Fairfax, VA – Highlight Technologies has been appraised at level 3 of the CMMI Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration for Services (CMMI-SVC). Highlight also earned the CMMI-DEV level 3 certification in 2017. The company now holds six quality certifications, including being the only company in the U.S. to hold ISO® 44001:2017.

CMMI Services is an integrated set of best practices that measures an organization’s capability to efficiently and effectively deliver quality service offerings that meet market and customer needs. At level 3, our processes are well characterized, understood, and are described in standards, procedures, tools, and methods. Highlight’s set of standard processes, which is the basis for maturity level 3, are established, reviewed, and continuously improved over time.

“As one of our corporate goals for 2018, this is an important achievement for the company. This CMMI rating demonstrates our commitment to having defined practices which provide the best services at the lowest risk for our customers,” said Rebecca Andino.

About Highlight Technologies, LLC

Highlight Technologies is an award-winning woman owned, ISO® 9001, ISO 20000, ISO 27001, ISO 44001 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised small business that provides IT development and transformation, secure IT operations, and mission support services to more than 20 U.S. federal government customers. Our customers include National Security (DHS, State, Army, Navy, DISA, the Joint Staff, DTRA, Intel), Health IT (USAID, USDA, NIH, HRSA, EPA) and Citizen Services (FCC, FDIC, FTC, GSA, HHS, SBA, Education, Labor). For more information, please visit www.highlighttech.com.

About CMMI® Institute

CMMI Institute is the global leader in the advancement of best practices in people, process, and technology. The Institute provides the tools and support for organizations to benchmark their capabilities and build maturity by comparing their operations to best practices and identifying performance gaps. For over 25 years, thousands of high-performing organizations in a variety of industries, including aerospace, finance, health services, software, defense, transportation, and telecommunications, have earned a CMMI maturity level rating and proved they are capable business partners and suppliers. To learn more about how CMMI can help your organization elevate performance, visit https://cmmiinstitute.com/.


Episode #5 | The Shutdown 

Announcement:Broadcasting from Fairfax, VA you are now tuned in to the highlight cast with your hosts
Adam McNair: and
Kevin Long:.

Adam McNair: Hello, welcome to the highlight cast. I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk to everybody again. This is
Adam McNair:, CEO from Highlight Technologies, joined by Kevin.

Kevin Long: Hi there,
Kevin Long:, Vice president of delivery, so.

Adam McNair: As we speak and recording this, we are in the midst of what is already to date the longest shutdown of the the federal government and. One of the things that that we have already publicly commented on as a company is our CEO, Rebecca Andino. Posted the LinkedIn Post about kind of a combination of what we are currently doing and really the frustration of.

Kevin Long: Everyone.

Adam McNair: Of everyone, really. Yes, about the fact that we have employees that it is very difficult for us to. Explain a future path for you know, I know. Just for me personally, I was visiting our team in Cincinnati the week before it happened. And as we were talking about it, look, I based on my per view, our contract is funded. We work off site. I would envision we should be OK and that that that’s one of the teams that we have that is currently shut down. So, so Rebecca’s post was a lot about. That position that it puts us in, and I think it is a a stronger feeling than it has been in times past just because of the. Length of it.

Kevin Long: The duration is Insane here.

Adam McNair: Yeah. Now, Kevin, you’ve been, I’m certainly involved in shutdowns in the past. What has that been like?

Kevin Long: It’s crazy uncertain it is. You know you’re at work one day listening to the news on on the way home and you literally don’t know necessarily if you show up for work the next day or if you do, if you’re going to have to legitimately figure out what. An orderly shutdown actually means. Yeah. Right. It’s it’s hardly you always see it coming. It’s like you’re standing on a train track and you see the light coming at you because you know your customers and everyone else is, you know, having to do crazy drills of, you know, figuring out who’s essential, right and into putting those names in. And then. You get to talk to those people. And. Say hey you. You still get to come to work and turning to other folks that you’re working with and explaining that unessential. Doesn’t mean unnecessary, but please don’t come to work tomorrow. M.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And I find that it First off, it is very, very strange. Oftentimes who gets deemed to be essential in a given environment. You might have three systems administrators and one of them is essential. And and two of them are not and they all do the same work and it it can be down to something as. As random as who filled that out when they put the contract in place.


Kevin Long: Yeah.


Adam McNair: Sometimes somebody that is an administrator on a system that has been deemed essential versus a different one will end up being, you know, being allowed to continue to come into work. The other thing that is a kind of. An. It’s a consequence that now is not the time to think about it, but in most professions. If you stopped doing what you were doing for a month and you come back. Mean entropy essentially starts to introduce chaos into the environment, and you come back in a month. If it’s an IT system, it’s not working the way it used to.


Kevin Long: Oh my goodness. Yeah, and it’s crazy. And bluntly, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and have been working or thinking about it, I can’t tell you what I was doing this time last month. Holy cow.


Adam McNair: Right when everybody, you know that a lot of our programs are pretty well documented and we have processes we follow and. But that’s usually at a macro level. You know, if you think about it, when we start a program, there’s usually a defined 30 to 90 day window that’s dedicated to transition, which means that we have an entire team focused on nothing but getting a program started up.


Kevin Long: Yep.


Adam McNair: We don’t do that. When this ends, we just have to show up again the next day and hit the ground, I guess.

Kevin Long: And figure out what entropy impacted and and what not. To happen and your customers are just as confused and and having to pick up everything and and you know how many emails are you getting from people that work furloughed and and how many? How full is your systems log? Do you do you need to dump or or your temp files or or any of that stuff? In. Startup. I mean, there’s orderly shutdown here, but you know, you ever hear, you know, a lot of talk about just the trouble that it is to to restart all of the non essential work that that happens.

Adam McNair: Yeah, on the, on the spectrum of disruptive things that happen like this, there were a lot of years where we would go through continuing resolution budgets and what that really meant was that you were mostly just going to do operational things. You were going to maintain what you were doing, but you weren’t going to get to do any real new initiatives. But there’s a certain amount. Of. Almost Gray area to that, I feel like that, especially when you get down into IT systems or you get into process engineering as you didn’t have to go out and procure new materials, new hardware, new software, new, you know supplies materials, you could enhance things with it. As. Not technically being new.

Kevin Long: Right. It it’s what is maintenance in the operations and maintenance as opposed to development modernization. And yeah, there’s there’s a ton of Gray area. That the government makes use of all the time because if, if literally all you do is, you know, keep changing oil in in the same car and that’s it. I mean, eventually the tires are going to go bald. MHM. You got to do something.

Adam McNair: Yeah. So that that what is new and what is maintenance, it was never terribly disruptive, at least for the programs that I was involved in or responsible for and if any. Thing. You knew that you couldn’t completely replat form something. You couldn’t go out and decide that you were gonna go from platform X to platform Y. That was going to be a multi year effort and it it would get frustrating because then you started up against the the technical reference model of your organization and you had some strategic plan that you were going to retire a given platform and. That really negated that. So now all of a sudden you have to recalculate all your costs because now your maintenance costs are going way up because you thought you were going to be done with whatever system that was.

Kevin Long: Yeah, but but you could go from. Version 7 to version 10 of the existing one because hey, they’re not going to support version seven anymore. But version 10 has all of these neat new widgets, whistles, bells, and things that you can do for it. And so.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and sometimes it we just go away. You couldn’t do it anymore. They, you know, especially in the SaaS licensing model sometimes. Things just turn off and you can’t use them anymore now. So I’ve been through a lot of those. There was sequestration in. I want to say it was 2013, maybe ish approximately. And so the sequestration process that to me felt a fair amount like what we are going under now. The reason I say that is so I had a a federal civilian. Group at the time and I was nearly unimpacted. I think of everybody in my organization. I had two people at the National Library of Medicine that could not bill and go to work. And so from my perspective, it really wasn’t.

Kevin Long: Go to work.

Adam McNair: It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t terrible. And the guy across the hall from me who ran and group the same size as mine had 85 to 90% of his organization shut down and. It was. It was devastating to him and his team and the programs and and that’s a little bit what that this shutdown feels like to me because. This started as a very, very strange kind of rolling shut down that has for fed, for federal employees. Organizations shut down and then some of them have been called back to work.

