WeWork, Highlight Partner to Deliver Secure Software Development Infrastructure to Government Agencies

NEW YORK – With the rise of flexible work, WeWork and Highlight have partnered to provide government agencies with secure software development capabilities in support of U.S. national security.

Through this collaboration, members will have access to a complete, fully secure continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) platform available with their membership bundle or by adding an additional feature.

“In this post-COVID world, physical space is now a lever for talent attraction and workforce retention,” said Traug Keller, Director of Federal Business Development. Our partnership with Highlight Technologies will now provide the Department of Defense’s most innovative groups with the tools necessary to develop, deliver and use software authorized for the government in world-class workspaces across the United States.”

This builds on WeWork’s flexible workspace as a service that does not reflect the acquisition of leased office space, but a comprehensive service to provide a temporary flexible workspace that can be procured directly by agencies.

Historically, one roadblock to flexible work has been a lack of IT and security solutions tailored to federal requirements. This solution will address those concerns while absolving organizations of the resource burden they’d otherwise face when standing up and maintaining a secure software development environment.

“Whether it’s creating a new software factory or a sensitive compartmented information facility, government organizations rely on secure software production environments to build and access mission-essential tools,” said Adam McNair, Highlight President and COO. “Between WeWork and our team at Highlight, we’re providing the recipe of capabilities necessary for organizations to de-risk and scale their innovation efforts and commercial technology engagement. ”

Current WeWork members and those interested in the opportunity are encouraged to email federalsales@wework.com to learn more about the partnership and offers. 

About WeWork

WeWork (NYSE: WE) was founded in 2010 with the vision to create environments where people and companies come together and do their best work. Since then, we’ve become one of the leading global flexible space providers committed to delivering technology-driven turnkey solutions, flexible spaces, and community experiences. For more information about WeWork, please visit us at https://wework.com.

About Highlight

Highlight Technologies (“Highlight”) is an award-winning, employee-owned, ISO® 9001, ISO 20000, ISO 27001, ISO 44001 certified, ISO 56000 certified, CMMI-DEV Level 3, and CMMI-SVC Level 3 appraised federal contractor 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.

Episode #20 | ToolChain & Software Factories 

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

Adam McNair: Welcome To another episode of The Highlight Cast. Hi, I’m Adam McNair, the president COO of Highlight, joined again by Kevin Long. Hey, Kevin, how are you? Hey, Adam, doing well. Happy New Year. Happy New Year. Also joined by Emily Scantleberry, who leads, um, our portfolio development here at Highlight. Hey, Emily, how are you?

Hey, Adam. Hey, team. Doing well. Great. So, excited to be here. This is our first Highlight cast of the New Year, and we are joined by, um, Uh, two guests who are partners of ours and excited to have them on the, uh, on the podcast today. Uh, give them an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about their organizations.

Uh, first is Matt Nelson. Matt, hey, how are you? 

Matt Nelson: Adam thanks for having me, man. I’m doing great. Happy New Year. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, thank you. Happy New 

Matt Nelson: Year. Yeah, likewise. So, yeah, my name is Matt. I’m the Chief Operating Officer of a digital transformation firm called Rise8. We’re about three, we’re about two years old now, and we specialize in, you know, doing digital transformations for organizations with impact. So, excited to be here. 

Adam McNair: Awesome. Very cool. Glad to have you. And, uh, and also good to talk, uh, again to, uh, Jay Samson. Jay, how you doing, man? 

Jay Sampson: Doing well, Adam. How are you, bro? 

Adam McNair: Good, man. 

Jay Sampson: Awesome. So, uh, Jay Sampson here, uh, Account Director for Defense and Intelligence Sales with WeWork, uh, the famed and infamous real estate organization. I’ve been brought on board here to kind of lead us into the DOD space and find ways to help the environment, uh, lead different efforts with different organizations and programs. 

Adam McNair: Very cool. Thank you. Um, so what we were going to talk about today are software factories. And now we’ve done a couple episodes recently. DevSecOps and the new ways of, of building software. But I, I think we’re in one of those spots where as technology evolves, as methodologies evolve, a lot of times things get, you know, Pinned with a moniker that doesn’t necessarily describe it and we’ve talked a lot about. Oh, well, you’re doing DevSecOps. It’s software factory and that’s not always necessarily, you know, the case and we started to get into what I would say real software factory work as we sort of working together. Um, with, with the Air Force a couple of years ago. And I mean, for me, the big difference between software factory and someplace that’s doing DevSecOps, you can build your own one application inside of your environment and have continuous integration and continuous deployment. And it doesn’t mean that you’re a software factory. I mean, software factory for me has a lot of connotation of we’re going to have a team that builds. A large variety of applications for an organization is almost a shared service type, um, type setup. That’s kind of how I, I view it. What things, uh, you know, maybe, uh, you know, Matt, if you had any thoughts about what do you see as the, the big, Difference between a software factory and just somebody that’s following a methodology that might have continuous integration Uh that they’re calling devops 

