Episode #31: Best Practices in Federal Communications

Announcement: Broadcasting from Fairfax, Virginia. You are now listening to The Highlight Cast. 

Emilie Scantlebury: I am Emilie Scantlebury, the Director of Corporate Portfolio Development at Highlight. Communication is core to providing constituents with key resources. Information and initiatives. Each agency is faced with variety of obstacles to overcome to reach its target audiences. Our team helps government teams with these challenges. Today, we will chat through federal focus, targeting diverse audiences, accessibility, and structuring procurement of these opportunities. We welcome Barry Lawrence, communications program manager and our mission solutions, BD portfolio director, Tom Perkins. Welcome Barry. Welcome Tom. Thank you, Emily. 

Tom Perkins: Hello.

Emilie Scantlebury: All right, let’s dive right in. So, when we say federal strategic communications, help me understand, what falls under that umbrella? What type of services are we providing our customers? Any kind of context you can give our audience? 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, thank you. You know, this is really the age of communications. If you think about it, almost everything that happens within the federal government touches communications and services.

Some way, so, you know, in the most simplistic way, of course, we think of communications in terms of reaching audiences and reaching the media and talking to our constituents and stakeholders. But it’s also internal communications that we have to worry about often, because if the internal message is wrong, the external message is wrong. So things like the I. T. departments. That we sometimes work with, they need to communicate what they’re rolling out, how they’re rolling it out and how it’s useful. So communications is really enveloping all kinds of areas these days, including the important customer service one. 

Emilie Scantlebury: That’s interesting. I think you covered an important topic. I want to expound upon. You highlighted the importance of internal comms matching external comms. Can you help our audience? Understand? What are some of the things that might fall under internal communications and some of the things that fall under external communications? 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, so I’ll use the example over at the National Institute. So, health, where we work today, lots of things change in terms of grants and funding policy and procedures. So, we certainly have to communicate those things to stakeholders and the audience. And also, though, we have to make sure internally that people are also up on those changes and, in essence, no. Exactly what it is that has changed and how they can guide the audience through the process. So those things have to work hand in hand or, you know, end up with a big mess. Right? So we really want that internal communication solid and it matches what we’re saying externally. 

Emilie Scantlebury: Okay, 

Barry Lawrence: thanks, Gary. Go ahead, 

Emilie Scantlebury: Tom.

Tom Perkins: I would add with respect to external communications. So we are very often talking to the range of federal departments and agencies and our customers across those organizations. And it’s always helpful to kind of put ourselves in shoes as a former federal employee. It’s very helpful. And what are the areas that they’re looking for support for information, um, to have those trusted, meaningful discussions. It’s, um, it’s always a good practice to kind of do your homework. What are the things that they’re looking for and. And have, you know, those. The latest ideas and innovations that they’re very interested in and learning about, um, those, I think, are critical to paving the way to a good, not just 1 time discussion, but ongoing dialogue with them and, you know, improved information sharing between both parties.

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, that’s a great comment, Tom. I mean, it’s not a one way or one time deal. You know, a lot of times we can start with internal and learn some things internally that affects the external communications and vice versa. We can learn lots of things from our external communications that we can bring back to change our policies, procedures, and even the way we talk to our customers. So that’s a great point. Tom. It’s not a one and done. It’s a continuous evolution.

Emilie Scantlebury: That’s helpful. Thanks to you both on that. And Barry, you started a question for me. Um, firstly, can we talk about some of the unique differences between commercial and private comms and federal and public communications and anything that you can share on how those two markets are learning from each other? So how federal comms are looking at commercial and vice versa? 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I actually came from a private sector world and gravitated Happily towards the federal sector. And so the funnel that we look at for communications, they’re a little bit different in both areas. So, in the, in the private world, we’re looking to draw people into a funnel, um, you know, make them aware that we are selling something typically, and we’re driving them through that funnel to all the way to a purchase. Right? Well, in the federal government, if you think about it. We’re not really asking in most cases for people to buy anything. We’re trying to get them through a funnel of information or what to do or they need to accomplish something. So it’s more about I’m aware that I have to do something and this is where I go. Take me through that funnel. So I understand what it is I need to do to get my grants and funding approved or to get my driver’s license or what have you all the way through the end where we hopefully can even turn some of those people into advocates of the program that can help other customers get through the process. So that’s the major difference. If I was going to say anything else, it would be that, um. In all honesty, I feel like the private sector is a little bit ahead of the government sector in terms of some of those tools and technologies to get people through the tunnel. But we’re trying to quickly catch up because we live today in an Amazon world where people, it’s, you know, go into a system of Amazon. Amazon already knows what you want before you even do it. Tell them what you want, where they go to the government and those systems are not as developed yet. We’ve got to start matching that or we’re going to find that our customer service won’t be held in the same steam as it, as it is over at Amazon. And people expect that today.