Kevin Long: Yeah, they called the State Department back today.

Adam McNair: Right. And I’ve seen a few other organizations where they started to call people back and they said even though we know we’re not paying you right now, we’re passing a resolution and. And. On the hill. And so you will get paid. Just not right now. That’s been that’s very different. As a contractor though. The way ours has happened really is that it depends on your customer and if your customer is there, we can show up and do work. And that has changed back and forth a little bit and it’s if you’re funded and by by happenstance I, you know, one of our strengths is we have a pretty diverse base of contracts. So that’s my strategy and.

Kevin Long: If you’re funded.

Adam McNair: This is the same thing that Rebecca said in her LinkedIn article. Was some of it is just the the the the happenstance of what organizations got funded in the appropriations? And as luck would have it, most of our customers got funded already. Super thankful now. That dynamic, though, of some of the federal employees have been able to come back. That largely hasn’t happened with our people that are shut down and we don’t get to Bill for that. That’s not money that’s coming back.

Kevin Long: No, it’s not recuperating. No, it’s. Uh. Well, not without. The customer agreeing and then on time and materials contracts you might be able to if people are willing to work overtime extra hours. Then we might be able to build that, because we’re literally not burning against ceiling that that exists. But the contract team isn’t going isn’t going to suddenly have a paycheck show up in their mailbox for having had to sit at home and worry about when they were going to go. Back to work.

Adam McNair: And the the you know the news coverage. Is generally all about. Federal employees and federal employee paychecks and what they will be able to do or not do for the federal employees. And I have seen at least talk of legislation related to contractors, which is the first time I’ve seen that happen. I think it’s. It’s probably a little bit of evidence of the amount of information that’s now available and the the news cycle and a little bit more in depth focus on on this shutdown because it has stretched so long. But I’ve never seen contractors talked about before, and that was always kind of the secret was contractors that are shut down never get paid. That. And the caveat I guess to that is it really comes down into the and This is why it’s so complicated for us right now. It comes down to contract type. We’ve got some fixed price contracts that.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: Our customer is shut down, but because we are still maintaining or developing their application, we’re doing that from our main office and we’re fine. Even though the customer is shut down.

Kevin Long: Yeah, I mean, some of the most unusual letters we’ve ever gotten and saying, you know, your your contract at agriculture. Your core and your KO are shut down and going to be furloughed. They are not deemed essential personnel. However, your contract is funded and you work off site and have work to do. Therefore, please continue to work through the shutdown. We will try to be responsive, but you will probably not hear from the people you are. MHM. Used to hearing from. And you know, we got that for a couple of our contracts at agencies that are shut down which. Yes. Honestly, I was surprised.

Adam McNair: Yeah. So that’s strange. You know, then we have some contracts that. Are. A hybrid of fixed price and time and materials and our fixed price employees are permitted to work, but the time of materials employees are not and I say that just to get down into the the the that random feeling that somebody can be on a contract. And they get to come to work. And the person beside them doesn’t. Or vice versa, yeah. Through through literally almost just chance or fate. What? What kinds of conversations have you ended up having with with with your teams as we’ve gone through this process?

Kevin Long: Well, man, there it it can be really varying and it it it changes based on whether the team or the people you’re talking to have been through shutdown before first time you go through it, you have to explain. MHM. That non essential doesn’t mean not important.

Adam McNair: And that’s a very good point.

Kevin Long: And then have to explain you know how we’re going to be in touch with you, what they need to do in terms of finding out when they should go back to work, how they’re going to end up going, going back talking with people about, you know. Using PTO leave without pay or what it takes if if they choose that they would rather go on unemployment and *** **** off, it is. You know, you know it’s a communication drill and it’s a lot of making sure that the each team knows that the work that. They do is important. That this isn’t knock on wood going to last forever and that. No matter what different folks say, the government doesn’t tend to waste a ton of money that they’re not putting out contracts with people that are not competitive and and unnecessary, and that you know. Hold on. It’s going to be difficult. We’ll get through it and we’ll, you know, we’ll. We’ll give you as much information as we have as as. We have it.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And that’s really. For what we did as a company, or have been doing since, this is still going. On when we when we came up to the the precipice of of this this shutdown. Now First off it was a very, very difficult holiday message to to send out the happy holidays. We hope you have a great new Year and in the event that the government shuts down, here are the things and. And honestly, that was kind of the timing of of our messaging out to to our employees.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: And. The the continued communication is one that we we try to continue to let everybody know what we know which. Is varies from a lot to a little contract contract. We have some contracts that we know are funded for the entire year. There’s going to be no issue, but we have kind of a a rolling list of places where we would have issue. On a kind of month to month basis and we’ve never had to look at it that way before. I mean most of the shutdowns I’ve ever been involved.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: And. It was something like it. The government shut down on a Friday.

Kevin Long: Yes, they’re open on Tuesday.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And it was. You would see them on on C-SPAN and there would be some kind of conversation that we are now shut down and there would be a lot of talking and. There would be. Whatever matter was at issue. There would be the shutdown counter on all the websites and whatever and it would it would once it hit about 72 hours right sometime around Monday or Tuesday it would open up and we all really it was about the same impact as a snow day or or more realistically a lot of times you know like. When when President Bush passed away and they closed the government for a day out of out of respect, things like that, it’s you can cope with now.

Kevin Long: Planned, but you can cope. With.

Adam McNair: Something that a lot of people probably may maybe not don’t realize is that when the government does things like that. Contractors. It’s the same way as just if it’s shut down, getting paid as a contractor when the government decides to close for a day or like now for for a month, it really is the same. So it’s it’s depending on your contract type. You might be able to to be indefinitely getting paid while it’s while it’s closed. Or it might be some combination of of PTO and leave.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: In in in the times that you’ve worked on site now, were you actually shut down and at home at any point or was it?

Kevin Long: Have been really lucky that when I was on site at customer site it well I was at State Department and the State Department had. A really smart guy that ran the M Bureau Management Bureau. And he was able to keep the entire department open essentially through. Visa processing fees and passport fees that consular affairs put in. So I I have been around it and I’ve had people that work with me and and for me get sent home. I am really lucky that that I have I I never had had to be on the receiving end of that conversation.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and that that’s that again, it it, it isn’t even. And people might say, OK, well, who’s who’s really essential from an agency perspective? OK, well, I’m sure Homeland Security and and Department of Defense, those kinds of things. It’s very, very random as to who’s mission essential and who’s not.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: And who’s deemed that way and what agencies stay open and which ones don’t?

Kevin Long: Oh yeah? When? When we were found out that State Department was going to stay open, we had the guidance still do all of the all of the determination who’s essential, who’s non essential because they weren’t sure it was going to happen. So I had gotten to talk with all of my staff and the customer had talked with me, you know, project manager, you’re not essential. Sorry it’s. Like. That that makes sense. I’m not going to keep. I’m not going to keep the secretaries, IT systems up and running. You know, John John will do that. John should be in the office.

Adam McNair: That makes a lot of sense. This is some of the things that we have done as a company in addition to just trying to.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: Over communicate. We. We were able to. Establish a leave pool for folks, because everybody that can’t be billing and you know we can only carry folks for so long, just kind of out out of pocket. We were able to establish and and pay for as a company a a pool of leave that was. Partially funded by the corporation and partially funded by donations from employees. Because you know, we’re in this situation where we’re about 10% shut down across the company. And the other 90% of people across highlight gave various amounts of leave that we we we used to fund Bank of. Of leave for those people that are shut down now. That’s worked thus far. We’ve done some things with some some businesses in the area with regard to. Discounts and things like that for for furloughed employees, both contractors and and federal. And you know my my wife was out with the owner of this is near the 29 diner in Fairfax. It’s actually impressive what they’re doing. They are. Up to $60.00 per family. Free food per day. So if you are a furloughed government employee or contractor, you can go in there and they will give you $60 worth of food and you can eat it there. You can take it home and you can come back every day and you know the 29 diner does a lot of things like that.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: They do, they they see a lot of veterans. They feed a lot of police and fire department, they they feed a lot of different organizations from a charitable perspective like that. But so that’s what, that’s what they are doing. And so we. Donate a little bit to them to help facilitate that, but.