Matt Nelson: Yeah, so You know, i’m a 15 year acquisition officer I still you know, i’m in the reserves with this at a software factory in montgomery alabama called bespin And, you know, in my early parts of my career, we would get source code delivered to us via a CD in the mail and, you know, a couple of years ago, back like 2017, 2016 timeframe, the government really got the idea. Uh, to start in sourcing software development where their source code was going to be behind their firewall inside their own dev environment supported with their own development tools and all of those, you know, things that come around having a productive and efficient software value stream and, you know, that in sourcing drove the need. To create this moniker, I guess you could call it of a software factory where it’s, you know, the software that you’re building is you’re building it for your own end users and it’s being built, not delivered to you over the fence and all of the. You know, all of the, the things that go around that value stream are a part of that factory. So I think it kind of like, you know, they’re just like, there’s a value stream and, you know, building widgets, there’s a value stream and building software. So I think that’s kind of how the software factory stuck. So at least in my lens of the world, Software factories, almost synonymous with insourcing, uh, software development inside of your organization. In this case, federal government slash DoD. 

Adam McNair: Gotcha. Now, Jay, I know you worked embedded with the software factory for a, uh, A very long time, you know, Matt talked about some of the acquisition challenges that led to, um, you know, let’s not just get source code and a disk and then hope that it works from your vantage point. You were really there kind of from the inception of a software factory. What what kinds of reasons were compelling for for that organization to convert into a software factory? 

Jay Sampson: Uh, not for sure. So looking at Kessel Run when it started off, um, really with about 60, 60 desks, you could see how they were trying to put together and formalize how they’re going to approach this. I think the first lab was called the Kessel Run experimentation lab, right? It was literally an experiment. It was no guarantee that it would progress and be the amazing organization that it is today. But when you’re looking at. The different components that came together, the different organizations that jailed and started to create some of these amazing outputs, it forced the need for them to grow and to expand and really operationalize. And I think the 1st challenges that they, and it’s a continuous challenge that they kind of ran into. And solving is the scale. And that’s kind of what makes this, uh, a software factory in the most truest sense from my, from my vantage point, is the fact that you could have all of these different organizations, all of these different, uh, pain points, but all falling, falling under the same methodology. Um, so yeah, from my perspective, that’s, that’s kind of what that, that leads to. 

Adam McNair: And, you know, as we’ve been talking about this, you know, one of the, the, the first things that pops into my head when I think about, you know, Going to a software factory type environment is almost selfishly solving one of my own problems. That is, we’re a contractor trying to deliver services in one of these environments. I’ve been in environments before where you don’t really have access to the test team. You don’t have access to a unified set of tools. You find out that you were working on an application and then you go look at Either the plugins or the code that another organization has used in a associated module and you realize that whatever notional target architecture there was, there wasn’t a unified way to bring that all together. There wasn’t a unified way to share code. I’ve certainly worked in a lot of organizations where. When it came time for testing, you were copying something into a, you know, whether, whether it’s it’s an FTP site or it’s a digital transfer, or it’s a cd, you’re basically putting it in a box and giving it to somebody else and there’s not really, yeah, there’s not really end-to-end traceability. When you get into the idea that a software factory is unified by a tool chain, I mean, Kevin, I know you’ve. Work in a lot of different software environments, certainly from the everybody just install whatever you think you should probably use to build this all the way down to I’d say very mature locked in environments where there’s there’s a unified process. We’ve. Certainly supported tool chains, you know, now for the Air Force and for the Army. Um, are there specific benefits that you’ve seen or how did you see that evolution from going from kind of heterogeneous development into a unified tool chain? 

Kevin Long: Oh yeah, for sure. Um, especially around the way Matt was describing with the insourcing and, and, you know, having, having the customer eating their own dog food, right? It’s the, they’re doing it for themselves. When you’re Doing multiple pieces of software or, or, or features around something with a, with a lot of different teams. And like, like Jay was saying, you know, you think big, you start small and you scale, right? Uh, it is, uh, you have to have a tool chain that gets really mature really quick because you’re going to have agile teams that Want, you know, uh, are developing with different languages and want IDs for it, that want plugins that, that fit it and have all of these things that really enable all of these developers, testers, DevOps engineers to, to do their work that you quickly can, well, you quickly find that, uh, there’s a lot of fungible software out there. You know, there’s 27 different IDEs, you know, and you know, are you going to work in Eclipse? Are you going to work in with JetBrains on in PyCharm? Are you going to work in Visual Studio? And you can have all these different things and your, your ecosystem can get really crowded. Really quickly, and then it’s hard to purchase, hard to license, hard to hard to manage and hard to get your software developers into a rhythm where they’re in an ecosystem that feels cohesive and allow them to deliver, I mean, quickly. I mean, when I think about, uh, Software factories, I think about, you know, getting what’s needed out as quickly as possible, right? I mean, with all of these other things on that, it’s, you know, if they’re not operating at, at least as fast as, as, uh, the commercial, you know, software, Folks, then, you know, really, I think all of the software factories I’ve talked to you think that they’re doing something wrong, right? So they’re moving fast. And so they need to have, uh, they need to have a space and a tool chain and everything that is cohesive and helps them move forward easily. 

