Episode #12 | Administration Transition

Announcement: Broadcasting from Fairfax, Virginia. You are now tuned in to The Highlight Cast with your hosts Adam McNair and Kevin Long.

Adam McNair: Everybody to another episode of The Highlight Cast. This is Adam McNair. I’m the Chief Operating Officer here at Highlight. I am joined by our marketing manager, Victoria Robinson. Hi, Victoria. 

Victoria Robinson: Hi, everybody. 

Adam McNair: Uh, also, as, as usual, joined by, uh, Kevin Long, who leads up our development modernization. Good morning, Kevin.

Kevin Long: Morning, Adam. Morning, Victoria. 

Adam McNair: And, and also for this week, we, uh, are happy to have, uh, Emily Scantleberry with us, who is our BD operations manager here at Highlight. Good morning, Emily. 

Emilie Scantlebury: Hey team, and good morning all listeners. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, now in, in full honesty with everybody, I will tell you that we, it’s, we’re allowed to say good morning at kind of at any time with this crew of folks, because both Victoria and Emily are on the West Coast, and Kevin and I are on the East Coast, so the magic of Microsoft Teams allows us to get everybody here in one, one virtual room, but we are kind of spread across the country. Um, now we’re releasing this podcast on, uh, Inauguration Day. And as we wrapped up last year, one of the things that we talked a little bit about was the fact that there was still a fair amount of uncertainty as to priorities of new administration and such. And I think that’s still largely true. But with any transition and switch over, I think there’s, uh, there’s similarity between administration changes with contract transitions. I mean, just change management is, um, is, is always critical to an organization or to a program. Specifically around the administration change, I think that one of the biggest benefits of kind of getting on with the next administration, and this is with any time administrations change, is the last three to six months of any administration, whether they, you know, think they Not when or if they are coming up on, you know, an incumbent and they know that team isn’t eligible for another term. There’s a lot of inertia around not making big wide sweeping decisions and or distraction as you start to have some top, top people in the organizations leave. Um, they, they know that they are more focused on either transition or finding their next role, uh, than You know, they just can’t set long term policy. And so I think it’s, it’s helpful for us, um, as we look for, you know, we’re generally looking on a three or four year time window of things that are coming up in the future. Most of our contracts are five years long. When you’re trying to come up with a roadmap for something, there’s this kind of stopping point that makes it very difficult to look past. Um, But there’s also, in e administration, there’s going to be policy differences, and, um, those are areas where we try to put some estimates in, but it really depends on how much of that’s going to get translated to existing procurements, as opposed to things that will stay on steady, steady, uh, steady state, steady pace. So, Kevin, as far as the. Customers that you’ve interacted with, are you seeing a lot of holds on funding, holds on scope, holds on making large decisions, or is it at, is that kind of at a different level from where your programs reside to where that agency transition is taking place?

Kevin Long: So no one will ever say that it’s because of the transition. But I do notice, you know, procurements that I, that, uh, I was expecting to happen in, you know, late summer or early fall kept getting pushed, kept getting pushed, kept getting pushed. Oh, suddenly new administration is decided and, you know, the GS folks, you know, all of a sudden, you know, Put in some changes to procurement or suddenly drop something that has, uh, uh, that had been waiting since before the election. And it’s now suddenly on the ground and active, but generally, you know, I mean, you do get a lot more. Peren acting close Peren in people’s email signatures for the titles that they’re that they’re in is as the You know presidential appointees, you know, go find their their next gigs. Uh, but I mean it’s This year Previous administrations, really, it’s, it’s, it’s much more boring, I think, than a lot of people might actually think. It’s once the transition starts happening, and you’re suddenly bringing in, you know, new crops of SESs, new crops of presidential appointees, you know, all of the folks that come in, like you were saying, you get the policy changes and, you know, I mean, I’ve run SharePoint teams and so you have a hundred different, you know, Oh, well, here’s the new, uh, bio and the new new head of this. And here’s the new policy documentation. Here’s the new executive orders of the things that they’re going to do that set policy quickly and things like that. I mean, and, you know, I worked the office of the secretary, uh, when secretary Rice was leaving and secretary Clinton was starting. And then when secretary Clinton was leaving. So when you’re doing that, like literally like building or helping them digitize, you know, 23, 000 pages worth of briefing books to get the new secretaries and things like that up to speed to so that they know everything they need to know that that’s where the real work comes in, not so much with, uh, with, with contract funding and things like that, that we’ve seen that the government is very good at, uh, Maintaining itself through, uh, through changes of administration.

Adam McNair: Thankfully, I think that makes it, that makes sense. And I think it, it hits on an area that, um, is essentially a transition, but I have supported organizations that moved from one. Cabinet level agency to another or like when DHS got created I feel like that’s Oh, yeah, that’s actually much more disruptive. I think than a presidential Uh transition, I know when dhs was being created. Um There are questions about I mean this gets kind of mundane, but the details get hard The licensing, you know if you have One platform licensed to one organization and a kind of competing or non, a platform that doesn’t integrate well with that in another organization. Turning all of it off, if they have a multi year enterprise agreement, they may not be able to. 

Kevin Long: Oh yeah. 

Adam McNair: And the architecture is hard. 