Emilie Scantlebury: Barry, let’s zero in on the strategic element of strategic communications. You’ve highlighted some needs for some new tools and technologies, but are there any particular parts of that strategic side that kind of map into that need? 

Barry Lawrence: Correct, so we’re talking again about that funnel and that information funnel for government. So 2 things come to mind. 1 is. Targeting and that’s your basic demographics. You know, what, what’s your job title? What do you do at work? What do you need? And I think what’s what we’re missing is the second part of that funnel is where are you in the journey? The journey map we call it. So am I just now? Understanding that I need to get my driver’s license or i’m I didn’t even know there was a grants and funding opportunity And so i’m at the very top of that funnel, right? And that’s a much different Way that we need to communicate with that person and someone who’s already in it and needs a little push to go forward or or is unsure about process or a technique. So I think you can see there’s sort of 2 types of targeting there and we need to get much better at personalizing. Those communications to those different people. And we’ll probably end up talking about this later, Tom, I’m sure, which, you know, AI is, is also kind of helping us. And we’re seeing that big time in the private sector, drive some of those capabilities.

Tom Perkins: Yes, certainly 1 ad is I’ve heard from a longtime federal CIO is that as they look at how to maximize the always limited resources they’ve got, you know, they’ll say every every federal budget dollar that they have is is obligated or it’s it’s spoken for. Until the next best idea comes along, so they are a sponge. They are looking for what are those next best ideas there in the business of analysis of alternatives. What are better alternatives? They’re looking for what’s the latest and greatest that we’ve seen that’s being implemented successfully in the private sector at other of our customer agencies. So, they are looking for other solutions and in terms of external communications, we always need to provide, you know, these are some other use cases, alternatives that are worth looking at, taking a closer look at versus what their current plan might be. And that is very much coming into play. As emerging technologies are taking hold, especially in the federal space, whether it’s, it’s a, I, or, or the range of other emerging technologies that enable them to. To better achieve their mission.

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, there’s a blogger this week who said. This is the age of that blogger’s name happened to be Bill Gates and I take his stuff pretty seriously. You know, he’s been pretty good at defining trends these days. And communication fits really well into AI. AI doesn’t mean we can automate everything, but we can automate some things. And I think what we’re seeing is, for example, Adobe just rolled out something called Firefly. So by simply typing words about a graphic that you want and describing the graphic, With words, mind you, you get a, you get a graphic, you know, so it’s like, I want a tent in a desert because I’m selling this tent in the desert. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a tent in the desert. Nice and wonderfully wrapped up for you. We’re seeing this in a. AI in this sort of productivity way, where it doesn’t replace what we do as communicators, but it becomes sort of like our co pilot that helps us, right? So we can sort of have AI write even some of our content, at least the first draft. And then we can, as humans, jump on top of that and say, okay, this is not right. We need to fix this and we need to target this here and there, but you can sort of see some of those productivity advantages that are. Right on the break and it’s stuff. I think that the fed government loves productivity. So we really have to start thinking about some of those issues.

Emilie Scantlebury: Thanks, Barry. So just to repeat back, I’m hearing a lot about the advantages of using AI to increase productivity, but it could also be taken to think about increasing effectiveness and helping us build metrics or to what you were sharing earlier about understanding our users and where they are in their user journey, or, you know, perhaps how they move through that, that tunnel that you were 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, Emily, I think in the old days we used to call that Big data, if you think about it, what we have out there is people chatting and talking and all sorts of channels. You know, they are on different social media channels. They’re responding to your web content. They might be responding to a chat bot, which we have developed over at the NIH program. What we’re getting out there was just a lot of noise, right? Until you get a little help and I can come into play to sort of start reading. Those messages that are happening all around us, pull them in and give us some highlights on, hey, this is what customers are worried about or frustrated with or need more help with what have you. And so I can definitely help us in those targeting and and that journey mapping that I talked about previously. So, yes, I is also playing a role in that function. 