Adam McNair: So I hear a lot about efficiency. Right, so a lot of the things that you’re talking about are efficiency and some of the early efficiency things in software development were related to, you know, cross training and trying to have a team that was multifunctional so that you got away from, this is my one person that manages the accounting. application. This is my one person that manages the supply application, uh, because I’ve certainly I’ve managed teams before where you’d walk into a, into a room and you have 35 developers and you see three of them that are doing kind of forward looking planning. And then you got a half a dozen people over on the other side of the room that are clearly stressed out trying to get something done. And you realize that just Because of the way the requirements are driving, because of the way the sprints are going, you got some people that are super busy, some people that they’re doing things, but they’re clearly doing things that are probably not going to be due for quite a while. And the reason is that either because of Skill set or technology or procurement or whatever, you’ve got people that they’re not really all able to pull the same rope in the same direction. So there’s, there’s some efficiency from the software factory perspective. Certainly that I’m hearing that you’ve now got a unified team that can all work on requirements as they come down. But, you know, Matt, as we were getting started, you were talking about something that I honestly had not really thought about, which is the fact that, uh, Procurement complexity isn’t just services, the procurement complexity that if you’re going to say, okay, I don’t want to just get a disk anymore. I’m going to in source this and be involved in it. And I’m going to have a contract for development. It seems like there’s a lot of efficiency from the. Very practical innovation of a managed tool chain and how you handle that procurement. Could you talk a little bit about how that innovation of software factory has improved the procurement experience for trying to manage tools in an environment like this?

Matt Nelson: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, as Jay was mentioning the customer on experimentation lab, it was truly an experiment, right? We got out there and we wanted to try to figure out how to build software and not in a functional waterfall type way, but in a modern balance team approach where a single team owns the delivery of their product and really practice the devil. SecOps practices that are now starting to become just a commonplace. Um, but to do that, one of the biggest bottlenecks, one of the biggest constraints to be able to pull that off and have these developers be productive was being able to give them the tools that they needed in an efficient time. And, you know, I remember when we didn’t have a tool chain contractor, somebody actually managing the tool chain. And I defined the tool chain as. All the tools that go into, uh, doing CICD and release engineering of your product, also the actual cloud infrastructure, and even the, the tools associated with, uh, collaboration and prototyping and whiteboarding and all of the things. Oh, yeah. So all of that is built in. At the end of the day, you do that for developer and team productivity. Um, but the acquisition team didn’t have that level of productivity. They were very bottlenecked because every single one of those tools, you know, would require a brand name justification, a sole source justification, just depending on how you’re going to acquire it. And then it just got super gnarly when you’re talking. 30, 40 different tools in this heterogeneous ecosystem that gets stood up because, uh, each one of these tools has its own unique niche. So flipping that on its head, the acquisition model of a tool chain as a service, it’s now a team that’s managing all of those licenses for you. You don’t need to do. a brand name justification because the requirement of this team is to provide you with the most efficient and effective tools to do your mission. That really just created, you know, eliminated that bottleneck of tools and all the different onesie twosie purchases that the acquisition shop was going to have and really created an efficient way of, you know, Hey, the best, if we’re going to insource, we gotta, we gotta organize and equip these folks so they can be productive and you can’t do that in a Wednesday and Tuesday manner. So it’s, it’s just really cool that to see that like tool chain concept go away from the, um, you know, just the brand name justification headache that we had at the very beginning. 

Adam McNair: And I think there’s a lot of good points there. And you know, some of the, some of the things that that kind of rings a bell on is, you know, the, the way that we go about selecting tools, just because it’s been, uh, essentially included in, in a contract for us, we’re still following, you know, a FAR compliant evaluation. Uh, we actually use a CMMI. decision analysis process and assigned rating, you know, criteria and then how we would rank them and so forth. Uh, but it’s certainly a lot of value for the government to know that they’ve got an accepted approach for how we’re going to do that. You know, one of the things that has been an interesting, uh, lesson for me is we’ve, You know, both, you know, Kessel run is the work of the army, uh, also with, with, with Homeland Security, some of these tools, you know, there’s an evolution of tools and tools will come up and, you know, you have a developer that will want to want to use a new tool, the technical merit of that tool and. The procurement aspect of that tool are, can really be different. You know, if you’re going to go to a, a giant tier one software company and you’re going to try to go and buy a tool from Microsoft to Salesforce, et cetera, they’ve got all kinds of GSA pricing. They’ve got a whole team of people that do nothing but sell to the government. We’ve had a lot of instances where we’ve gone to companies that They’ve never sold to the government before they they’ve been set up in some cases where they just want you to buy through their website you tell them like we need to have invoices like just that all of that kind of administrative churn that that creates. It doesn’t sound all that exciting, but when you multiply that times 50 or 100 and have it on an annual basis and you want to evaluate a tool and sometimes evaluating a tool is understanding what the, the licensing requirements or logistics would be. There is a lot to that. We’ve also had instances where, you know, you’re tracing down a tool and you think that it might have some technical merit and you have to do a security assessment that you’re really, that has to play into 

Kevin Long: it. And we’ve saved that tool was, was owned by a company that literally had the president trained by the KGB. Let’s put that in our, in our tool chain. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And that’s all kind of keeping the noise out of the government acquisition shop. So that when, when we’re going forward with, with those kinds of solutions that they can buy once, and then we can handle some of the details. So I think that. That makes a lot of, a lot of sense from a, um, you know, from a tool chain standpoint. Um, what are you guys thoughts on, is, is a tool chain really a set architecture for a long time, or from a tool chain as a service perspective, what rate of change do you see in tool chains? I mean, are, are we, are we locked in for a year? Are we locked in five years, five years? Or is it a, uh, a living ecosystem? Uh, does anybody have any thoughts on what, what that would look like? 