Kevin Long: Oh yeah, or do you have a, Dot Miller dot gov, uh, email address all of a sudden, right? I mean, who do you, who do you call when your password needs to be reset? Oh, yeah. Um, that, that is, I mean, yeah, that was way harder than, uh, Than any transition that, that, that I’ve seen and the transition to from rice to, to, to Clinton literally still had paper books that she had to read from Clinton to carry, got to have it all digitized on iPads, um, or tablets of, of one flavor or other. But yeah, when you’re doing large sweeping changes. Like, you know, creating a new, new, uh, cabinet level agency out of, you know, out of a dozen plus other, uh, previously autonomous aid, uh, organizations was, yeah, much harder than that. I mean, and certainly much harder than, uh. You know, just updating your websites, updating your, your, uh, your policies. And I mean, the real thing, depending on where in the hierarchy of an agency you sit, it’s getting to understand how, I mean, you suddenly have a new boss, right? I mean, how they like their information. Uh, what their priorities are and then how you can, I mean, how you can help solve their problems, right? I mean, that’s the whole, the whole reason we’re there, right? If we’re not helping solve their problems, then they will go find someone else that will. And so it’s, um, you know, it’s almost like starting a new job, right? Um, with, uh, with new folks like that, but, uh, you know, much easier for us because we’re part of the, the underlying infrastructure and the, the new folks, new secretaries. Deputy secretaries under secretaries, directors, what have you, um, are, are, are coming in and having to learn a whole new, new system. I actually think this transition, given who I’ve seen so far be named, it’s there are a lot of people who were under secretaries, deputy secretaries, or previous secretaries before, so this will not be their first rodeo. Um, and so I think it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they all and their people hit the ground running once they’re in office spaces in, you know, the Pentagon or Foggy Bottom or, or, you know, Camp Springs or wherever their, their office is going to be. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, it raises a thought for me that I wonder if organizations that are used to. rotation based management Handle this easier than others. I think you know if anybody has supported Department of Defense, you know your your officer core One to two year cycles and and they are you know ready to move out the State Department. 

Kevin Long: Three years and move. 

Adam McNair: Yep. Yeah. And commonly in State Department, if somebody has a three year assignment, uh, about a year’s worth six months on the front and six months on the back end of that is language training to wherever they’re going for their next assignment. Um, because I know I had a, I had a core one time. Who was rotating to Brazil, and I was surprised to find out that he told me at some point, well, I guess this is it. I won’t be seeing you guys. I thought it was months from now. He said, well, yeah, but I have to go learn Portuguese and so I’m going to be at their, you know, uh, the FSI, which is their, their foreign service, you know, kind of college essentially, um, also. There are organizations, especially in law enforcement, you know, I know in, um, in a lot of those locations, agents will be, they will spend time on different desks, they will work South America, then they will work a regional office up here, then they will kind of move around, and so, um, I’m wondering if there is, you know, maybe more of a robust change management kind of built into the culture. The other thing that I have certainly seen is, um, I’ve had customers in the past where they, they have been in that job for 20 or 30. Um, Oh, yeah, I had 1 customer who’d been in her same job for 50 years. And so, I mean, when they, when she retired, obviously, it’s a big deal. And they put a plaque in the in the lobby of the department building for her. But nonetheless, she had that same job for, you know, five decades. And I don’t know how many administrations, um, and so continuity can be helpful from one contractor to the next. But if there are different priorities, it makes me wonder how much stasis might be in that organization. Um, are there, have you seen differences? You know, you’ve worked state a lot. Um, you’ve also worked DOD. Have you seen differences in customers that wanted to just continue to move forward with existing plans they had or those moments where they told you, like, let’s wait and see what, you know, the X administration decides that they, that, you know, they want to say or do.

Kevin Long: Yeah, so, um, generally speaking, uh, well, with DOD, the, the mission of the day is the mission of the day, and they’re going to keep going. And when they get different orders, they’ll put a cleat in the ground and they’ll turn right. In my experience, so, you know, they, they’re, they’re, uh, they’re hardcore keeping with that with, uh, with state department. Well, I mean, where diplomacy is, is sort of. Built into it, right? They do. They do read and it could be that I have twice as much time at state than I do with D. O. T. So it could be just a depth of experience that I see more nuance there that they do do a lot of. Um, and we’ll, we’ll try to, uh, not waste too many cycles, but that said at across most of, of, uh, of the agencies, they’re so large that, I mean, as soon as you get, You know, if you have, you know, three levels down, policy is rarely going, at least as far as IT goes, right, is rarely going to get, get knocked on its ear from a, uh, from a, or from an administration change. You know, I mean, I don’t care who’s president. No one wants to be hacked. Right. I don’t care who’s president. No one wants, uh, uh, outdated, uh, outdated, uh, software and, and hardware for, for their agency. Right. It is things like that are, are, are universal, uh, regardless of politics. And so with that, it’s mainly you’ll see if they think that, Hey, I’ve heard this agency is, is, uh, uh, This president’s um, priority and I think that there might be an increase in funding. They might hold off on putting something out because they think they may get some more money or, hey, I’ve heard this agency is not a president’s priority. Let’s go spend all the budget we have now because And rack and stack priorities to hole up for, uh, you know, cause rainy days could be coming. Um, so you see it some, but, but for the most part, it’s, yeah, I mean, we’re there, they’re very mission oriented and trying to get done with it, what they tried to get done at both, but you know, you’ll definitely see, you know, a new officer comes in or a new foreign service. person comes in and they’re both merit based promotion systems, right? They have, you know, two, three years to prove the value that they’ve got to that they’ve done. And so they want to put their metrics in. And so you see folks, you know, uh, not sometimes you’ll see them not wanting to carry forward what was prior so that they can put their own stamp on something to, you know, show, show how they go with that. Um, But it’s a, you, you rarely see bad ideas come through. You just see, see different approaches and you know, that’s, it’s challenging, but always interesting. 