Emilie Scantlebury: Fantastic. I think a question from my side, are there any challenges that AI or any other technology is helping address? And if so, what are, what are some of those challenges? Can you help us understand those?

Barry Lawrence: I think it’s a is money. You know, we, we’ve got to, we’ve got to say, do we want to invest as a government agency in this process? Right. And so that’s not going to come free. But yet we think we can make that back on the productivity side. So, yes, it’s an investment in money, but we think, I think at least that over time, that’ll, that’ll make us a better group of federal agencies. It’ll reduce the amount of time it takes to produce all this content. Let me just give you another example, you know, and I hate to, you know, I won’t name a name, but but there are platforms out there today. So when you go and and put something in different social media channels, and even advertisements and social different channels, right? They’re all different sizes and shapes. And today we’ve been making those changes 1 at a time, right? Well, this is not even AI. This is just a really good. piece of application where we can now make that change one time and have it go across all our different channels. So these types of technologies, again, are not coming free, but they have a huge impact on productivity. And we’ve got to sort of teach the federal government that it’s worth the investment, just like it was back in the, uh, You know, early days that we were investing in information technology and websites and, and the Internet, right? I mean, this is just another huge inflection point, a new era of communications.

Tom Perkins: I would add, you know, we’ve passed the point at many of the agencies, whether to consider incorporating it as as part of their solution. And it’s, it’s more to what extent and which particular solutions do they want to. Try to add it and there are numerous examples that we’re seeing now across federal departments agencies where they’re going through the exercise of how best to incorporate AI in the end. In some cases. They may not fully utilize the AI solution, but as part of the exercise, they’ve found how to better streamline the workflow, how to make it more efficient. So, that alone is, is, um, produced a huge benefit in terms of cost savings, speeding up the process, making the agency more responsive to the, to the mission. There are Accompanying challenges requirements that pop up. Many of us are familiar with. All right. If there’s a. A workflow that was previously provided by federal staff, and now we’ve got an AI solution. Uh, what happens to that to that staff? And that’s where going back to the communication. The agency, the drivers of incorporating AI always have to. Be in communication with the team and part of the strategy is to repurpose or utilize those who are working at some of the processes now done by AI to other, you know, badly needed. Parts of the workflow of accomplishing the mission for the agency. So a big part of incorporating AI is that communication with the team. And here are the other critical mission activities that we want to have you doing instead of what the AI solution can now do. 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up because it’s not all technology. It’s not even all about spending money. A lot of times. This is about solid process and even just solid project management, even I, you know, a lot of times it’s about just making sure that everybody has. A good solid strategy going into their communications initiative that they have a plan that they’re executing on the plan. We see that a lot of times where we’re coming in and and we’re not just focused on. On the job of communications, but we’re also focused on, did we plan this out? Right? Did we give ourselves enough time for review? Did we, did we ask all the right questions? Those things. Are very human behaviors and things we can improve on all the time. We don’t have to wait for technology for that. We can improve those right away.

Emilie Scantlebury: Here’s a question for you, would you contest that good, solid project management and process requires good, solid internal communications practices inherently itself.

Barry Lawrence: Absolutely, I think they go hand in hand. You know, Emily, I often joke that communicators are some of the worst project managers in the world and vice versa. Some of the project managers are the worst communicators in the world. Well, there seems to be a marriage that can happen there. Right? So we really would like to see something we. We kid around with we call it compound sometimes, but we really think that communications, for example, can be very successful, but the project piece was the project manager piece was not very good. Is that a win? Well, yeah, we did well with the communications, but we tied up a lot of resources and strain the system here. So we’d like to see both of those things. You know, parallel in their importance, and that is a real win if we can get the project management piece of communications up to a level that’s more efficient.