Kevin Long: I’ve seen, I think it’s a Z pizza put up signs too that it’s between 3:00 and 5:00. Flash. Government ID say you’re furloughed. Get a free pizza flash a contractor ID. Say your furloughed, get a $5 pizza. Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Adam McNair: And it’s. I’ve seen a lot of it. There are increasingly stories that are things I’ve never seen before, where so many places are offering discounts and such for for furloughed folks. You know, one of the things that I I think. Was not something I thought about, but I was ending up talking to my father about it and my father was always very cavalier about shutdowns. He always just say, you know, son, this is just going to be a paid vacation for me because here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to shut it down for a couple of days. I will come back to work at some point here and I will get all of my back pay. He he would always Trump at the fact he worked 51 years for the federal government. I never worked one day that it didn’t get paid for. I’m not worried about it well. That, though, was when these shutdowns were always a few days. And I was talking to him.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: When this right around the time all this happened and he said, well, you know what, I’m not sure of is if they’re actually going to run pension checks because he’s retired now. And I’m not really sure if they’re going to run pension checks and deposit them or not. And it’s, I don’t know if the funding from the pension plan. I I wouldn’t imagine that would get. You know, interrupted. But I don’t know if the people that actually do that check cutting are going to be there and.

Kevin Long: Are cutting the checks.

Adam McNair: That’s another big populace of people that.

Kevin Long: That’s huge.

Adam McNair: As far as I know and last I talked to him, he did get his first pension check, but he also doesn’t know and has no real way to find out.

Kevin Long: That’s good. Is is really frustrating, nerve wracking.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And it’s it’s it, it really is. And so I guess that that. Summing up, what we’ve been able to do for people we we were able to raise enough leave that the first full two weeks that the government was going to be shut down. We were able to pay everybody, so everybody got a full paycheck. I think we are probably square for that again. Here for the last half of of January that everybody that is shut, you know, shut down will. Will.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: Still be on on payroll the. The big question, of course, is how long this this lasts. It will end eventually. I mean that that that may may be too powerful a statement, but I’m pretty sure that it will end eventually and all this will will open back up. What do you think or how bad do you think it is going to impact that contract or federal employee dynamic because we spend a lot of time trying to search for commonality between contractors and.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: Federal employees and feel like all part of one team, and I feel like things like this are very. Disruptive to that same building.

Kevin Long: Oh, it points out it points out the really most stark difference between contractor and and federal employee there. It’s that well. Well, there’s no guarantee and it will take take an act of Congress to issue back pay to to feds. There are precisely 0 examples in the history of America where. Where back pay hasn’t been issued and your dad’s absolutely right. I mean, if he was, he sat at home, he got a paid vacation. If he was deemed essential, he went in and he. Eventually got paid. And. It is. It is. Difficult to be on the shorter end of that stick when you’re when you’re a contractor. That said, you know, I mean, as I used to have one customer who would always come in and say, oh, you highly paid government contractors need to do XY and Z. And there are examples where where contractors make more money than feds in the day-to-day business. There are examples where they. Don’t. MHM. And where they don’t, it makes it that much more. More difficult but. With with the right. Framing and point of view. I really think that it’s. There’s still enough commonality between customer and contractor that everyone can look at it and agree. It’s like, wow. That was terrible.

Adam McNair: And I also, you know, just kind of thinking about what we were talking about with. The logistics of different kinds of. It’s possible that there will be pockets of the government that were are essentially unaffected. Yeah, the government was was working. All the contractors were working and sure that I think is one of the strangest things about this is that there are so many organizations that hear this. And I I think it’s fair to say that pretty much all media is dominated. By the shut down conversation, I mean pretty much every website that I look at, every, every news show that I turn on. This is really the driving dialogue of the day.

Kevin Long: There you go.

Adam McNair: But big parts of big parts of the government will have been completely untouched by it.

Kevin Long: Yeah. I mean, the impact for DoD contracts, contractors and and feds, it’s going to be a vastly different experience than it is for Department of Interior or or Agriculture where I mean essentially everyone got that town.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and it in in the same way that it’s going to miss. Some government organizations it will miss or really negatively impact. Contractors in uneven ways. You know, there are companies like ourselves who we have 10% of our workforce who are at home and we’re finding ways to do things for them and we’re spending a lot of time having conversations at a granular employee by employee level monitoring. Leave balances and figuring out how much more leave we could allocate. But that’s because the preponderance of our company is not shut down. I I am sure there are companies in this industry right now. Who are essentially on life support and are what? What do you do? I mean, I think you almost go into hibernation mode if if we had 50 employees or any number of employees, but 100% of them were supporting interior and agriculture.

Kevin Long: Yeah. You send everybody home then. I mean you, everyone it’s it’s. We’ll call you when it opens back up. Because I mean most most companies don’t sit around with, you know.

Adam McNair: Yeah. Yeah. Headquarters everybody. Yeah.

Kevin Long: Months and months of operating capital just sitting in a bank. MHM.

Adam McNair: And and that also ties into I think. Their retention and in future impacts, you know, one of the things that you said is it it depends on how long somebody has been a contractor as to whether they’ve been through this before. And. I think that’s the same thing, whether they’ve been through a contract transition before or not. You know, I’ve had employees over the years that we go tell them, hey, look. We just won this contract. I don’t know what that means. Like for the company that you work for doesn’t have this work anymore and now we have this work so well. Let’s say do I have then it’s like. Well.

Kevin Long: None.

Adam McNair: That’s it’s an uncomfortable statement, but you actually don’t like. You don’t have to work for us. But yeah, that that seat you’re in.

Kevin Long: You can’t work here if you don’t.

Adam McNair: Is our our contract now and I have to put a person in it to do that job and that can be you or. Somebody else but. Yeah, that’s not you anymore and. That’s that’s a really, really. Awkward thing now that’s and that goes into whether you some contractors aren’t aren’t honest with their employees, which is is unfortunate, but yeah. The the that same kind of impact and that kind of insecurity it creates and the stress it creates. Are are you envisioning major impact from lack of people wanting to get into federal contracting after this is over?

Kevin Long: It’s. Great question. I I don’t know that we’ll see a lack of people wanting to get in cause from. From the outside, it’s all over the news, but it’s a it’s something that’s likely impacting someone else. I I fear people that are in the game that decide that it’s not worth it and that you know. Amazon’s not going anywhere, but they are coming here, so why don’t we go? Why don’t we go dip our toe in the commercial sector or why don’t we go look at?

Adam McNair: MHM.

Kevin Long: Only DoD because the odds that they’re going to shut down the Department of Defense are much lower than agriculture, education, interior pick pick somewhere in civilian, right.

Adam McNair: Yeah, this is this. I think is the first. Tangible time where it would be very difficult to give a. Person an answer for. Working in a. Shut down agency to try to sell them on that job. You know, there have been times before. Where? The the the political agenda was towards some agencies and against others and and you are. Talking to a a prospective employee and they say, well, if I go to work for agency X, it sounds like this administration, it is really their policies are not the focus on this agency. This seems to be an afterthought. So OK, yes. But so the difference is is their annual budget going to be. $4 billion or 3.6 billion. Do you really think that that’s?

Kevin Long: Your salary is not that much. There’s room for you.

Adam McNair: Right. You know, somebody went and took a a trash can full of water out of the ocean. Are you now not going to buy a boat because there’s slightly less water than there used to be? Yeah. It’s not going to impact you. You don’t. You can’t afford a boat big enough that that’s going. To be a problem. But now all of a sudden. I almost feel like it is the last time I think I can correlate it to something that felt like this was when the base realignment in DoD started to happen and and there were times where.

Kevin Long: Yeah, yeah.

Adam McNair: For example, I had a team out in Nebraska. And there was a lot of conversation and rumors that that entire office was going to be evaporated and they were going to be consolidated. And you say, well, but it might not happen. And this that’s when history starts to plan. And they say, look, the only reason that we’re all here in Omaha right now is that this agency. Used to have regional offices in each one of these states, and they shut all of them down and they went from 60 people to 12 of us here in Omaha. And we do regional support remote. All they’re doing is another level of roll up of that, and they’re going to close down this town and twelve others, and we’re all going to end up in one Midwest location that probably won’t be here. And it was a. Real. Hiring challenge now that never really played out, but it doesn’t have to play out to scare people.

Kevin Long: No, it just has to be the perception.