Adam McNair: I think one of the, so something interesting about things I’ve been involved in is the, the biggest changes in the ways that I had to move forward on programs, honestly, had less to do with who was, you know, In the White House, as opposed to what someone thought about whether it was a state or federal responsibility. Um, yeah, I, at EPA, I’ve, I’ve built systems where the discussion of should this be 50 plus territories? Should this be 53 odd territories? individual systems that feed up with common data standards, or should we have a federal system? Right. And DHS had the same thing around critical infrastructure protection. Um, there’s a lot of those kinds of conversations. Labor 

Kevin Long: has those same things with, you know, you know, labor statistics and things like that, you know, absolutely. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, and so that, that becomes much more complicated, I think, because it’s not, you know, there is no One party that speaks for the states, so it’s a discussion and almost a negotiation with all those different organizations. Um, but, and I also, I mean, I’ve seen that at State Department, frankly, also, where there are some embassies that would build their own applications at times. Yeah, that’s true. There were times that we had a centralized application and then we would go look at the embassy one and realize that the embassy application was actually way more advanced than what we had. So there’s always a little bit of that across stakeholders, I think. Um, now we’ve been through various administration transitions and I’ve, I’ve been around a lot of them. Um, I’ve certainly had customers who sat in on transition teams, and I think, I think all of them are hard. I think, um, the shorter it is, the more difficult. And I, and so I think the incoming administration is going to have, um, extra challenges from the standpoint of not quite as much time to, to prepare. And that’s just like, I equate to contract transitions. Sometimes the hand wringing and discussions and all of the extra thinking and all that that comes in to the transition period, sometimes shorter is almost just as good in some ways, because you can track risks, and you can either track them for 90 days or 30 days, or you can just work on them. And more times better, but I think, you know, as I think about transitions that, That I’ve worked on, or that we’ve worked on. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked on one that was easy, regardless of how much time we had. No, 

Kevin Long: no, transitions will, will expand to fill all available time. Yeah. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, how do you, how do you feel? And one of the things that we often do is, we assign somebody to be the transition manager who’s not the PM so that somebody can, um, you know, focus on transition activities with the thought that there’s going to be enough for PM to do, uh, above and beyond that. Are there other things in transitions that you’ve seen that really seemed to help? Cause you’ve certainly been involved in a lot of them. 

Kevin Long: Yeah. Um, strong knowledge management is really key because, uh, when you’re coming in cold and everybody comes in cold, unless they’re. You know, staying in the same job, right? Um, knowing where you can go to find what you need to know and having organized it in a way, because I mean, there, I mean, there are rabbit holes, you know, even six layers deep in, in an agency, given the level of sophistication of the, of the federal government that someone’s going to need to know, right? If it’s, you know, you know, the deputy assistant undersecretary for, you know, email. Right. Um, there is, uh, there, there is no shortage of things that they don’t know what they don’t know and having a, a good place. That is organized and searchable to be able to, to go in and, and find what you don’t know. I mean, even if it’s just walking in and picking up code base from, for another system, right? It’s what has been done in the past, you know, anything that prevents you from making the same mistake twice, just because you didn’t know is, is so crucial and has been, um, the, the most important thing that I’ve seen in, Any sort of transition, you know, that, that, that 1200 page briefing book that, that lets you know what’s going on, what they’re working on and what needs to happen. And, uh, I’ve seen some transitions where you walk in and they say, we have nothing written down. This is Bob. Bob knows everything. Bob’s going to walk around with you for a week. You can ask him anything you want. And that’s great because Bob knows everything, right? But you don’t necessarily know what. And when Bob goes away in a week It’s painful, um, but I’ve also walked in and been given here’s your login to Confluence. We store everything here. Here’s how you search it. Here’s how you, here’s how you look into it. These are the documents that we put in. If you’re missing something, let us know. We’ll go find it. You may just not have permissions for it. And that, um. It was, I mean, the first time it happened, it was shocking to me. And then I had a big grin on my face and then I, I, you know, had me and the team folks, you know, dive into it and see, see what it was. Uh, and. You know, really have a much better understanding of what we were getting into. So that that’s what I always wish for in any transition is, is knowledge of what you’re walking into in a well organized manner.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And I think that probably ties into, I think one of the major success factors for a transition is how well the procurement was run, you know, as I’m sitting here thinking about kind of the, the, the difficult stories of transitions over the years. When they did not leave themselves, and sometimes this can’t be helped, but when they did not leave themselves enough time for an adequate transition at all. Now look, people protest things, they protest things multiple times. One of the programs we’re on now was protested two or three times before we started and I know we were, well, because at one point we were all flying out there and I was on the plane and didn’t get the note that the thing was cancelled until, uh, I was, I was flying and I got email, uh, I got Wi Fi to check email on the flight and I was flying to St. Louis and got the note that it’s protested and you’re, you’re stopped work. Flight St. Louis 

Kevin Long: through this, through a blizzard.

Adam McNair: yes, through a blizzard and, and it was my daughter’s birthday. So that’s, That’s how I know it was February because it was February 20th because that’s her birthday. So I was, uh, uh, I was flying out there. I was like, well, that’s, that’s exceptional. So I started texting people and telling them, like, I think I got, Kevin, you got to turn around, right? 

Kevin Long: No, I was stuck. See, you guys flew out of national. I was flying out of Dulles. Here’s the irony. Tamar, Adam, and I were all flying out there for that. Tamar made it first. Adam was in the air and then got turned and had to get turned around. I had another customer and had to be in St. Louis and I had my flight canceled. That’s right, because you got stuck in Dulles. Didn’t you end up like in the hotel or something? I ended up at a hotel in Dulles barely making it there because of the, because of the ice storm.