Jay Sampson: I just want to piggyback off of, off of what we were just saying. So I’m, I’m, I come from an operational standpoint, right? Like, so being on the ground and seeing how these decisions impact the people who need to implement it. And when we’re talking about a software factory for a government organization, it’s very hard to train government people to change. The way that they approach something to get a methodology stood up. Um, and we keep using this and I think it makes the most sense in the world because I think this is just the best use case, but Kessel Run bringing in things like psychological safety and all these other aspects, it’s hard to do. It is extremely hard to do. And so you need to be able to focus on said mission set. The beauty of having that tool chain and to kind of touch on the question that you’re asking it has to fit Uh the working style of said organization, right? So platform one council run kobe austin They have different mission sets. They operate a bit differently. So your tool chain should should uh kind of acquiesce to whatever the demand is. But the beautiful part about it is, is when you have that team that’s dedicated to all of those different aspects, whether it’s vetting out that new tool chain, procuring it, making sure that it meets all the security standards, integrating it, disseminating it, managing it, reporting that to the, um, to the proper government stakeholders. That’s hard in itself, right? So when you have that tasked out, Uh, to a, to an organization, uh, or to a company instead of, uh, within an organization. Well, now you’re just freeing up the ability to do what? Create amazing apps, uh, that benefit the warfighter. It’s a seamless, it’s a seamless activity. So I love to see more people kind of adopting that mentality. I love to kind of see the way people get inventive with it. Um, I love the way, um, kind of Matt kind of broke that down and instituted that. Uh, the fact that that didn’t exist prior to, I mean, uh, a contract for each app. God, it just sounds. So tedious. And I don’t know how you can manage that. Right. So I love that the breaking of that bureaucracy and the, and the change in the new norm.

Kevin Long: Yeah. I mean, watching our contracts team go through that where, I mean, literally we have one contract with every tool in the tool chain that we do for each of our tool chain customers. Now, knowing just the standard commercial. Overhead in the back and forth with that add on top of that. I mean, sole source justification going to, uh, uh, a contracting officer that isn’t technical like, like Matt is and say, no, no, no. Trust me. When I say feature a is absolutely necessary, even though B through Z is the same as over here without, without feature a does not matter. Right. It’s like, like we’ve invested everything on Mac books, but you know, This software only runs on Windows. It’s like, okay, so here’s the, here’s the Mac version of it. I mean, having helped write SSJs, uh, for other customers, I can’t imagine having to do that with the level of specificity and speed that, that tool chain requires, uh, on that. To be able to get it in and not absolutely bring everything to a grinding halt. Now, I hadn’t, I’m surprised I hadn’t really thought about it in those, in those terms before, uh, being as involved with, with some of these tool chains as I am. But for sure, I mean, that’s, that is a mighty value proposition. 

Adam McNair: So let me ask a question. So if I’m a government customer and I’ve got an organization where I’m currently living with exactly what you, you fellows have been talking about, which is I have an active 34 different purchase orders that cover, you know, 20 different tools. And some, I’ve had to execute new purchase orders because I had to have some, some growth in user count. And depending on how things are licensed, I’ve got all kinds of, I’m just in the middle of all of that. How do I, how do I get started from the standpoint of saying, okay, I, I want somebody to handle this for me. I want to buy Toolchain as a service. Do I, do I, do I try to wait till all these agreements run out? Do I, how do I do that? 

Matt Nelson: I think the first thing you got to do is You know, if you’re not the contracting officer and you’re going to the contracting officer to say, and you hit the nail on the head, it’s tool chain as a service, most of the time, these are supply contracts, you know, 10 licenses. That’s a supply. That’s a whole different ball of wax than when it comes to a services contract. So if you can start getting, looking at the problem. From I need this service provided to me. And part of the service is just happens to be, uh, continuously updating, providing new tools and enabling developer productivity through, you know, equipping them with the right. Uh, the right things to do their job that then opens you up to having these conversations around. Okay. It is a service. We don’t have to wait for these licenses to expire. They will then, it’s almost just like a bill of materials that they would then just take over the management of those, of those capabilities for you. So that’s definitely, you know, in my opinion, the only way to go, just because you asked the question earlier of, Is the tool, what’s the tool in five years from now, no one’s going to be able to answer that because, you know, open source tools come, come down the pipe and then you don’t need to buy this license. You can just, you know, download this open source tool and have your, have your, you know, tool chain team, not just become. A procurement shop, but actually become a shop that does engineering for you to host those tools in your infrastructure and connect them together. So it’s a whole service, um, false tools are 

Kevin Long: such an interesting place where tool chain is going to mad for sure, especially. From, yeah, yeah, not, not as much procurement, but then, you know, uh, I remember back when I was a developer, we weren’t allowed to use open source tools because you couldn’t vet all of the developers that that were working on it. Right. And, you know, how do you trust a 12 year old in Denmark to write code? That is that is the. In the best interest of the U. S. government, right? Um, but you know, it’s more and more security tools and things like that are actually focusing on being able to analyze and evaluate the safety of free open source software. It’s, it’s really exciting and being able to pull that stuff in and plug that in and do more engineering and less procurement, uh, with that. And it’s, yeah, I mean, a hundred percent, like a really exciting, uh, uh, uh, portion of the, of tool chain with that is. As FOSS tools become more and more, uh, frankly ubiquitous.