Emilie Scantlebury: Thanks, Barry. I want to pivot us a little bit here. So what we’re talking about throughout this podcast has been about targeting your audience to deliver personal messages in the space that they’re at and building trust with those audiences. But what we’re seeing across our federal agencies is a push to ensuring that that audience is wide. It covers all demographics. All of us need a driver’s license. All of us maybe have a need for a grant moving forward. So how are we building campaigns? How do you look at campaigns for diversity, whether it’s cultural diversity, age, disability, Section 508, anything of that nature?

Barry Lawrence: Yeah. We have to do the research 1st of all, some of that research is just contextually where you’re trying to understand your audiences, maybe even using the Internet to get a general flavor of what’s going on. It’s, it’s identifying, you know, specific influencers and what they’re saying. So not only do you have different demographics we’ve seen in the last. Decade or so, you know, people don’t even believe things that we’re saying sometimes, even if they’re actually true. So, we have to find the right influencers that will persuade that audience this way or that, right? I mean, it’s very complicated. So a lot of that is doing the background work, the SWOT analysis, right? And it’s also heavily, you know. functional with things like focus groups and surveys and wearing out shoe leather in those communities of interest so that we really understand them. There’s no short answer to that, Emily. It’s, it’s really where the hard work comes in. And again, AI can help, but it’s a very human process too.

Tom Perkins: I would add to Barry’s point to do the homework long ago. 1 of my, my mentors when I worked in the U. S. trade representatives office, our U. S. trade rep, Charlene Barshefsky would always say when you’re going into a trade negotiation. No more than any of the other negotiators are going to know. Going into that room, do your homework. There’s no way around it. Track and find out all of the information. Be best prepared. So having that in hand will serve well for many of those discussions 

Barry Lawrence: and let me try to bring it, make it a little more clear for our audience with an example, when I was at the FCC, working with the I. T. department, trying to communicate to the internal audience of, you know, FCC staffers, right? Well, guess what? They’re all different. There are staffers who are very tech savvy. There are staffers who aren’t very tech savvy, right? There are people heading each of the divisions within the FCC that have IT experience. So we very quickly learned that the way we could best communicate to each of those audiences was different. And in fact, we could even use. Some of the groups within those departments as influencers to help push things down or the leader of that group. Right? That division. So each 1 of those channels within the channel were very important. And by the way, Emily, we didn’t know that. When we went in, so adjusting your communication on the go is super important, super important. So have a plan. And as we all know, as soon as you start executing your plan, it’s like probably no good anymore, right? So you have to keep moving that plan into a different space or a different strategy so that, so that it works more effectively. You know, it’s not, again, one and done. It’s constant evolution. And again, with tools that can Reach out and bring back even more information. We not only have to adjust within a day or a week, but often even in real time. 

Emilie Scantlebury: So. Let’s talk about post COVID in a post COVID world, reaching our audiences, whether that be government stakeholders, or even federal workers in a BD and capture space has changed. So, Barry, can you talk a little bit about those changes? You know, what new types of needs have we seen any increases or changes to how we’re reaching those audiences? And then Tom, can you do the same on the BD capture side? 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, what we saw with COVID during that period is tremendous growth, first of all, in a couple things. One was our ability to use virtual spaces. It grew really fast. In that three year period, we moved ahead 10 years and in technology, in my opinion, what happened was, you know, we also had better bandwidth. Right? So we all remember the old days of Skype and it’s like, you know, right? All that stuff. Right? So we have a much smoother platform today with things like zoom and other capabilities, you know, including Microsoft teams, but, you know, You know, that gave us tremendous ability to, like, reach bigger audiences. To give you an example, we were doing conferences for people in real space, and we would get about 900 people in a real space somewhere. You know, it was a nice, nice event to learn about how to make their grants and funding program work better. So they can improve their science, improve their medicine, improve their medical equipment. COVID came, blew all that up, and it forced us to take on a virtual conference setting. Well, lo and behold, we were suddenly getting 15, 000 people. Sometimes, look, this past year we had 32, 000 registrations. It’s incredible. So, we were reaching people from all the states and even internationally. We were At this point, the NIH is so happy with the virtual platform that we may not immediately go back to the in person setting that we once were in.