Absolutely. And so y’all got there but had to turn around. I 

Adam McNair: couldn’t actually. That comes back to me now because I started out the flight out of Dulles and And, and because everything was getting canceled and delayed for weather, I switched it to national and drove to national and they kept canceling flights. So by the time I got on a plane, I got there like 6 a. m. By the time I got on a plane at like noon, that was technically the 7 a. m. flight that was supposed to be leaving. And then as I was in the air, Tamar had just landed. And I texted her and told her, so she never left the airport. She just went back to the air desk and said, can you please put me on the next one back home? So she flew back home and I got there. And by the time I got there, there were no other flights back. And so then I came back the following day. So that was, that was exciting, but, but we, we digress, I guess. I think, I think the amount of time that people give themselves For the procurement and the amount of information that goes into it, you know, I won’t get into specific, you know, contract instances, but, um, what, I mean, one of them that is, is old and dated enough now that I don’t think anybody would be, uh, would be, you know, offended by, you know, we did one at USAID about 15 years ago. And we got the note that we were awarded the contract on a Friday afternoon and the contract had ended that day. And so they said, look, if you don’t get these people offer letters and get them signed over the weekend, their badges are going to lapse and we’re not going to be able to, 

Kevin Long: and it’ll take us three months to get them re badged.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And they were working active systems. That turned into a major, major challenge. I mean, we got everybody signed over the weekend and calling people and half of them don’t know who I am. And I’m calling them at their home and saying, you know, by the way, your existing company may not have told you, but your contract is over. And if they have not told you that they’re going to lay you off, that is likely going to happen on Monday. Um, sorry to let you know all that. But good news is here’s an offer letter. Yeah, and You know, so I’ve I’ve I’ve been through that When the government hasn’t told you whether they have incumbent staff or not And so you’re not sure 

Kevin Long: up there and you’re literally introduced to hey, this is Bob He knows everything and you start talking with him and you find out that Bob doesn’t know his contract ended 

Adam McNair: Yes, I’ve had multiple people Actually, you and I were both in the room for one of those. Yes, absolutely. Where we informed someone that their contract was over because we were meeting with them as a transition activity and they didn’t realize their contract was over. Wow. And, and then we’ve also had, uh, You know, situations where the requirements as documented and awarded. Now I sat in a transition kickoff, um, and some organizations will talk to you from the time the contract is awarded and others will not. And so, you know, what I always try to do. Is as soon as you find out you’ve won the contract, you call them and say, Hi, we’re really excited about this award. Can you let me know anything that’s keeping you up at night? Things that you think are big risks, in flight projects that are going on. How staffed is this program? Like, is, is the work going okay or poorly or, you know, help, help get me up to situational awareness for where you are. And sometimes they will do that. And sometimes they will tell you this has to wait until the kickoff and then you’ve lost, I mean, sometimes weeks. I, I’ve had contracts that we’ve won in the past that it, it might be, you might have a 30 day transition period and they can’t get the right people in the room and they won’t have a, a, a kickoff for three weeks. So you’re just sitting there going, I hope this isn’t, isn’t, I hope, I hope they wrote down what they actually needed. Yeah, and I, I sat at a, uh, Department of Justice transition meeting years and years ago. This wasn’t a Highlight contract. And, um, as we sat there, it was an AppDev contract, and they said, well, you know, you’re gonna need, we, we saw your org chart and the people that you proposed, but you’re gonna need an ops team to run the servers. That’s simple. What servers? They said, well, we, we had a couple words in it, about it in the statement of work. Okay. What the Statement of Work said, it was like 15 pages of all this, all these applications that we had to develop against, and there was one line in it that says, and ancillary support as necessary, which may include, and it had various things, servers, etc. Well, it was only an 18 person program, so it’s not like, I mean, if you have hundreds of people at times, there’s a, there’s kind of an economy scale, and you can go, okay, let’s figure out. We, we bid. You know, three, three, six person, um, app teams. Right. And here they’re like, well, who’s going to run the servers? We don’t have any server people. We didn’t bid any. And that’s, that’s a failing of their, of the way that their, their requirements were documented. So I think a lot of times it’s how hard or easy it’s going to be, is almost at times kind of determined before you Before you ever set foot on the ground. 

Kevin Long: Oh, yeah.

Adam McNair: Um, also from a communication standpoint In your experience how how how willing are multiple people to to pick up the phone and just level with you and tell you where things are as opposed to kind of this, um kind of longer term Term formal chain things come to you only once sanitized by somebody else and sent to the contracting officer 

Kevin Long: It’s a coin flip. I mean honestly, uh, and it is not based on the Culture of the agency so much as the culture of the office that you’re walking into and how many How used to transitioning in new contracts they are, right? Um, you know, I’ve had some, uh, I’ve had some really good ones where people were very, very upfront and very frank, but spoke with a level of assumed knowledge that, that was, that made it difficult that you got up to speed in the hindsight after you stepped on a couple landmines. You’re like, oh. Of course you can’t put, you know, Bob in the same room as Joe. Ha! Oops! Right? Um, but But they were very frank, right? And with that, and then I’ve had other ones where, you know, well, you know, send us the slide deck. I’ll tell you if it’s, if it’s okay. And, um, uh, I will only communicate to you through the, uh, Uh, uh, items identified in the quasp as deliverables, and then I will take the three days to review them and I will give you specific comments and then you will have five days to get them back to me. And that is how we will talk. Yeah, right. And then I’ve had other ones where you walk in. It’s like, Hey, we’re so it’s so awesome that you’re here. Uh, we’re excited. These are the things. That we have going on right now. This is what I’m worried about. Um, Do you have someone that knows X, Y, and Z? Because if you don’t, you know, let’s tweak some things. Because, uh, this is the direction that we’re going. That has changed since the procurement dropped. Still in scope, but, you know, a little bit different flavor. And where You know, it’s when, when the customer is, you know, one team with the contractor, right. You know, rah, rah, like that’s, that’s where you, you really, really get it. Um, and not that they’re, you know, trying to do personnel services, things on non personnel services, contracts are telling you who to hire, but giving you information. On what’s going on on the ground to help you succeed. I mean, that’s, that’s crucial. 