Adam McNair: So as a connected question to that, so, you know, one of the things when we went through our ISO 44, 000 certification process, one of the things that that informs in your contracts organization is that before you buy a tool or sign any real partnership, one of the questions that you’re really supposed to to analyze is What’s the road map of this tool and you can only see as far out as that company has plans or is willing to communicate them and things change. So there’s there’s this kind of shrinking window of certainty that that the further you get out in the future, depending on the tool. You know, we’re pretty sure that Microsoft Windows is going to exist as a general platform, et cetera, and I can say with pretty great certainty that, you know, Microsoft Teams is probably going to be a platform for the foreseeable future, and you don’t really need to have a note by it that says we got to pay attention to see where this goes. However, when you start to get into more niche tools, I’ve had a lot of enterprise systems management tools where. As I was supporting a government customer and you’re looking at their requirements, to Kevin’s earlier point, sometimes you have a tool where there might be only a feature or two of it that are really critical for your environment. And if that’s not within the sweet spot of that tool, they can just decide they don’t want to do that anymore. They can decide that as they evolve their tool or their suite, that they either will not support that feature. Or that they might require you to buy a whole lot of other capabilities just to get that one piece of that tool. So, there’s always this continued assessment of the lifespan of the tools that you have. And in any target architecture, you’re always going to have those kinds of machinations and changes. But it’s a bigger picture of toolchain and software factory. What’s next? If we’re kind of in the, the Well established early life span of toolchain as a service and software factory. What do you guys think is the next big innovative thing that you want to see happen or you think is going to happen in that ecosystem? 

Jay Sampson: Um, from my perspective, and obviously, right, I sell space for a living, right, to government entities. Um, one of the things that grants me as a purview talking to different organizations is a similar pain point. Um, I kind of have the same conversation over and over again, uh, at these kind of bottleneck points, specifically when we’re talking about contracting, when we get into the operational space with things like tool chain as a service. And what I end up doing a lot of times is just being a connection point. So I think what would be innovative in this space would be collaboration. Uh, There’s a lot of people that are starting a software factory, trying to establish a software factory, maybe have it established and trying to get to that next stage, right, running into that same pain point of scaling that Kessel Run did early on in its in its life, being able to share those stories, being able to share those case studies and being able to kind of use the wisdom that someone else went through and kind of save yourself a lot of heartache and pain. I think would be amazing. There’s a new wave of leadership that’s that’s coming up right that sees the value in it. I do think we’re still in that stage where there’s a couple of organizations and entities that may be having an outdated or an old approach to what this means to maybe haven’t fully grasped the value of it. And there’s some people who really know how to operationalize this thing and just really need to be unlocked so that they can push it as far as it needs to go. So in that, it would be that cross collaboration. It would be sharing of those, those past, uh, mistakes and learning from those. That way that these smaller organizations are ones that are getting off the ground. can do so a lot more efficiently. I mean, I’m looking at Spectrum Warfare, ECMA. I’m looking at different organizations and some really smart and amazing people associated with it. Right. And so being able to move quick, right. And move efficiently, I think would be super beneficial. 

Matt Nelson: Yeah. I think like specifically with, with tools is I’d love to kind of see this, you know, the government. Zeo trust model, a hundred percent, you know, we, we have trust issues for a reason, right? Like we’re keeping our national security secrets alive. So, um, but I love what the iron bank concept is over there on, you know, the, uh, platform one team of pre vetted. You know, sets of tools that contractors have gone through the assessment process and they gotten the green light to say, yep, these, these tools are good to go. And every time a new update gets delivered, they go through that process again, which is a really cool concept. But I think pushing that even further to like, a hybrid SAS model to kind of Jay’s point of, Okay. Truly collaboration with these tool developers and putting their, you know, putting their infrastructure on to a government certified, putting their code on to a government certified set of infrastructure, like gov cloud or anything like that. Because, you know, FedRAMP processes take a year and it’s very cumbersome and I get that, you know, these. Commercial SAS tools, they don’t necessarily want to, you know, or, and they don’t want to like hand over their keys to the kingdom and put it on a different set of infrastructure and networks. And now you have to manage two baselines. But if, if you find the right contractors or the right SAS providers to provide that hybrid SAS model, because there’s, there’s probably, you know, profit to be made in that area, you can then, you know, take advantage of. The turnkey that is SAS, but still do it in a secure way and not have to go through the expensive and timely FedRAMP process if you are trying to be a third party reseller to the government. So just more ways to kind of hack that bureaucracy, what I think is going to be, you know, the next thing, because it’s always about trying to, you know, eliminate The constraint, I think the constraint right now is it’s either you have, uh, you know, open source tool that you can do every single code check you want on it, but then you have to kind of manage it. And, you know, that comes with the logistics tail, or you have to look around the peripherals and do your own security assessments, but it’s not like. The, the in depth assessment that makes the zero trust community feel good. So there’s gotta be a blending there. 