Tom Perkins: Yeah, I would add from the, the business development and capture world, you know, the ideas we’re always trying to find out as much as possible about upcoming requirements challenges that an agency or department may face. As well as want to share how best we might be able to possibly support those challenges requirements when cobit hit. Oh, no, everything shut down. Everyone’s stuck in their Corona caves and can’t communicate as as much and and perception much frustration about being able to reach out and have those those discussions. Um, I’m a cup is half full type of person. And now that we’ve. Come out of it largely, although there’s some, you know, hybrid as well as still a lot of remote activity. My thinking and what I’ve seen is that we’ve gained an additional capability, another mechanism, another way to improve our communication back and forth between a lot of what industry does and can share. And what are the challenges and new requirements that a department or agency may face in person is great. And we’re getting back to that in many cases, but we do have this other capability. Now, we can get online and chat with folks where previously that may not have thought of it or may not have been as a medium that we’re as accustomed to. Today, I think a great many of us were, we can kind of seamlessly. Okay, we’ll do a zoom or teams call versus, hey, let’s meet in person pre cobit. That additional. Communication channel is certainly not as readily accepted or utilized. So, again, cup half full. We do have an additional means or mechanism to share that info. In person is great is best, but we do have this additional mechanism. Like I said, to deepen dialogue. 

Barry Lawrence: That makes me think to Tom, we’ve also learned that there’s some snags with these virtual communication channels. So, for example, you know, in the old days when I was. On site with a federal client, you know, I could. Walk around and hey, how’s it going? You know, meet somebody at the water cooler and get an update. On a project that I didn’t know something was Either delayed or maybe it was moving faster than I thought it was We don’t have that ability as much anymore. And what I noticed sometimes is people won’t call someone or Even email them to get a clarification, so we have to almost over communicate even more in the virtual world. And sometimes that gets lost. I think. And so that’s something we’ve been working with our clients on a lot is to make sure we are understanding what they’re saying and even repeat it back a couple of ways, either orally and in writing so that we make sure we’re hitting the marks because so many things can get lost. You know, in the virtual communication setting, so it has major benefits. Absolutely. But we have to overcompensate for some of those communications lags. I think as well.

Emilie Scantlebury: A lot of information and take in here, and I want to, as we start to wrap up here, I want to take us back very, if you could give 1 piece of advice to a stakeholder looking to implement a strategic communications. What would that be? What would that look like? Barry, if you want to start us off. 

Barry Lawrence: Yeah, well, first of all, find a partner that has experience, because if they don’t have experience in your sector, that’s a negative, right? So have an experienced partner, have one that’s flexible. And what I mean by that is, you know, you know what you need, right, going into a communications execution, but you don’t always know what you don’t know. And so you’ve got to not only depend on the people that are core staff, a lot of times in the communications world, but you got to build on a bench of people that you’re sometimes pulling in just for a moment in time. And, you know, to complete that execution and then they get then they leave again. So that’s something we try really hard to do and highlight is to have a deep bench of people so that we can, you know, oh, we need a infographic. We didn’t think of that. Okay, so we pull in a graphics person or video because we have such great bandwidth today. We’re seeing more and more video executions. You probably don’t need video full time, but often you need somebody who can step in or a technical writer who can step in on something. That’s my big advice is, you know, plan ahead, but know that you’re going to need a flexible organization to work with to make your communications work the best. 

Tom Perkins: And looking at it, you know, particularly from the business development capture standpoint, um, a lot of folks in that field are what I would term, you know, relentless communicators, uh, COVID, no COVID, they’ll figure out a way to communicate and get that info shared. Uh, but, uh, harking back to some of the themes we’ve been talking about earlier, it does pay to do your homework. What’s the best way that. The particular audience and who you want to dialogue with likes to communicate. Maybe some like to do a teams call versus some I’d like to meet in person. Try to find that out beforehand. And as well, you know, what are some of the key concerns they may have the better prepared, the more productive, not just 1 time conversation, but ongoing dialogue you can have with them.

Barry Lawrence: Thanks, Tom. So in addition, I think it’s really important that we tie communications. Into the CX or the customer experience piece because those two things should be married together. We are not just communicating to communicate. We have a presidential order that we must improve. Federal government service, and what I hope is that the communicators within the federal world and the customer service people are getting together because those 2 things need to work in unison. We need to learn from each other. And I think we’ll find some really nice benefits from that.