Adam McNair: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s just a scenario that comes to mind that I’ve had to deal with a lot of times, which is hard is you get into an organization and you look at the existing team and it becomes clear that one person or a couple of people or a team of people are both absolutely necessary from a technical perspective. standpoint and absolutely also the problem for why that that team has not been able to move forward with modernizing or improving or enhancing things. Yep. And it becomes, it becomes, those are very, very difficult things. What I tell most people, and I know, I know Kevin, we’ve certainly talked through this, is if we can get through a transition period and not have anybody be really, really angry. Oh, 

Kevin Long: that’s a huge win.

 It’s, it’s, that’s majorly successful. Because there’s going to be problems and just the changing nature of it.

Kevin Long: Oh yeah, um, identifying, you know, having someone come and say, all right, on the chance that someone needs to be the bad guy, who’s the one that delivers the bad news, right? Because it doesn’t get better with age and they don’t like to hear it, but we’re, you’re not doing your work if you, if you don’t do it, right. It’s yeah. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And I, I, um, I won a help desk program, um, one time out in Omaha and showed up to do the transition. And the direct feedback from the customer was the manager is absolutely a problem. He’s absolutely in the way. He won’t listen to me. He’s very argumentative. But I think he’s the only one who knows how to do most of the things that we do technically. So he can’t be our manager long term, but I also don’t think you can do without him. Thanks.

Kevin Long: Here’s our problem. Give him a job. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, and just like, just like when, you know, you talk about, oh, if you’re going to look for somebody to hire, at some point a job wreck turns into people and you’re not going to find a job. 19 bullets of, of, you know, capabilities and skills, it’s a person and you have to figure out how they’re going to interact with other people. I think transitions kind of go that way too. And I think that’s the, you know, the preparation is one thing. And, um, you know, but mindset of customers and staff and how well they work together or not, because one of the things, a lot of the times that we end up winning a contract, you know, It is likely because things were not perfect in that environment or you would have not taken it away from another vendor. Uh, now there are times, that’s another thing that happens in the industry that’s a whole nother conversation is, sometimes things are awarded on cost and so you might have a 30 person high performing team and show up and say, Well, based on the way your procurement was written, we bid 25. Right. That, and that’s, can be also be disruptive. Um, but, you know, talking about, you know, procurements, I, I think the whole pandemic, everybody going remote, I was concerned that we were going to see no procurements come out for, you And I think at some level, contracting offices have kept up with or been just as responsive, if not more so, uh, than when they were working in the office. And I think that might be one of those things that, you know, when their phone doesn’t ring off the hook or they don’t have people constantly with that, well, they didn’t get back to me yet. I’m just going to go stand by their office and wait to talk to them type of scenarios. Um, so we haven’t had that problem of nothing, you know, nothing coming out. Um, but have you seen a change in procurement, whether it be kind of tailing off of this administration or from the pandemic? I mean, have you seen procurement things change over the last, you know, six or eight months that, that are, that have interested you?

Kevin Long: I think it’s, um, I agree other than like, you know, some different delays that have come out, but, you know, we’ve been seeing white papers come out. We’ve been seeing, you know, uh, RFPs drop. I mean, things are still still churning. Uh, for sure. I mean, I’d love to hear what Emily thinks. With that, since she’s neck deep in, in all of the analytics around that and could actually probably speak, speak with, with, you know, more than just the gut feel that I love to run with.

Emilie Scantlebury: Yeah, I mean, there is a significant rise. In procuring emerging tech, and I think that makes sense. You know, as the I. T. Targets is constantly shifting and moving. Um, the federal government is really focusing on on progressing are advancing and emerging technologies. Um, I think that’s reflected in a lot of things like just a Polaris just, uh, drop that draft R. P. Um, and being able to focus on. On that emerging tech now, additionally, the administration also said that they’re going to be focusing on procuring through small business. Um, so I anticipate that there may be a rise in procuring, uh, through some of our socioeconomic set asides, um, or small business set asides as well. So 2 interesting shifts there and I, I think the, the emerging tech is, um. That is a topic that is, it is, it is hard to decide how to procure around that. I have seen, do you put Emerging Tech into your regular procurement and then you’re going to have a company that doesn’t specialize in it? Or do you try to only buy around Emerging Tech? And I think it, I don’t know if there’s a, if there’s a right way to do it. I mean, I’ve, I’ve seen some of these emerging tech type contracts and they’re, they’ve always been agency specific. They’ve not been GSA, you know, specific that I’ve, at least that I’ve been involved in. And they, they lent themselves to smaller task orders, a couple hundred thousand dollars to go in and do, you know, back when it was called big data or whatever. Um, and then I’ve seen it kind of folded into to other deals. I, I don’t know if there’s a, a right way to do that. Um, Emily, so you, you mentioned GSA Polaris and there, there have been other kind of, we’ve got, we’re, we’re in a season of other large procurements, uh, G wax like that. I mean DIA site three is under evaluation now. Um, the. Polaris program has been talked about a lot. COSP4 is out there, you know, STARS3 went in a little while ago, still under evaluation. As far as procurement methods or the way they talk about it, are you seeing more accessibility based on the pandemic than, The way we had before, are they talking about things differently? Are they doing things differently that you’ve seen in terms of the pandemic? You know, of course they still have those clauses nestled in to, to the proposals and the draft RFPs on being able to really thrive in a virtual workspace. And I think as an aside, uh, that goes even beyond just emerging tech. We also see that in our communications, um, and strategic comms proposals as well. Um, in terms of the way they’re procuring these, you know, Adam, you’re right. It’s a mixed bag. It’s sometimes nestled under task orders, sometimes, um, pushed into a larger procurement. So kind of a bit of both. Yeah. 