Adam McNair: Out of it. And so. So you think that? We’re going to see people that have supported some of these agencies that have been shut down. You think you’re going to see them try to get to those other agencies or. You think going to get out of federal contracting?

Kevin Long: Little from column a little from column B and some people have drank the kool-aid on the mission enough that they’re willing to to to stick it out. I know for a fact that it’s almost certainly going to be a conversation with with people when I’m hiring that. That folks are going to ask about it, it’s like, whoa. What is I? I’m used to getting asked what is your contract funding like or what is your period of performance. Now I’m thinking that we’re going to start getting asks like what is your agency’s budget like? You know, when was it last? When was it it it last given its budget? Is it on a CR that’s been approved? Mm-hmm. Or does it actually have a budget? Or even more so is your budget, or is your agency self funding?

Adam McNair: And and that is something that is a very good point, you know. It is. Interesting to look at the organizations that create their own funding. You know, you mentioned State Department consular affairs creates so much money from passport and visa fees that.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: They are at some level almost budget proof. FDIC is in a lot of those finance and regulatory organizations that can charge regulatory fees are are largely the same way. So there are certainly organizations that have some revenue streams, you know and yeah and then the other side of that.

Kevin Long: Certainly the rarity.

Adam McNair: Is it’s not quite as certain, but it is certainly protected. Is there are a lot of functions of government that are required by regulation and law, and it takes an act of Congress to stop doing that, you know if. Census has to do a decennial.

Kevin Long: Right, yeah.

Adam McNair: Now.

Kevin Long: Boy, I never even thought if that if there was a shutdown during a census that would be. I mean, Constitution says thou shalt. Ohh.

Adam McNair: Now, sure. Yes now.

Kevin Long: Yeah, yeah.

Adam McNair: That that, the other thing that is is is having worked on. Two of the decennial. That is not a six month ramp up to do the decennial census. It is a 9.6 year ramp up to do a decennial census. It’s a massive undertaking and you know the last one that I was involved in, I want to say it was 700,000 temporary workers that get hired.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: To and if you think about what that would take that you need 700,000 people to go door to door and knock on doors, but you need to ramp them up, have them do that, complete their tasks in a given amount of time. You need to train them to do it and then you.

Kevin Long: Knock on doors high.

Adam McNair: Need to offboard them. I mean it’s it’s a massive undertaking.

Kevin Long: Wow.

Adam McNair: From a logistics standpoint, so that’s, that’s where we are for the the shutdown, I I sincerely hope that this is the only highlight cast we ever do about the shutdown. There’s some other things that we will likely.

Kevin Long: Meltdowns.

Adam McNair: Want to touch on in future episodes? We, for one, we are moving to a new headquarters office in in March of of 2019. We are rebranding the corporation for a little bit more of who we truly are today. As opposed to who we have been, which is always a thing that you need to update occasionally and. We also since recently have added ISO 44,000 to the corporation, which were the were the first certainly small business in America and based on what we understand from our register, we’re the first US based corporation to get ice. 44,000 certified which? Is really managing risk and ensuring performance collaboratively between us and our customers. And so that’s something we would like to talk about. But but honestly the the first thing we think about when we get to work every day right now and the last thing we think about before we leave and what we think about in the evening is the fact that the government is partially shut down and we’ve got.

Kevin Long: Shut.

Adam McNair: Several of our employees that are that are impacted that we are doing our best to take the sting out of that, but it is, it isn’t sustainable indefinitely and there’s just a lot of of negative impacts to it in a lot of different ways so. We will get to those other topics, but we wanted to talk about about this one, so.

Kevin Long: The £800 gorilla, yeah.

Adam McNair: Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you everybody for taking the time to listen and we will. We’ll talk to you again. Soon.

The views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect highlight technologies and or any agency of the US government.

Episode #6 | The Rebrand


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Announcement Broadcasting from Fairfax, VA you are now tuned in to the highlight cast with your hosts Adam McNair and Kevin Long.

Adam McNair: Hello everybody, this is  Adam McNair: . I’m back with the highlight cast joined by Kevin Long. Kevin, good to have. You.

Kevin Long: Nice to be here.

Adam McNair: All right. So it’s been a little while. We wanted to get back together and talk about some things that have been happening happening in the industry and with the company, first of which? Is we have rebranded recently and. The real questions around that is what is the rebrand? But also why did we do it and so wanted to talk a little bit about the why as a government contractor, I think probably is any company. One of the things that happens a lot is you describe yourself as what you have been. Then not necessarily what you are any longer.

Kevin Long: Or what or what what you want.

Adam McNair: To be right. And so I think that combination of kind of what I would call aspirational branding of what are we trying to be and who are we now very frequently when you’re doing branding, you end up sending people back to go look at what projects have we done. And I think maybe that’s more of a government thing government contractor.

Kevin Long: Could be, although I mean. The past is really the best descriptor of. It’s the easiest descriptor of what you are, I think, but it’s I guess it’s when you look at, you know, they all all the Business School classes tell you, you know, vision and mission and things like that. And I think too often you end up not thinking about the forward-looking what? You want to do. Right. I mean. But we do spend way more time than probably other industries writing past performances, right?

Adam McNair: Yeah, because because one of the ways that we win business as a government contractor is there’s an approach. But then there’s also what is your past experience. So people want to know where have you done this before and how much of it did you do and how long did it go for and and what things can you translate?

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: From what you did before to to current and I think in the commercial space from what I’ve seen often, it’s just what can you.

Kevin Long: Do for me, who can you provide and what can you do? Not not. How many times have you done it before? At least not as much.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And so so the the why of rebranding was really. We’ve been in business for over 10 years now and so. Ten years ago, we were a much different company than we are today and even a couple of years ago we were a much different company than we are today. And so the the process of rebranding, the reason for it was. We want to describe ourselves as to what we offer today and what we want to offer to the government as opposed to just what we’ve done before. And so the process that we undertook, so we we talked about doing it internally, but it is.

Kevin Long: It’s a lot of.

Adam McNair: Work. It’s a lot of work, and it’s also eminently difficult to be objective. About yourself. And so we we hired a company to. Run the rebranding process for us and. The process included really a 360° kind of analysis, so they surveyed our customers. They surveyed employees, they talked to the leadership. Of the company. They also looked at what we put out publicly, what proposals do we write, what marketing materials do we have? What does our website say? And tried to coalesce from all of that some. Recommendations for rebranding as we as they came to us and talked to us about that. Some things that we knew about ourselves or believed about ourselves, I think came forward, which were things like. We do a pretty darn good job when we deliver a project. We do a lot to take care of employees and make sure that we have really spoken for employee interests in every opportunity where we’ve had to do that. But the interesting part was. That seemed to be very differentiated in the market space that a lot of companies don’t do that, that our average quality or customer satisfaction score was higher than a lot of other companies that our average spend for employees was a lot higher than the average spend for an employee to. Take care of things like benefits and so forth. So during that process. They came back to us with some things that I think we. Agreed. We’re correct about ourselves, but we weren’t actually sure were that different from a lot of companies. Now, Kevin, what was your exposure to the the rebranding process?

Kevin Long: Sure. Well, I was in a a bunch of meetings where we talked about whether we were going to do it ourselves and I’m glad we didn’t because that’s that’s not our core competency, right. It’s I, I, I believe in letting experts be experts. So I was there for that and then. I know we, you know, just like the government does. I I was part of when we were looking at the different companies that were that were being interviewed for that. So I was part of the out briefs for that. And then once we’d picked the vendor that we were going to use, they asked me who they should talk to. Of customers of my staff and then me and I got, you know, I had to do different surveys to talk about, you know. What was it that if highlight was a car, what would it be? Right. So it was really interesting that they how they approached. Making you think about, you know, honestly other commodities and other other things that you’d buy. That aren’t related to an IT firm, right? But it’s a. So they they had they had a creative method to be able to make you think about the company in different ways, so. Yeah. So, yeah, through the decision points then, you know, I was the data point as well it was. It was an interesting experience.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and I appreciated that as well because I. I think like like a lot of things when you’re involved in something, it is imminently hard to really describe it, and especially for somebody like us. There are companies larger and smaller than us who are much more concentrated on one particular thing. And you know, we are doing technology work and mission work, which is automatically a dividing point. We are doing it in DC, Maryland.