Emilie Scantlebury: Well, thank you, Barry. And thank you, Tom. And thanks to our audience for listening to the Highlight Cast. To keep up to date with Highlight’s news and activities, follow us on LinkedIn and visit our website, HighlightTech. com. Tune in for our next episode and see you all there. 

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.

Case Study: User Experience Design Services for Classified Environments


Our Intelligence Community customer needed Web User Experience (UX) Design services to support their web presence as part of the Experience Directorate’s mission to fundamentally change the user’s experience and connect customers to GEOINT content and online capabilities in a dynamic and easy to use online environment.


Highlight designed, built, tested, and implemented usable, searchable, and semantically significant web sites/applications for the agency while operating as a center of excellence and managing engagements with each ‘customer’ as part of an account. We operated in a trio of workstreams including Federal civilian employees, active-duty military, and contractors to provide UX research/computer-human interaction analysis, UX wireframing and design, and UX implementation. We used UX heuristics research to understand the current workflows and enhance the user experience. We revamped all web interfaces from legacy hard-coded HTML to HTML5, Bootstrap, and Angular JS. By rewriting the code to modern programming languages, we ensured that agency web apps are hardware agnostic and able to operate on multiple devices, such as tablets and mobile devices.

We used Agile development practices, iterating releases from an MVP to a fully realized product with release of “beta” software as an essential part of this process. We planned, coordinated, scheduled, and deployed new releases of website user interface code to transition to the production environment following testing. We developed scripts for automated deployment as well as scripting code for use within the AWS cloud. We develop APIs for common tools and data loading into AWS’ NoSQL (DynamoDB) database.

Highlight used system performance, interaction, and customer feedback data to ensure our fielded applications we operating effectively. We used input from customers and end users on the usability and suitability of existing sites and web tools to develop new requirements as well as validate suitability during user acceptance testing. We planned, coordinated, scheduled, and deployed new releases of website user interface code to transition to the operational environment, working with our customer to implement a CI/CD deployment scheme to deploy from local development environments into the .mil PaaS cloud using GitLab.mil and Jenkins.


  • UX account management 
  • UX research/computer-human interaction analysis 
  • UI wireframing and design 
  • UX implementation 
  • Tier III Service Desk/Help Desk Support
  • CI/CD Deployment


Highlight provided web applications with improved user satisfaction with well-designed, user-friendly interfaces that are easy to navigate and provide a seamless user experience. We enhanced accessibility and increased user engagement encouraging users to spend more time exploring GEOINT content. We delivered visually appealing, modern, and professional website design that aligns with agency brand guidelines and enhances the organization’s overall brand perception.


Case Study: Standing up Physical and Development Environment for Air Force Software Factory


Our U.S. Air Force Software Factory customer provides key software factory function used for the development and delivery of solutions for some of the USAF’s most challenging problems – using experimental, cloud-based technologies and commercial best practices. The software factory was expanding and needed a new secure development facility and asset management of the toolchain licenses and configuration.


Highlight delivered a turnkey software environment providing all physical space, infrastructure, personnel, equipment, supplies, business and software tools, for personnel providing Agile development, Extreme Programming, DevSecOps, and Continuous Integration/ Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) of software. Highlight worked with the USAF to lease a modern co-working space, built the network, procured computers and software (over $1M of software), and worked with USAF security to accredit the Experimentation Lab facility. This provided a paired programming environment solution with a maximum 350 workstations at full operational capacity. We delivered “DevSecOps environment as a service” where we are fully responsible for the outsourced development environment. Our engineers implemented, patched, monitored performance, and maintained the cloud-based toolchain used by development teams, that includes the latest DevSecOps and CI/CD tools.

Highlight worked with USAF to develop and implement a strategy for acquiring and preparing for new solutions for the software development environment and the toolchain  – performing the necessary actions to support the factory’s existing and evolving software integration needs in all environments (development, testing/staging, evaluation, resolution, and production) to support development, security, platform enablement, and business operations.  We streamlined the software procurement process and provided license management, annual renewal reporting, and software licenses renewals.