Kevin Long: And I, and Simmers are all over the place too now with OTs and whatnot. 

Adam McNair: I do like the fact that the online industry day, I think is a major, major positive advancement. Um, there’s been so many times where either you couldn’t get in and you couldn’t get signed up for one of them. Or you’re there trying to furiously take notes because they’re, they’re just transmitting a ton of information and it’s very, very hard to capture all of it. You know, not to mention the fact that, I mean, down into kind of the boring details of sometimes you couldn’t hear. Sometimes you’re crammed into a relatively tiny room. I went to one for, um, out in Pax River about two years ago, and they didn’t have mics for the people asking questions. And so you’re getting answers from the government that seem impactful, but you’re kind of trying to play like, like Jeopardy to figure out what the question actually was. And it very hard. So like the, the online nature of it, I think is, um, is great. And 

Kevin Long: I haven’t had to sit behind someone six and a half feet tall on an online industry day yet. It’s great. 

Emilie Scantlebury: And, and not just the industry too, you know, from a procurement professional standpoint, it seems simple, but it saves them a huge chunk of time and travel, um, and having to get some of that set up and they can use that time to focus on the procurement itself.

Adam McNair: Yeah. One other thing that I think is interesting in the way that they’re pushing some of these procurements out is at least a couple of the ones that we are looking at, uh, require oral presentations of of some type. Yeah. And it appears that we’re able to do that as a recorded video. And the first times that I heard about doing an oral presentation as a recorded video, it was met with immediate pushback, at least from the companies that I was at, because they said that’s going to cost us a fortune to go in and edit video and do all of that. And I feel like maybe, And Victoria and Emily, I know you both, you know, are embedded with the tools a lot at this point. I feel like all of the collaboration tools and ability to record and all of that has come a long way, um, you know, for, for the kinds of things that you’re seeing. Are there, are the standard tools that essentially ship out of the box almost with Microsoft or a Mac at this point, are you able to produce that type of media without major strain?

Victoria Robinson: I mean, I think that a lot of these tools are built just for times like this, and I think that a lot of these Boxed, you know, software that you can just get are ready to meet these needs that we have across the industry right now with the pandemic. I think, uh, teams is obviously a great resource for us when we come to, you know, doing mediums like this, like a podcast. And then you can go even further and use, um, SharePoint sites. And then on top of that, Microsoft Stream and all these other resources, you can build off of it with Adobe. And, you know, you’re ready to meet the needs of the government in that way to make sure that you’re producing things that reflect the brand or the company that you’re working for. So I think. I think we have the resources that we need for these kinds of requests. I think we, people have been anticipating this need for a little while. So it’s just kind of coming to fruition now. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, it does. It does feel like we’ve hit a spot where we’re not having significant challenges from a technology standpoint, at least as far as working together or producing a product. I mean, I think the The Office 365 tools, I mean, even since we’ve been using Teams to record the podcast, they’ve added capabilities in stream that allows us to manipulate the video and move it around so much more easily. Than uh even it was a year ago. So I I think we are Um, we are seeing that move forward, um in in easier ways Um, and yeah one of the I guess Talking a little bit about communication channels. So emily as you go in and as you’re seeing the government release information about Procurements and their procurement forecasts. Where are we, where are we finding out that they are doing these things? You know, when GSA is doing Polaris, is this a check on their website? Is this the go to gov when, and they’re mentioning it? Are we, are we on some mailing list? that it’s coming in? Are we, we reading, you know, Washington technology and GCN and all of the other industry papers? How are we actually finding out when they’re trying to communicate to us? 

Emilie Scantlebury: Well, we, we look for smoke signals. No, I’m just kidding. Obviously. Um, no 

Kevin Long: carrier pigeons.

Emilie Scantlebury: Exactly. Um, no, it’s been really interesting. I I’ve seen kind of a modernization. You bring up Polaris is a really good example of this. Um, their GSA in particular is really focused on using their communities of interest, um, which are almost functioning as blogs where industry can go in and literally drop a comment as government releases, uh, some of those, some of those draft RFPs and some of, you know, even RFIs for that matter. Um, It is open. The digitization of our workforce has opened the boundaries and communication channels to the government in ways that I have not seen in my career thus far. Um, it’s been really impactful. Not just that, uh, a rise in LinkedIn functionality. It sounds a little bit silly, I’m sure, but, um, a lot of connectivity in LinkedIn, both from a partner engagement standpoint, but also from the government. I’ve seen them contracting officers put up. Hey, we’ve released an RFI. Um, have you considered responding? So, kind of really, it’s opened the floodgates, um, and kind of really connected us in a way that is interesting to look at as we all sit in our homes. I feel that we are. able to really talk to them more clearly. So, 