Adam McNair: I know here are two concepts that, that I think, um, makes a lot of sense. One is that from the, from the tool vendor side, you know, this is, this is That kind of intent of tool vendors to participate in the security construct is a lot of what the CMMC methodology, you know, there’s a lot of words in there. There were a lot of complaints from organizations. I sat on the, um, The advisory board and I, I’d be in some of those sessions and I hadn’t thought about the fact that, you know, when those requirements came out and we read them and we were getting compliant and said, okay, well, this makes a lot of sense. There were companies in there that would say, well, but 3 percent of my total revenue is federal. If, if I’m only selling 3 percent of my tools to D. O. D. why do I have to transform my entire enterprise to be compliant with this? Uh, now the kind of the, the most obvious. Kind of example there was, there was a company that made bolts for, for, you know, machinery. They said, just because I sell these bolts to, to DOD as opposed to these other ones, am I supposed to change the way that I do everything so that, you know, my purchasing department has to, has to do everything different? So there’s definitely that aspect. So I think your point about you don’t have to get everything fed ramped. There’s a, there’s a, you know, coming up with some way to get some of those tools hosted in a gov cloud environment where they can start to think about having an enclave where they are maintaining a federal version of a tool. I think that makes a lot of sense. Um, and the other thing that I heard if you guys were talking is, Okay. Think that mindset that your tool chain is not an inventory purchase, but it’s a service is a really big deal. Because one of the things that I saw early on when cloud came around was that the government wasn’t used to talking about cloud from a procurement standpoint because they were used to talking about A hardware purchase where they were going to buy metal and put it in a room somewhere. And then they were used to talking about a services purchase where they were going to send people into that room and take care of that metal. And one of the things that was an acquisition challenge when cloud came along is they said, we want to do this cloud contract. And they’d say, okay, um. Well, but wait a second. This has hardware in it. You go, well, well, it’s, but it’s, it’s all integrated. We’re, that whole mindset of we are going to buy the service of when we want to light something up, they take care of it. That mindset of going there from, well, where’s my purchase for the materials? Well, it’s in that. Well, that, that was a mindset change. And it sounds like the same thing, uh, it is. On the cusp there from a tool chain standpoint, because again, you know, the idea that there’s an overall consciousness in the federal government, what I’ve experienced is it’s a thousand small pockets of consciousness about how to do a thing, you know, and to Jay’s point about trying to share lessons learned and get people together so that we don’t have to continue to reinvent the wheel here, makes a lot of sense. Have you all seen, yeah. A forum where you’re seeing those kinds of conversations happen. Is it happening in FCA? Is it happening in Act IAC? Is it happening in informal organizations? Where are government customers able to talk to each other and understand how these things are being done?

Jay Sampson: I mean, I’ll chime in there.

Definitely FCA. Definitely. I, I would say, um, uh, defense entrepreneur forum as well. I just say just rule of rule of thumb. Whenever people get together, especially in a government environment, people talk and people share their other giving nature. The entire thing is built around service. Uh, and when you’re dealing with, especially, especially, especially, especially innovative efforts, everyone has a really deep desire to do something really well. When you get people together, whatever form that may be, um, that’s when that kind of takes off. Something a little less formal, I would say. Something more so where it’s just conversational, that’s why I love being on this podcast with you guys. Um, Association of Old Crows is another podcast I listen to as well, right, where you just exchange thoughts and ideas and in those environments, that’s when you see, hey, I had this really strong contracting problem. That I just could not figure out when you talk to somebody else that you know, that’s within the industry and they already had that solution figured out. Like it’s not even a thing for them. You just have a conversation and all of a sudden the dots are connected, right? The lights light up. Um, so I would say definitely that I love what FCA does, especially from a small business standpoint. From there, they’re solving a lot of issues just from the private sector, being able to support the government in an efficient way, getting over those bureaucracy hurdles and what have you, uh, having the right connections, being able to align your business in a, in a way where it needs to go, you know, Uh, but yeah, definitely that, uh, anything that’s, that’s event driven more so, and I know COVID is a, is a heck of a challenge that we’re all experiencing, but being in person and sharing thoughts and ideas, it’s amazing how many problems get solved just in a conversational form.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And building on that. So, yeah, I do have one question that is, is, you know, software factory related is certainly, you know, we, we have been in. physical environments in software factories. We have gone completely virtual in software factories. You are certainly at the tip of the spear, I’m sure, in a lot of those conversations about where, what’s the future of, of, you know, what’s current state, what’s future state. Uh, what do you see customers doing? I mean, if they, if there’s uncertainty around Their physical environment. Uh, what kind of advice are you giving them from that perspective? 