Kevin Long: Very specific, yeah.

Adam McNair: Virginia, we are also doing it in New Jersey, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Hawaii. St. Louis, MO. Theoretically in Illinois, we have some in Illinois, we just started one in California. So you’ve got a lot of spam there that.

Kevin Long: It didn’t.

Adam McNair: Even in the 304 hundred 500 person realm you find a lot of companies that have all 500 of their employees in one place, supporting maybe even 1 customer sometimes. So there’s a lot of of of different.

Kevin Long: Oh, absolutely.

Adam McNair: Mission and demographic data that crosses into that so. Their process of going through the the rebrand was interesting and it it came back with some different things that led up to both a tagline and a methodology that we have now coined. The tagline. No way. Know how? And so when I look at some of the projects that we’ve delivered successfully because it’s not the projects where somebody approaches you and says we know exactly what we. Want. And we know exactly how we want it done. Those aren’t the ones that are super hard usually.

Kevin Long: Well, and those are the ones that are honestly less interesting because if the customer knows everything and knows exactly what they want. They’re buying a commodity, right and. Highlight cells brains. We hire really smart people that are good at solving problems. So I mean, honestly, there’s a there’s a ton of government contract work out there that really is just. I want to button a seat that will do what I tell them to do. It’s all over the place, but that’s, you know, that’s not who we hire. That’s not what we do. That’s not what our customers. Tend to need.

Adam McNair: Yeah, I mean, I go back, it’s probably. A year or so ago, and one of our civilian area customers came to us and said we have never really tackled our data issue internally. But what we know is that for the last 50 years, we have been collecting data in paper format and. We know that we need to catalog, organize and digitize that data. We’re not really sure what we should do, and we came back to them with a solution that said, this really should be two phases. You need to figure out what you want to do with this data, and then we need to process all of it. And they said, well, that’s fine, but we don’t have the budget to figure out what we want to do with it. First, we have to process it and then we can get the data. The the money for the what we do with the data first. And so we figured out, OK, well, if we were going to back into this, how could we process this data to have it be the most flexible? So that once they decide on their enterprise data strategy, we haven’t painted ourselves in a corner. Essentially, those are the kind of projects and we we completed that. We scanned all of it. And so you know the the tactical.

Kevin Long: That. Help.

Adam McNair: Level problems.

Kevin Long: And those had tactical level problems too.

Adam McNair: Yeah, I’m going to open a box and find some papers in there that came from 65 years. Ago and. You can’t scan them because they fall apart and all the rest of it.

Kevin Long: Right. It’s. Crumbled up and the anks faded or torn in half or.

Adam McNair: Well and interestingly, I mean some of the things that we found weren’t even the records we were supposed to find. What we found were somebody 30 years ago when they said, OK, this project is done, go ahead and box up the records that are important. They didn’t have a rule that said what was important or not. So they just took everything on their desk, including travel receipts and random papers, and part of the Washington Post and the newsletter from wherever and put. It on a box. And then we found it 30 some years later and said, oh, wow, you know, OK turns out that you know that that the Washington football team might get a new stadium. Look at that. So a lot of that happened, but.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: The real art of it, I think, was we created for them a structure so that they could figure out later what to do with all of that information and didn’t have to do it in the right order. And so that those kinds of. Things are the. No way, no how we know how to do this business and. So the the rebranding process hit on that and some of the conversations we had were. So what it sounds like we are best at is figuring out hard problems. That’s not truly a technology challenge in and of itself. That’s not how do I fit more storage into a cloud environment or.

Kevin Long: How many transistors can you fit on a chip? No.

Adam McNair: Yeah, it it wasn’t any of that. And so the the the talk that we had was do we try to lean forward on some technology angle and where we came about was. It’s rarely the technology that’s the problem anymore. It usually is something else. It’s people, it’s stakeholders, it’s regulation. It’s something like that. So we decided that we were going to go ahead and. Except that what was coming back to us is that we just do this business in in a very. Strong, predictable manner.

Kevin Long: Manners. Our process is a good. 1.

Adam McNair: Yeah. So we accepted that. So during the rebrand, what it pointed to was highlight technologies was. A bit of a point in the wrong direction from the standpoint of what we do best highlight was called highlight because we said that we wanted to highlight our customers successes and that didn’t necessarily mean technology successes. Because most agencies, I mean, there might be a couple or individual offices where technology is truly their focal point, but most of our customers.

Kevin Long: Technology is a tool and it helps solve their problem. Yes.

Adam McNair: So we’re we’re there to help their mission succeed, whether that be. The War fighter mission, whether that be the International Development, mission, diplomacy, the safety and welfare, food and people, something other than just technology.

Kevin Long: Right, I’ll do. And I made a cool system.

Adam McNair: So we went ahead and we have rebranded as highlight. We highlights we dropped the technologies part and we adopted tagline. No way, no how meaning that. We believe and we have a lot of empirical data to back this up based on past performance is that we know how to get things done for customers and we know the way to do that so that it works well in their environment. You know we. Try to make sure that we are a collaborative partner in the process and we don’t walk up with a.

Kevin Long: We know better than you do for your space.

Adam McNair: Right, right. Yeah, the the we know better tag line was not one that we thought we would adopt. So. So that’s really the way that the whole process went and.

Kevin Long: No.

Adam McNair: Rolling that out across the the company is something we’re trying to approach being really a brand driven company is that that? Knowing how and knowing the way to do this business, it really does permeate all the different aspects of it, and so a lot of the things that we do with regard to investment in employees and training and so forth that all does tie in because.

Kevin Long: Sure.

Adam McNair: Employees that have been trained to do.

Kevin Long: Yeah. Better job with customer. They’re they’re they’re happier, they’re smarter, they and they do better for the customer. So yeah, absolutely.

Adam McNair: Yeah. So this this all culminated in. We’ve done a.

Adam McNair: Launch of the new website so.

Kevin Long: Looks great. How can I help?

Adam McNair: Lighthighlighttech.com is a a brand new website which goes into some depth about the no way know. How about some of the projects that we’ve done as case studies certainly has some of the the other elements to it. We have tried to.

Kevin Long: To.

Adam McNair: Align our social media presence on LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and such with with that branding. And we did a ribbon cutting going back a little little while ago here. About a week ago.

Kevin Long: New office also.

Adam McNair: New office as well, and so really. Now all of those things come together in that. When we were selecting office space, we could have gone with something that was. Just nice and fancy. What we ended up with was very nice. But is aligned to. Employee and customer requirements in that it’s available to to mass transit. We wanted employees and customers if they wanted to to be able to get here and not have to drive because we know a lot of them are downtown from a cost perspective, it’s a conservative cost of a of a space because. That’s not where we’re trying to invest all of our money with some palatial type office, but it’s nice enough to be here as a nurse, a resource to everybody and allow them to to get their jobs done.

Kevin Long: And it’s a collaborative focus office. That’s great.

Adam McNair: And the one difference that I will say in in all of the offices I’ve done, I’ve been involved in a lot of different build outs and relocations over the years. But the way we approached this one was how do people work the average real estate consultant that will come in and say well. How many square feet per person do you need? One the answer, like most things is it really depends on the person. We have some people here who need quiet, they write documents. They are doing quality checks. We actually have two different suites in this building, one of which is. Very, very quiet. It is where our people, who are writing documents, quality checking documents, looking over deliverables for customers, preparing project plans, etcetera. It’s silent down there and it’s that way by design because our previous office was really all kind of one open area and when we.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: Talked to people about it. They said well. You know either. I love this. It’s great. It’s so much fun. I can talk to everybody or this makes it really hard for me to do my job because it’s open and very loud and it talks to each other. And then when you come up to our our main suite. We’ve similarly the the operations cell, essentially all of us in operations and the people that are running the business and the team that support that are all here in one corner and they’re we’re all right next to the large break room. It gets kind of. Loud it does. If you want to see the finance and contracts team, they’re further down the hall and it’s pretty quiet down there. We haven’t. We have the office set up the way people work so that the office itself is not negatively impacting their daily and daily situation. So we did a ribbon cutting here and interestingly we have moved into the city of Fairfax, even though we’ve always been a Fairfax company, Fairfax and City of Fairfax are very different areas. So we had the.