Adam McNair: yeah, I, so that, that’s, that’s interesting. I, I, I didn’t realize that they were using a community of interest that way. And I think it’s, it’s nice to not have to search too hard and that if you, if you kind of know where you can look for things, I think um, that was always, that was always a challenge. I’ve had different accounts that I was responsible for, um, whether it was, it was Justice or DHS or state or whatever over the years and I was trying to stay on top of events or things that I should be aware of or involved in and It was always really really hard. It was a combination of Of me and our BD teams and all of that. And I, you know, I’d get a call from, from Liz, who was my BD counterpart for a long time. And she said, have you registered for such and such? And I said, I haven’t even heard of what that is. What do you, what is that? And it would, it was a lot of, And then it was a lot of sending paperwork to them and waiting for them to verify that you were going to be in on it and kind of not getting information out. Um, and then finding out later that maybe slides got posted, but you weren’t sure if they were emailed out or whatever. So I think there’s, um, Some predictability in those, those channels for, for communication. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s encouraging to know that, that that’s, that that’s improving. And I know, um, I think category management in general on, on these procurements is, is also helping a lot. I know, um, I had the benefit of when I was in the Voyagers program with ActDiak, um, uh, Laura from GSA, who now runs category management, was, uh, was part of that program at the same time. And, um, She was a leadership from, at the time, a co chair or something like that, as I recall, and super, super sharp. And I think, I think she and GSA have done a lot of work in the last however many years to take some of the ambiguity out of what these different vehicles are. Because, you know, I’ve had conversations with customers over the years, well, why would I want to go to STARS II versus COSP II? I don’t know, I mean Pick either one, and if you want to, you can call both of them and see who’s willing to give you a lower procurement fee, or, but I don’t really care. Having multiple vehicles that have a lot of overlap and not knowing where to put things, uh, you know, for a while, this goes back quite a ways, but at one point GSA had their answer contract that was supposed to be their big, this is where we’re going to put all of our major programs, and then they had the millennia contract. And then they had Millennia Light, and they were close enough in scope that it really became about what vendors were in what area of what vehicle as to, as to what, which, you know, what got where. Originally they thought they were going to use Millennia for really big deals, and Millennia Light for smaller things, but then there was also Answer, and, and, as, as, as technology converged, they used to have contracts for telecom, And then IT services. Well, telecom’s IT services now. It’s not twisting copper wire for phones anymore. So, um, I think, I think the category management is, is certainly helping a lot on that. Um, I’ll leave you with, with, with one thought here around the idea of, of getting conflicting information. Uh, something that happened several years ago that was, I had a customer that they sent us the procurement in paper. And it was, it was our recompete, and we got a call that said, well, they mailed it. You should, you know, cause they, my PM said, Hey, our recompete’s out. I said, I haven’t seen it. Well, they mailed it to us, mailed it to us. So they mailed it to us and I get the copy of it at my office. And then I get a call from the security office of the company that says, Hey, in another building over here, we got a cleared package for you. So I go over to go open it. It’s the RFP. Again, but this RFP has a paragraph, one paragraph that is classified. So we respond and we noticed they had different due dates. They were off by like a couple of days. And so we called and called the contracting officer and said, Hey, I’m trying to de conflict the, which, which date is correct, took a while for him to get back to us. So we responded, we submitted for the one that was the early one. And they finally called back and they said, well, no, those are two procurements. Well, but they’re the same statement of work and they said, well, yeah, one of them is going to be high side. And one of them is going to be on class. And only one of them was my work. And so what happened was we ended up winning both of them, but we had no staff to do the one on the high side because I didn’t know that that wasn’t our contract. And so they said, well, where’s all of the TSSCI people that are going to do this? And I said, well, I really didn’t. I’m sorry, but I, I didn’t know these were different programs and we wrote them and I submitted proposals to both of them because I was concerned that you put different numbers on them. I thought it was some kind of clerical error. So I submitted to both. Right. And we won both. And it was such an awkward, weird transition time because we had no idea even what the other program was. And, um, but that was paper and that really wasn’t that long ago. So those are the kinds of things that have happened in government contracting with, you know, kind of lack of lack of planning around, you know, good communication channels and, um, and planning on procurements. Well, with that, uh, thank you guys for your, uh, for your time listening to us today. We have some other topics that we’re going to include on future episodes. We’ve had some employees who have asked us, uh, one of the topics around leadership development and, um, how do you, how do you develop leadership in a company, uh, specifically going from a, from a project into management roles, whether that be a project manager or department manager, things like that. Uh, we also had a question around the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion program at Highlight and how we, uh, how we’ve come about to have that program, how it operates, uh, what our thoughts and intent are there, and that is something that we’ve put a lot of, uh, work and effort into, so we’ll make sure that we, uh, we address both of those topics on, uh, on future episodes, and, uh, so thank you, uh, Victoria, thank you, Kevin, thank you, Emily, and, uh, everybody, uh, take, take care. We’ll talk to you on the next Highlight cast. Thank you. Thanks y’all. Thank you. 

Announcement: 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.


Forget the Headache of Shared Drives – 5 Best Practices to Developing a Usable Data Repository

Have you ever spent more than 5 minutes searching for a team file? Have you ever lost access to a file someone else created? Have you ever wondered is there a better way to manage team knowledge?

There are plenty of ways to store and share information. Teams must wrestle with the different options to manage their information. For many, the first instinct is to develop a shared drive.

Shared Drives are shared spaces where teams can store their files, and guarantee that every member has access to information no matter the time or place. Platforms such as Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox allow for cloud-based file storage and collaboration for teams. However, when it comes to efficient and effective file management for an organization, these platforms fall flat. Shared drives repeatedly cause organizations problems with file duplication, organization, and outdated information.

Shared Drives are ideal for small teams or individuals. However, as a team begins to grow or data needs to be stored over long periods of time, Shared Drives lack the capabilities needed to inform members across the organization with ease.

The Solution? Usable Repositories.

Repositories advance shared drive capabilities. In addition to up-to-date information, more reliable data management, and collaboration, Repositories provide a knowledge management system developed with usability, searchability, and workflow in mind. The key to building a successful repository is structure and process.

When developing a repository, there are some best practices to keep in mind:

1.     Standardization of Data Entry

By establishing a standard process for tagging metadata, you ensure all your knowledge is searchable and accounted for to ensure a better search experience for finding information which increases efficiency and saves time.