  • Software Factory
  • Asset Management
  • DevSecOps
  • ToolChain as a Service
  • Facilities Establishment and Management


This facility was one of the first, true modernization laboratories for DoD software development practices to ultimately deliver highly effective defect-free software from non-cleared USAF personnel to be integrated into a cleared TS/SCI system. Highlight provided not only the lab space, infrastructure, cloud hosting, and equipment, but also managed the CI/CD DevSecOps toolchain and provided agile coaching support to the lab program.

Case Study: Enhancing Grants Management and Outreach for Target Communities


Our Health and Human Services (HHS) client required efficiently managed and administered grants throughout the lifecycle process, necessitating streamlined support in various areas, including financial management, risk management, cost analysis, and project planning. Moreover, our customer needed to ensure that grantees receive adequate funds and support while maintaining compliance with legal guidelines and minimizing liability. Enhancing automated systems and engaging key stakeholders were also crucial for the success of the grant programs.


Highlight provides experienced grants and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for comprehensive support to HHS Stakeholders. We provide administrative and technical assistance throughout the grant lifecycle, from pre-award planning to post-award administration and project closeout. We assist our customer in completing the closeout process, generating Notices of Award (NOA), tracking funds, and providing guidance to ensure grantee compliance.

Highlight conducts audit and project management activities to ensure the timely resolution of audit findings, minimizing the risk of penalties against grantees while upholding the stewardship of agency funds. We also guide the development and enhancement of automated systems, virtual learning network, the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center website, based on grantee feedback.

We prioritize stakeholder engagement and worked with tribal elders and counsel, holding consultations to discuss priorities and concerns regarding grant and acquisition programs. This approach ensured that community voices were heard and integrated into the decision-making process.

Highlight creates and delivers training and technical assistance programs focused on federal regulations, performance standards, and administrative procedures, equipping grantees with the necessary knowledge and tools. We also collaborate with industry partners, such as the National Indian Head Start Association (NIHSA), to identify community needs and maximize the impact of federal funds.

To support grantees, Highlight develops publications and tools, including the Quarterly newsletter and internal/external trackers. These resources aim to improve key mission success metrics, increase awareness, and facilitate best practice sharing among grantees


  • Full Lifecycle Grants Management
  • Pre-Award Planning and Administration
  • Post-Award Administration and Closeout
  • Administrative Assistance
  • Technical Assistance 
  • Funding Management and Guidance 
  • Project Management
  • Audit Management 
  • Strategic Communication and Outreach


The agency realized improvements in grant management and administration for multiple regions. Grantee compliance increased, minimizing organization liability and ensuring proper use of funds. Audit findings were resolved in a timely manner, reducing the risk of penalties against grantees. Automated systems were enhanced based on grantee feedback and needs, while stakeholder engagement ensured the alignment of grant programs with community and early childhood needs.

The delivery of training and technical assistance programs, combined with collaboration with industry partners, led to the maximized impact of federal funds. Grantees benefited from improved awareness, compliance, and best practice sharing through the publications and tools provided by Highlight.

Case Study: Transforming NIH Grants Review Process and Management


The National Institutes of Health’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) faces a daunting task: reviewing 90,000 grants annually to support NIH’s 27 Extramural Institutes and Centers. The grant lifecycle is not a steady stream but rather a series of surges in workload. To effectively advance the mission of administering medical research grants, CSR requires comprehensive support that can adapt to these fluctuations and maintain a high standard of efficiency and quality.


Highlight provides a wide range of services to CSR, ensuring the fair, independent, expert, and timely review of grant applications. One of the key innovations Highlight introduced was the Virtual Assisted Meeting (VAM) teleconference infrastructure. By managing this technology, Highlight enabled reviewers from all over the world to participate in meetings without the need for travel. This not only expanded the pool of qualified and willing review participants but also resulted in significant cost savings for CSR. In addition to the VAM infrastructure, Highlight took on the responsibility of managing all aspects of CSR meeting rooms, from allocation and setup to the maintenance of all technologies used. This meticulous attention to detail ensured that meetings ran smoothly and professionally.