Kevin Long: Two separate things. Yep.

Adam McNair: Mayor City Council, several people from the the municipality out during our ribbon cutting. And it was a nice ceremony. It was nice to see. I mean, it’s always nice to see that. The city is happy you’re there. It’s always nice to see that the employees are happy that you are in a community because they feel like they have more resources available to them and it’s a fun thing to see. The name of the company go up on the side of the building. That’s a fun thing to do too. But what were your? Thoughts from the the the ribbon cutting and the overall event.

Kevin Long: It was great to see the mayor. He gave a really nice sort of history of of the company, which I hadn’t heard all of talking about. All the our location, the type of work that we’ve done and honestly type of outreach that we do with some of the, the charities that we work with and that was very nice. And honestly, I I loved Rebecca gave a speech and it was very funny. Hearing her talk about moving from her dining room, where she took it over and put up white boards and then when she hired Jim, he was. Like. I need to see people and I’m not coming to your house. You need an office and and from there, you know. It. Just, you know, took off from that and it was a it was a very nice talk to that and it was great because we paired it with a new high orientation. And so we got to have some of the newest highlighters get to see that. And we also. Had some, you know, it’s we’re doing the the monthly the monthly shindig you know meet the meet the team folks and that was part of it. And so I got to you know talk with some folks that are at USCIS and and other places that I hadn’t seen out at had had. Headquarters before. And so it was. Yeah, it was a. It was a good time.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And you know for me. So I ran the process to find the new office. And. Of the things I was looking for of the requirements that I had gathered, you know one of them was for the. People that we have working here from our main office to have the ability for them, something as simple as go to a convenience store or a restaurant at lunchtime and be able to walk or quickly drive there and have it not be some massive exercise in traffic, which really. It. Is. I mean I I tell the story because it’s just it was impactful for me. I tried to go to 711 to get a soda one time at the old office and after 20 minutes I had to turn around in traffic because I just couldn’t get there and it was less than a mile. It’s just it’s where we were right there on the edge of Vienna that those intersections were rough and it was just not.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: Easy to get in and.

Kevin Long: Out of. Yeah, heaven help you if.

Adam McNair: You need to take a left, right, right. You can’t turn left, but also one of the things that we were looking for with this office was. A place that if somebody is on a project, if they are a teleworker that this was comfortable for them to come here. And so our our common area break area, break room is set up not just for lunch, for our internal office here, but when people come from whatever. Project site or teleworker it is a. Cafe Coffee shop style set up so that they can. They can set up shop. They can sit there, we put extra money into the Wi-Fi to make sure that that all works well and we’ve got the fancy coffee machine and snacks and all of that so that they can sit down and.

Kevin Long: Really does too.

Adam McNair: Work what they want to until whatever they are here for is you know that they’re ready for. Because what one of the use cases we have is somebody’s going to come out here for a meeting at 1:00. Well, if you’re going to come here for a meeting at 1:00 and you’re going to get done at 2:30, you’re not driving back into DC so that you can then drive to. Lorton or. National Harbor or wherever else. You kind of have this limbo time, so this gives them the ability to say, OK, I want to work from this office, I’m going to put in an hour or two from here and have it be comfortable and all of the printers are Wi-Fi connected so they can map to things correctly. So there was a lot of of thought that went into that, but the the ribbon cutting also. For me was. Bringing together the new brand and the true new feeling of. What are you today and what are you going to be? What do you want to be as opposed to where have you been? And certainly this facility is very much a who are we today and who are we going to be tomorrow as opposed to you know who we we have been one of the things that we tied in with all of this is. The. Best practice framework that we use to deliver services to the government and. Delivering services is.

Kevin Long: What we know?

Adam McNair: Increasing in complexity depending on the services you’re trying to deliver. But there are a lot of best practices that people end up talking about that, Kevin, you’ve been around Isos and C MI’s for ever. Probably when did you start getting exposed to those from a federal standpoint?

Kevin Long: Yeah. Ohh gosh. When I was working at Alpha Insight Khaki at State Department, we helped the the contract there get ISO 20,000. That was that was gosh, they were the first in the federal government at that point in time so. Yeah, it was. It was interesting. But yeah, now you see everybody with that, but that was that’s the first first thing that I actually had to. Be. Involved.

Adam McNair: Yeah. So when I when I first got started in this business, I I had had heard of it a little bit, but. I was a. My company was a protege to Antion for a little while, which has been bought 19 different times since then. But. One of the things that they talked about was, well, you might want to get an ISO or CMI. Certification. And there was no. How do I do that or what does that mean or anything? It just was this. Kind of. There was goodness there, but one couldn’t understand why. And so when I also I when I started at at alpha in site and Devin Duffer, who manages our our quality and those kinds of certifications now. We started talking about. ISO 9000 and. CMI and all of these different, different best practices and process models and. It probably took me a decade to really internalize what they do or what they mean and. Part of the process I’ve gone through over the last 20 years is trying to look for things in those different models that actually help you do better work. There’s always something that.

Kevin Long: Right.

Adam McNair: Was written by somebody because they had to write something, and then there are things that actually help you. It’s like those old tags on mattresses that says don’t tear these off. But if you tear them off, nothing happens. And then there’s, like, the break in case of fire. And when you break that something happens. So there’s there’s some things where there’s no actual cause and.

Kevin Long: Right.

Adam McNair: Fact and some that there are. So what we’ve built here at highlight is a service delivery model based on those best practices and. It is certified in all of those. Just because. Number one, if you want to be credible, it’s it’s good to have somebody come in and objectively look. But it’s also a very, very good way to get better if you want to look at. I wrote all these things, do they actually work? Have somebody come in and test them objectively so.

Adam McNair: What we have branded as highway, just the way we do business is a collection. Uniquely of six different certifications. So the unique part I’ll guess I’ll address last on this varying lead or not, but the most common ones that you see all the time, so ISO 9000 that’s a general approach to quality. So we have a. The. Process that says we’re going to pay attention to make sure that we are doing a good job. Now the practical application of that you do program reviews of all of your projects every month.

Kevin Long: Sure. Yep. So yeah, 9000 says you’ve written down what you’re going to do and you do what you’ve written down. And for us, part of what we do for checking that quality with program reviews is I have a template of things that we have decided is. Important. To know every month that I should follow up on, you know, how is staffing, how is funding, how is quality, are you doing your deliverables? Do you have, are all your staff meeting your labor cap, quals all all of when is your recompete right all of the different things that that you talk with with your PM that is important. To important for the PM to know and important for me to make sure that I follow up on you know what? What risks do you have? And you know it’s it’s a real simple thing, you know, red, yellow, green. I mean, what do we need to talk about more. Right. Red. Red means I’m going to pay attention to it a lot. I’m going to have specific actions and. I’m going to. Be on the phone with you. Yellow means. You better have specific actions and be working on it. Let me know how it’s going and green is is great. You can we can have the conversation about it, but you know every month, every program. Cross the board tomorrow night both. You know, for for everyone. It’s it is literally. I mean it’s it’s the cover charge to do business with the government, right. It’s it’s the cost. Business.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and and that’s. The way that I look at it is. We want to do only those things from a quality standpoint that really give us value. We’re not trying to fill out forms or check boxes or have people have conversations for no particular reason.

Kevin Long: Yes. A board for paper sake drives me insane.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and and it always has me too. And so, you know, the way that we handle risks. As Kevin as you were alluding to, if you or tomorrow mince, who’s our other VP and OPS? If there’s something that either one of you believes is red, that’s a big deal, then we corporately should pay attention to it. And that’s one of the things every Monday I have an internal. OPS meeting. And we talk about that we look at. It from the standpoint of. What can the company be doing to help this project? Because risks sometimes are big, but usually what you find is that they’re pretty small. They’re there’s one person or two people on a project who have encountered something. The impact can be big, but a lot of times just helping them doesn’t take that much effort sometime. It’s it’s. I don’t have backup. Sometimes it’s I need something documented, sometimes it’s we need augmented training.

Kevin Long: I’m yeah. I need more resumes for an opening I mean. That’s.

