s very important for our sustained growth. We’re in a tough hiring environment, and to attract the right talent, we have to understand that people want to come to where innovation is at the forefront of things. People want to come to where they’re going to be able to do cool stuff and develop cool new things — that has been at the heart of the way we approach the market and what we are trying to communicate to those who would be potential employees.
Our motto is ‘Imagine Next,’ which captures the essence of this team’s commitment to welcome-in and incubate innovative minds. As we move forward with growing and executing our business, staying relevant is going to require unbridled innovation. That’s a challenge we are excited to accept.