2.     Establishment of Information Hierarchy

Establishing the hierarchy of information allows team members to efficiently locate and store essential information while supporting the maintenance of the system.

3.     Establishment of Formal Document Approval Process

The development of a formal document approval process requires the vetting and approval of formal documents which removes the risk of duplication and confusion on the correct file for reference.

4.     Creation and Implementation of Community Best Practices

Setting expectations and processes for file contribution is essential to effective management, long term maintenance, and ensures uniform file practices within the repository.

5.     Training and Change Management

Adoption is just as important as the development of the repository system. To help support adoption, ensure that there are ample resources to support the new system. For example, help desk articles, helpdesk email mailbox, and weekly lunch & learn sessions. Having multiple support options prevents users from getting lost and increases adoption.

6.     Perform Edits as User Cases Develop

Through the installation of a repository, prepare to improve and adapt the system to that specific user environment.

The goal of repository development is to supply leadership with the resources necessary to make informed decisions.

Shared drives allow users to share data and collaborate. Repositories establish an environment for efficient, effective, and structured data sharing. Knowledge management is a long term organization fundamental. The establishment of an effective repository and knowledge management system enables teams to scale efficiently, protect essential resources, and increase your organization’s efficiency to seek out information to make informed decisions.

Author: Victoria Robinson | Marketing Manager

Highlight Self-Assessed For New DoD Cyber Maturity Model Certification

Fairfax, VA – Highlight has self-assessed at level 3 of the DOD’s Cyber Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). Continuing efforts to be at the forefront of essential best practice certifications, Highlight was the nation’s first company to conduct an external audit and gap analysis to evaluate our cybersecurity best practices. The company holds seven quality certifications, including being the only company in the U.S. to hold ISO® 44001:2017 for Collaboration and ISO® 56000:2020 for Innovation.

Highlight utilizes HI-Way, our best practices framework. The HI-WAY™™ framework integrates industry best practices for program management, IT governance, technology implementation, risk management, and IT service management. HI-Way allows for Highlight to maintain and be prepared for new certifications as released such as CMMC.

“We’ve leveraged the NIST and CMMC guidance to advance our cyber posture with better controls, advanced monitoring, and a more secure architecture to protect our data,” said Adam McNair, COO of Highlight.

“As a federal contractor, Highlight understands the critical importance of cybersecurity throughout our organization. Our CMMC compliance enables Highlight to continue to execute our strategy to support DoD and federal agencies. Being one of the first companies to conduct an external CMMC assessment positions Highlight as one of the first companies positioned to achieve CMMC certification and to compete for contracts where CMMC is a requirement” said Rebecca Andino, CEO of Highlight.

About CMMC

In January 2020, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) released the Cyber Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) in response to significant compromises of sensitive information. CMMC is a set of unifying cybersecurity standards and best practices for controlled unclassified information (CUI).

About Highlight Technologies, LLC

Highlight Technologies is an award-winning woman-owned, ISO® 9001, ISO 20000, ISO 27001, ISO 44001 certified, ISO 56000 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.

Highlight FDIC Team Participates in AARP Foundation Meal Pack Challenge

Highlight strives to make a positive impact by giving back to our community as much as possible. This year, one of Highlight’s cybersecurity teams participated in the AARP Foundation Meal Pack Challenge, providing food products to those who are stricken in poverty. Our Project Manager, Rozia Henson, discovered the AARP Challenge and eagerly took advantage of this opportunity to benefit their community. With the help of Highlight’s incredible FDIC team, AARP has packed more than 1 million servings of food for the Capital Area Food Bank to assist D.C.-Area seniors in need. According to the AARP Foundation, the Meal Pack Challenge “is a chance for all of us to safely give back to the community and help struggling older neighbors.”

Highlight’s FDIC team’s Information Technology Security Specialist, Kenneth “Ken” Zielinski, mentioned to Highlight Inspiration that his team was looking for a COVID-19 friendly way to still be able to help those less fortunate during the pandemic. When discussing the technicalities of finding a COVID-safe volunteer opportunity, Mr. Zielinski stated that “other volunteer opportunities we had considered were feeding the homeless, volunteering at a shelter, or raising money for a charitable cause. These previous opportunities did not seem plausible during the current state of events, which led us to [choose the] AARP Foundation Meal Pack challenge.”

The overall process involved requesting the number of boxes the team would like to carry out as well as purchasing several preselected items to pack. Mr. Zielinski stated that they were “[lucky that] COVID-19 did not affect the collection of resources, yet it was a motivating factor behind seeking out a way to help.” The entire FDIC team participated remotely to pack the boxes in their own time, and each person packed their own packages at home before shipping them to AARP with the specified pre-labeled stickers. The FDIC team stated that “if this opportunity returned, [they] would definitely like to participate again.”

Mr. Zielinski revealed that there is a specified time frame for participating in the AARP Foundation Meal Pack Challenge each year. According to the AARP Foundation, “the Meal Pack Challenge timeframe coincides with National Good Neighbor Day (September 28th). It is the perfect time to help our neighbors in need.” While this specific opportunity is now closed, there are still plenty of ways to offer up service time from their website. “In addition to the Meal Pack Challenge, AARP will provide no-cost virtual volunteer opportunities on Connect2Affect.org.” Our Highlight FDIC team suggests that whether you want to find a way to work with the AARP, or another organization during the holidays, there are plenty of ways to reach out to the community while practicing safety precautions. Their advice is to utilize search engines to figure out the best volunteer options within your neighborhood to benefit those who need it most.

Author: Victoria Robinson | Marketing Manager