Adam McNair: And there are things that with the right focus, we can help out with. So that’s really the the 9000 piece. So then and as you alluded to, I said 20,000. So we were part of khaki when we did that, I don’t know a long time ago now. So we were the first company in America to be, I said 20,000 certified back when that that came. And ISO 20,000 is really the IT service management certification. And so that’s. If anybody has read the ITIL, the information Technology infrastructure library book set that the UK published whenever that happened.

Kevin Long: Version four is now.

Adam McNair: Is WOW version 4. How time moves along right?

Kevin Long: So.

Adam McNair: And really, I mean the way that I would summarize it and you’re far more certified than ITIL than I am. But the way that I summarize it is it gives you a good vocabulary to discuss IT management.

Kevin Long: Thus it strategy, it management all the way through to turning, turning it off. It is it. It’s the best set of. Descriptors or problem solving tools and approaches that I’ve seen out of anything like that.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And for me it was it the the true value to me is that. If you do not have a vocabulary with which to describe something, it becomes very difficult to holistically plan or or work through it. And because I till defines a collection of terms that says that you should have. All of these areas of awareness when you’re handling it. It drives the conversation of how are we going to address those things? And if you address them, whether you address them well or you address them very in a very minor fashion, at least you have a comprehensive view of where you are from an IT standpoint. So ISO 20,000 really make sure that you are compliant with ITIL because ITIL is.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: An idea? There’s no. But you have to do it in ITIL. ITIL, are, are they are theories? They’re not, it’s not prescriptive in any real way.

Kevin Long: 

Yeah. I mean, they talk about specific tools, but they don’t tell you this is what it is. You have a configuration management database and they tell you the type of stuff that should have in it, but they don’t. ITIL doesn’t sell you the database, right? Because?

Adam McNair: No, and they don’t. They don’t outline processes to make sure that everybody puts things in the configuration.

Kevin Long: Right.

Adam McNair: Management database so.

Kevin Long: Yeah, yeah. And they’ll say things like, you know, release control and validation is important, right. And then give you different things to pay attention to with RCV and, But yeah, it’s it is, you know. It’s like the salt when you’re cooking, it’s flavor for yourself, right?

Adam McNair: Right. And so 20,000 really says, OK, if you’re going to do that? What’s your release process? You have to have one, then it has to have controls in it and it has to be audited to make sure that the people that are doing it are following it. So that’s the the teeth that 20,000 puts into it. 27,000 is really security and risk management. And especially in a federal environment, it’s really important because every law, every piece of regulation, every government organization that has their own internal governance standards. You end up with a partial list of those in a federal contract, but generally there’s also some far clause that says. And any other relevant regulation you have to abide by that as well. And so 27,000 helps you at critical points like during start up during option periods during major releases, things like that. It helps make sure that you are aligning what you’re doing. To what’s compliant with that given customer organization? Then the I’ll talk about the last ISO here in a minute, but the then there’s there’s two CMMI’s and that’s. Seem to my is really a maturity model and so they each have their own one to five scales. Which one starts out with? You’re aware of it, right? I don’t do anything, but I’m aware that I do some things and then you get to level 2 and it says that you at least documented what you do, but you don’t know if it’s good or not. And then.

Kevin Long: I do nothing.

Adam McNair: Up into measured and managed.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: So you get to Level 3 and it says we’re actually managing what we’re doing now. You get up into the four and five level and that’s just to say that every decision that you’re making is tied directly to decision metrics around what you did before and what you’re doing now. And so there are.

Kevin Long: Optimizing it and charging the government more than they want to.

Adam McNair: Pay that happens a lot. I would agree with you. Yeah. So I I think. You know, Level 3 is really the standard for things that are. Likely to be changed in the what I will call the intermediate future. So same of my level 5. If you’re going to put an embedded system in the flight control of an airplane or a missile or a satellite, you’re going to launch something you can’t touch.

Kevin Long: Like I want, I want SpaceX to be C, MI 5, right. They’re software. Sure, putting a person in space totally.

Adam McNair: Absolutely. And similarly, if you’re going to build a. Microwave or a piece of medical gear and you’re not going to touch it again. Now I know there’s some IO T microwave, so I’m not going to speak to that, but things that cannot be updated that you want to make sure that you know that you built it to last for the next two life cycles of what it was intended for then absolutely. CMMI Level 5 has some some benefit to it. So we do CMI Level 3, which means just that we are managing around processes that we have established and they are on both the development and services side. So if we’re building applications or we are doing engineering services that we are following. What, at least at some point, Carnegie Mellon believed, was the best way to do that. So they are much more prescriptive than ISO. ISO just says you need to have a process.

Kevin Long: Oh yes. Tell us what it is and show. Us. You followed it? Yeah, yeah.

Adam McNair: Yes, exactly. CMI says no, no. If you want to build software, this is the way you should build software. So we do follow that. Now the the term of art that’s a little bit different is ISO. You’re certified. So if you go look at our wall in our office, we have the certificate, the certificates for ISO posted up on the wall. CMI doesn’t do that. CMI. You are externally appraised now. This is one of those things we will often say that we’re certified right and we will often say we’re certified in CMMI interpersonally, but the official term is externally appraised.

Kevin Long: Praised. It’s a difference of that at this stage, a distinction without a difference.

Adam McNair: Down. Both of them you have to be externally appraised. So for the Isos we pay an auditor to come out here to spend a couple of days and look through an absolute mountain of documentation and interview a bunch of people, and then they come out and say you absolutely comply with all of this. Here are your certificates.

Kevin Long: Right. Well, they say. Here’s here’s where you can improve. But you’ve done enough.

Adam McNair: Absolutely. I see in my mind is exactly. The same thing, yes. It just takes instead of days. It takes a week or two and instead of sending one person they. Send three or four. And instead of them saying that we are certified, they have to recommend it to Carnegie Mellon, Carnegie Mellon. And then we get it back. But so it’s it’s essentially the same process, it’s just more more arduous. But we follow both of those. So if we’re going to design a computer system, we’re going to build software we follow. Both of those where we are unique is ISO 44,000 and.Collaborative business relationship management so as of. Certainly the recording of this podcast, and perhaps for a while longer. So we’re the only company in America that has 44,000 and.

Kevin Long: 

Wood. Yeah, a handful in the world too, really.

Adam McNair: So there’s really only a handful in the world. There were as of at the point where we became certified. There were six companies in England that had achieved it and they were. Companies that had major stakeholder tie INS. One of them was an energy company. One of them was an airline. These are places where you have a lot of different complex business relationships and the reason that we went after ISO 44,000 was that. There’s not many things that are more complex than building. Enterprise processes and systems for the federal government, with all of the stakeholders of that agency across the agency, interagency, multiple contractors, technology vendors, etcetera.

Kevin Long: Technology is no longer the hardest problem to.

Adam McNair: Solve absolutely and you know the. Push to the cloud as an example. Aligning what your agency wants to do with technology is one thing. Then when you say, OK, we’re going to all put it in a cloud provider, lining up the technology road map of that cloud provider just with the road map of your particular customer, it’s very, very difficult. But if you don’t take the time. To do that. You can paint yourself into that corner where you are now doing things that that provider is no longer going to support two or three years. On the road? Yep. So.

Kevin Long: And and none of your customers are happy with the. Way you’ve approached. It, and they don’t think that they’re getting what they need. And it is. Yeah, that’s it’s it. It. It is a fraught opportunity right there to approach that, you know, badly.

Adam McNair: So the way that we looked at 44,000 was all of the other best practices, all of the Isos, all of the CMMI’s are. Predominantly. About your own processes. Now different ones of them mentioned something about external risk or external requirements here and there. But 44,000 is really the one that says OK, now that you’ve engineered everything, how do you? Introduce that into an environment for someone else, which I feel like is everything that we do as a company. I mean, we’re not, we’re not building widgets for ourselves. We’re building either software or products or processes or work products for. The American taxpayer at some level or or the military?

Kevin Long: And and even at a closer level than that. We’re building systems that have. We’re usually within the IT organization building systems or producing, you know, reports or what have you for other. Business groups within within an agency. So. We have there are multiple stakeholders, all all around that and it is managing their expectations and their needs is is almost always one of the most complicated parts of any of the work that we do.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And so the the complexity is you’ve got the customer complexities. Which can be multiple groups instead of customer organization. You have other vendors in the environment. Sometimes we’re building software and they’re managing the environment. Sometimes we are writing policy and they are doing the audits and rolling out the tech. It depends on the environment. Then you’ve got third party technical partners, you’ve got your Microsoft.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: And amazons of the world in oracles.