Jay Sampson: Not for sure. I, I, so what I’ve been able to kind of surmise from my interactions and seeing all of these things, one, there’s still a deep desire for everyone to kind of be together in one space, right? Just collaborating in person. I mean, you just can’t beat it. Right. But there’s also the luxury of. Kind of what we’re all doing, right? And it’s working from home. So the sweet spot moving forward, especially, I think that I just read that there’s another variant in France that just popped up, um, which is like just going to add on right after the Omicron disaster is hybrid work. Giving people the option of being in the office or working from home. Kessel Run is another great case study, right? When they had to go to all virtual, um, it was a Herculean effort in the beginning that, that rapidly became easy because it was just, you set people up with tools. They’re really dope at what they do. I mean, they’ve hired some of the best people in the world, right? Uh, and so they were actually a little more efficient working from home than working in the office. Um, now I do think there’s certain things that you miss from that, right? When you’re not there every day, just having a stand up where your entire organization meets in the morning. Again, the conversations that come out of that, it, it, it bleeds over into the entire day. Uh, but the future of work, to be honest, is going to be hybrid. It is going to be flexible. It’s going to, um, it’s going to. Be a situation where organizations shrink their portfolio instead of having that massive office space that really may be only at 60 percent capacity pre COVID. And, uh, you know, during COVID, now you’re at maybe, uh, 10 to 15 percent shrink that down, give people an option to come into a, uh, a shared coworking space. And I, you know, I say this because I work for the organization, but I can tell you, honestly, this is where it’s going from a government standpoint, from a private sector standpoint, uh, because it touches, uh, things like, uh, talent, attraction, and retention. Being able to hire the best talent from with somebody who may be in California and you’re based in Virginia, what have you, right? Like you got to be able you got to be able to give these people some options. So it’s going to be flexibility, uh in a hybrid approach moving forward.

Adam McNair: Yeah, and I would tell you this much from uh from a business perspective I have seen merger acquisition deals die because of giant lease footprints. Um, I’ve, I’ve been charged with figuring out ways to, to, to turn the kind of financials of an organization around and the, the most money I’ve. ever been able to save somebody was on real estate. It was millions of dollars a year. And, you know, the, the day I took that gig over and they said, look, we got to figure out how to actually, you know, turn a profit. And, uh, I walked into a facility in crystal city. You could have set up a bowling alley, um, five Oh five basketball shuffleboard. All side by side. I mean, just I’m talking about thousands of square feet that because there was a pivot in how contract delivery was going to happen, the company was paying, you know, a couple million dollars a year for unused space. So that’s dealing with that. And that was just kind of the old uncertainty. The new uncertainty, to your point, it makes a lot of sense, um, you know, to make. More flexible plans for the future. And so that said, I mean, on the last note of flexible planning and in person activity. So I know we’ve, we’ve talked, I think, in, in different, um, at different times about, you know, what event we would be at or when we would be going, uh, you know, going to. Uh, we went to the Act IAC ELC conference, which was back in November. Uh, to Jay’s point, everything keeps evolving. Uh, we’re certainly talking about, uh, the offset symposium coming up, uh, in Detroit, which ties into a lot of these, you know, the acquisition, uh, Challenges, acquisition, thinking, acquisition, strategy from an actual security standpoint. Uh, are you guys headed there? Or if somebody wants to bump into you in person, when’s the next time you guys are going to be in a live, real, in person event? Theoretically, assuming everything doesn’t change dramatically in a week and a half. Yeah, 

Jay Sampson: I’ll definitely be at the offset. It’s actually going to be at, uh, at one of our locations there in the Detroit area. I do fervently believe that that’s going to be one of those opportunities where when you have the in person engagement, there’s going to be just so much that comes out of that. Uh, you’re dealing with an organization that’s standing up a, uh, a software factory, as it were, uh, this one a little bit more truer in the sense than not. Um, but what, what the, the learning and the people that will, that will be coming together, uh, in that, uh, I think it’ll be setting up the government for, for, uh, for extreme success. You’ll definitely see me there. Uh, I’m in D. C. Uh, there’s, there’s, we got about nine or 10 buildings that I’m usually in once or twice a week. Uh, so you can see me anytime you want. I’d love, I’d love to meet anybody at the space, but yeah, definitely be there for sure. 

Matt Nelson: Very cool. Matt, you headed up there Detroit way. No, but now that you mentioned it, I might, uh, put it on. Oh, you’re going. Yeah, 

Kevin Long: I think we’re going to see you there. 