Kevin Long: Oracle.

Adam McNair: They have their own different Rd. maps for their product that. Understandably so. So if you. Look at it. When Microsoft decided that Windows XP was something that wasn’t going to be supported any longer, that’s a completely reasonable business decision on their standpoint. They’re like, look, we we’ve been done with Microsoft Windows XP for 10 years. If you’re still using it, it’s kind of on you at this point.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: But it was also completely understandable on the government side. There were lots of places where we had customers where they said it would cost us hundreds of millions of dollars to build off of this platform and get to something else. And those other platforms haven’t been tested through our security guidelines yet. We’re not allowed to.

Kevin Long: Yep.

Adam McNair: So what do we do?

Kevin Long: Mm-hmm.

Adam McNair: That really is what 44,000 is intended to tackle. So 44,000 says, identify the stakeholders and their requirements, look through derived second order requirements. Figure out when you are starting up an engagement or when you are wrapping up an engagement. The kinds of communications. That you need to have and. It hits to me a lot at. A lot of the bids and a lot of the programs we have, they’ll ask for a communication plan that is almost. An add-on.

Kevin Long: Yeah, it’s very pro forum. Most of the.

Adam McNair: Time it feels a little bit to me. Security used to be that way. Yeah, it used to be. Tell me how you would do this work. Oh, and by the way, then write me 3 pages to say how you’re going to make sure that the security operates in our environment. I feel like the government has moved past that. Right. And so now it’s. OK. And tell me how you’re going to communicate with this? Yeah, we’re realistically, like you say, I mean, I feel like that’s where most of these projects go sideways. If they’re going to go there or become challenged or absolutely cause issues is people don’t know what’s happening.

Kevin Long: Or they’re not approaching it in any sort of systematic way, that is, provides any predictability, right? It is. And you know, I like being surprised on Christmas and my birthday. Right. And, you know, customers are absolutely the same way. And so. Hmm. More and more that, I mean, they need to know how you’re going to approach it and what they can expect out of it and you know. That there’s not an IT organization out there that that doesn’t know that dealing with their customers is one of the most challenging things they do, I mean. Geeks don’t like dealing with a lot of hard political interpersonal stuff. Blatant general generalization, but. It is. That that is a a hard part of of what we do and having a process around how we can do that smartly. And repeatedly, it’s amazing.

Adam McNair: And some of those hard questions, you know, when we’re talking about the fact that technology usually isn’t the hard part coming up in, in some organizations coming up with who should be allowed to approve this, which is just a workflow. I mean that when you talk from a a pure tech standpoint, you’re just looking for an answer.

Kevin Long: Sure. Ohh my gosh. Oh.

Adam McNair: I don’t care who it. Is right. Give me a name.

Kevin Long: Get get, give. Give me a title. Give me a roll. Whatever. Anyone named Bob, that’s fine. I can code that, but Nope.

Adam McNair: And then that turns into this massive dialogue. And so those are the kinds of things that ISO 44,000 to identify.

Kevin Long: Oh my God.

Adam McNair: The drivers in an organization, the risk structure, the the power structure or the political hierarchy in the organization. And so 44,000 means that as we are getting started for a program, we are thinking a lot about that and then it defines the process by which we continue to pay attention to that and that’s both. Externally, with all of those other stakeholders, but also internally things like did we have? Somebody that was supporting this project as a special project add-on, who now that special project ended and they’re going to roll off. What are the things were they doing? Were they only touching that special project? If they touch other things that we don’t want to accidentally find out about later?

Kevin Long: After they’ve rolled.

Adam McNair: Also, subcontractors, you know, subcontract management that. Sometimes we’re asked to submit a report on, you know, a report or a plan. It’s not. Just let me make sure they don’t spend more money than they were supposed to. Or let me make sure they get the deliverable. And but. If that’s an entire other company that has its own dynamic, how do we make sure that they’re wrapped into the program such that whatever happens inside of highlight inside of a subcontractor anywhere else? It doesn’t disrupt the dynamic of the program. That’s really what it’s pointed at, and so highway as we’ve coined it, is really the. Collection of those six best practices that we use 44,000 to translate into a customer environment and then. There are some tangible things if we submit a resume, we run it through a verification process to make sure that when we said we. Were. Going to submit person X for this project. We verified that they meet the labor category requirements. We make sure that we’re going to offboard somebody that we turned the access off that when we were supposed to so that we don’t have. Security risks we make sure on a monthly and weekly basis that if there were resources, laptop workspace, anything else that somebody was supposed to have. That they have it before they’re supposed to have it so that we’re not impacting a client, but that really is. The overall framework that we’re using to deliver business and the the rebrand was really just around. Giving some things a name and then I. Think. Noticing that there’s some difference there, that it’s not, we’re not coming up with a new way to do agile development. It’s we’re coming up with a new way to do it, to watch what’s important to a customer while we do.

Kevin Long: It, and it’s also important for. Us here and folks around the company to be able to help describe what we do and how we approach it with that and so. Before this rebrand, I mean a lot of the discussion that we’ve been having is you know, what’s our elevator pitch right and so. Part of this really lets us sort of define, you know, highlight knows the way highlight knows how we do it, the highway right and and being able to wrap that around. You know a customer value story. Is be able to describe that is important.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And the other thing that I like about it frankly is. I’ve been involved in branding exercises before where there was the your side of it and then the employee side of it and then the customer side of it. And the the company side of it was, look, we’re not very good at this or that. So we’re going to accentuate this. And then you had put a spin on that for the customer and to spend on that for the employee the the way we’ve done this truly is.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: It’s internally consistent and honest. It’s. Here’s what we do really well. We do projects for the government very, very well and we are not a. Research and development shop if it if you feel like. You have a problem with continuous integration and you want somebody to build you a better continuous continuous integration Cox package. We’re not going to do that. But we’ll take what’s out there and make sure that we implement it in a way that meets your requirements, because usually. It’s not the technology, it’s not what, what monitoring package are you using to monitor your enterprise? That’s never it. The issue is, can you get people to allow you to install the agent on their device? Can you get people to give you authorization to run reports where you can? Actually see what’s happening and act on it in a timely fashion.

Kevin Long: Are are you measuring the right things?

Adam McNair: Right. And so that truly is, I think where where our value comes out and. It’s been a fun process and it is.

Kevin Long: Yeah.

Adam McNair: Also been a lot of work, some for us and some people we pay to help us. So I think we’re we’re glad that that’s over and we’re glad the signs hung on the outside of the building and we’re glad that the ribbon is cut and what we look to do now is as part of this brand, we’re.

Kevin Long: Sure. Ohh yeah. It looks great.

Adam McNair: We’re really looking to have the podcast, the highlight cast here be part of this communication around it and we’ve been getting some recent feedback as we have been recruiting folks that one of the things that has helped them to get some situational awareness of the company and understand kind of the context of the organization. Is the podcast, so I don’t think we are. Or, you know, ever going to be the the only way that we communicate. But we certainly are going to continue to be a way that we talk about some of the little bit of the behind the scenes pieces of the business. And so we’ll look to get one of these out about every month. I think as the as the workload and travel and everything else. Allows and Kevin. Any other thoughts you had on kind of the the way that we’re moving forward with the the business?

Kevin Long: Honest, I think you. I think you nailed it pretty well. I will just say it was. Shocking to hear that someone that was looking to work here actually said that they listened to the highlight cast, right? It was.

Adam McNair: I know. That. Interesting.

Kevin Long: Gratifying. And, you know, do you listen to more than one too, so that?

Adam McNair: Was amazing. Yeah, that was fun up till now. I just thought it was just that my kids liked it and use it. They use it to go. To sleep in the car.

Kevin Long: But I mean, I know I’m a download. But.

Adam McNair: Yeah, right. So so that’s that’s a couple of us. But but so we will. Continue this and you know, feel free to go ahead and send in any any questions that you have. I think highlight cast at highlighttech.com works and feel free to pass on questions or comments. And thank you very much. See you next time. 

Announcement: Views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect highlight technologies and Oregon any agency of the US government.