Matt Nelson: I love it, 

Kevin Long: man. Yeah. Thanks 

Matt Nelson: for the invite. I appreciate it. Um, but yeah, like just to kind of, you know, sum up this conversation, I, I’m a firm believer that environments shape outcomes, right? So if, you know, unfortunately a lot of the, the federal buildings and the, and the military installations. Their environments, you walk into those environments and they are not like state of the art. They are not competitive, uh, when it comes to attracting talent and producing those good outcomes. That’s two cities from the 70s and the 80s. So, uh, either, you know, spending the time to, you know, Invest in the existing military installations or creating something like a WeWork where you can, you can flex as you grow and then flex back down when you need to as well to have that additional flexibility. I think like that’s such a key, a key thing for these software organizations as they’re starting to, you know, grow and bud, right? Like these, a lot of seeds have been planted. In the last three or four years and for us to garden that ecosystem and not revert back to let’s just outsource things and get, you know, software code mailed to us again, you’re going to have to have a dedicated, you know, environment, um, And last thing is like Jay mentioned, like when, when COVID hit, you know, the software tool chain team was the one that was helped because it’s a service. They could flex, get more BDI help with white listing accounts, doing all of that stuff. They’re like, if, if you didn’t have that, if you just had a bunch of licenses, now you’re having to go out and acquire that service and you’re, you’re unproductive for six months. So there’s just a lot of, uh, a lot of good lessons learned that COVID has. Uh, has, you know, you know, the silver linings that COVID have brought into us. But, uh, one of them, I’m firmly believer that like to Jay’s point, like you can’t just work behind a computer all day and get the same vibe and the same, like just love of passion for life when you’re actually collaborating with people or social animals type of thing. So let’s not, remote work is great. But also have options is all I’m saying. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And, and the thing, you know, I, it, it, it can’t be, you know, stated enough that attracting talent in the future. We have an entire workforce now that has experienced remote and or hybrid work. And. You can have a lot of people that are going to want to stay deliver, you know, delivering services in that environment and our physical facilities need to allow for that. And there’s a lot of government buildings. There’s a lot of old commercial real estate that if you can only put 6 people in a conference room.

If you can only use an old dial in phone and then you spend 30 percent of your time trying to explain, well, are you seeing what I’m seeing? No, go to this other slide. Well, no, no, you’re on the wrong page. That’s not no. A plus resources are going to accept that anymore. And so the efficiency that we’ve seen and the ways we’ve overcome some of these obstacles, I think we need to make sure that both from a procurement obstacle standpoint, from a physical environment obstacle standpoint, that we don’t, we don’t forget about the fact that overcoming those. Is a big part of all the efficiency in the innovation because tools are just tools. And if you can’t get them or you can’t get the people to use them, you’re not going to end up with real value for your organization. Well, guys, thank you so much. It’s been a really great conversation. I know we’ve had great opportunities to work together in the past and certainly in the future and really appreciate your all’s insights on it. Your unique areas of business. And so I just wanted to thank you both. So thanks to Matt Nelson, to Jay Sampson, Kevin Long. Thank you. Victoria Robinson will be editing this up for us. Thank you for participating. Emily Scandalberry. Thank you, Kevin and Emily. And I’ll be at offset coming up in March and then wanted to remind everybody to, uh, Keep up to date on things going on with Highlight on our, uh, our website, HighlightTech. com. Also, upcoming podcast, we’ll be talking about our small business partners and some of our utilization of the small business program, uh, with, uh, our partners, Audley Consulting Group and RP Professional Services. Thank you all very much, everybody. Happy New Year, and we’ll talk to you soon. 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 U. S. government.

Federal Agencies Challenged (Again) to Improve the Customer and Citizen Experience

If you’ve interacted online with the government lately, chances are you were underwhelmed by the customer experience (CX). Presidential Executive Order 14058 hopes to change that perception, but government officials on the front lines of this initiative admit that there’s a lot to be done.

President Biden’s backing is “a really exciting moment,” said Amir Boland, the Federal Customer Experience Lead at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), during a recent ACT-IAC Webinar to promote the initiative. Too often, Boland said, call centers are the solution to the customer experience when they should only be something people should access when they need help.

“The Federal Government must design and deliver services in a manner that people of all abilities can navigate,” according to the order signed December 13, 2021. “We must use technology to modernize Government and implement services that are simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent, and responsive for all people of the United States.”

Executive Order 14058, “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Improving Service Deliver to Rebuild Trust in Government,” is one of a series of guidance and legislation to support the customer service improvement efforts of federal agencies, the ACT-IAC website notes. “Many challenges to transforming government services and improving customer experience have been well documented and this framework addresses many of these challenges.”

Initial goals of the Biden Administration’s new plan include the selection of “a limited number of customer life experiences to prioritize for Government-wide action to improve cu stomer experience,” develop measurable improvements across multiple agencies, and share lessons learned throughout the Federal Government.

“We all have to interact with the federal government, whether it’s to pay taxes, get a passport, file for a student loan, and many other of life’s important functions,” said Rebecca Andino, CEO of Highlight Technologies, a government contractor with expertise in UX/CX design. “Highlight is currently supporting five of the Designated High Impact Service Providers. We look forward to helping our clients re-imagine the customer experience by combining new technologies with human-centered approaches.”

The Director of OMB will lead and support agency customer experience initiatives and help agencies make the decisions necessary to achieve the objectives of the order. Agency heads will be responsible for strategies and the integration of activities to improve customer experience.

“It’s not the finish line,” said Bolan of the Executive Order, but more of “a “refreshment station” on the way to creating more citizen-centric to get government agencies.

When you get down to it, superior customer experience (CX) is the ultimate end goal for federal agencies. Let’s get to work!

Written by: Barry Lawrence | Senior Communications Manager