Highlight also recognized the need to streamline the application screening process. By leveraging SQL Developer, Highlight’s team was able to run queries that screened through hundreds of records each round, quickly identifying and withdrawing non-compliant applications. This process, which required both technical skills and a deep understanding of grant submission policies, saved CSR days to weeks of time.

Perhaps one of the most impactful initiatives Highlight collaborated on with NIH was the development and implementation of the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) program. This program aimed to train and educate qualified scientists to become critically competent and fair reviewers, provide them with peer review experience, and enrich the existing pool of NIH reviewers. Highlight’s support was instrumental in the success of this program.


  • Full Lifecycle Grants Management Services
  • Video Assisted Meeting Support
  • Training 
  • Program Management


Under Highlight’s management, the number of VAM users increased from 307 in 2017 to over 5,000, with increased user satisfaction ratings. The application screening process saves CSR time, and the support for nearly 300 video-assisted meetings per year saves CSR approximately $19M annually in travel and logistics costs. The ECR program has been successful, with NIH incorporating it into their infrastructure. More than 8,500 people have served as part of the ECR program, bringing new perspectives to the peer review process. These improvements to the efficiency and quality of NIH’s peer review process have contributed to advances in understanding viruses, vaccine development, and human genetic variation. Highlight’s support has been a factor in enabling these scientific developments.

Case Study: NIH Enterprise Communication and Outreach


The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Extramural Research (NIH OER) wanted to improve its digital presence to better engage with its target audiences and enhance the user experience across its websites. The organization sought a partner to help rebrand its websites, streamline content development processes, and expand its reach through strategic communications and outreach efforts.


Highlight collaborated with NIH OER to address their challenges. Our team employed a user-centered design approach, conducting user research, content audits, and usability testing to ensure the redesigned websites effectively communicated NIH OER’s mission and improved user experience. The team focused on rebranding websites and webpages for various NIH OER organizations, including Small Business Education and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED), Data Management Policy Sharing, LRP, and the Employee Engagement intranet site.

To streamline content creation, Highlight established a communication and outreach project management (COMM PM) structure, an editorial calendar, and a quality control process. These measures reduced the time required to create, edit, and produce content by half. The team worked to establish a strong brand presence for the SEED program across various social media platforms, creating a branded website, email campaigns, and a newsletter. The SEED Social Media Team created over 500 posts on X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn in 2023, resulting in more than 200,000 impressions.

Highlight implemented GovDelivery, a targeted email outreach system, to publish a bi-weekly newsletter and send ad hoc email alerts for the SEED) initiative. The listserv grew from 14,000 subscribers in 2020 to over 30,000 by 2023. The SEED listserv experienced a 69% growth, increasing from 14,000 subscribers in 2022 to 23,644 by the end of 2023.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Highlight helped launch NIH OER’s first virtual conference series, providing a platform for officer presentations, networking opportunities, and Q&A sessions with NIH experts. The virtual conferences attracted over 30,000 visitors and generated 50,000 YouTube replays. The virtual conference series, which began in 2020, attracted 10,000 attendees and continues to grow.


  • Outreach and Communication
  • Social Media Management
  • Content Development and Management
  • UI/UX
  • Web Development
  • Conference Support


By implementing a human-centered design approach, streamlining content development processes, and executing targeted digital outreach strategies, Highlight successfully enhanced NIH OER’s online presence, increased audience engagement, and improved the overall user experience across its digital platforms.

Case Study: Policy, Program, Communication, and Technical Support for USAID


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Policy, Learning, and Resource Managment (PLR) faced a significant challenge in ensuring that their international health IT and governance processes were informed by evidence and analysis. To achieve more effective development interventions and maximize the impact of aid, PLR required facilitative and development support to ensure the success of the Program Cycle, USAID’s major process for driving these goals.


Highlight assists PLR’s Program Cycle and program activities across four key areas: Policy, Program Support, Communications, and Technical Assistance. In the Policy area, Highlight staffed a dedicated Policy Analysis Team to meet the Agency’s need for a think tank-like research ability. We provide SMEs to increase diversity of thought within the Agency, ensuring that they were cutting-edge, while also elevating the Agency’s thought leadership among external global development policy experts.

Highlight’s Program Analysts provided high-level technical support to facilitate the effective achievement of all PLR priorities, including policy leadership, donor coordination, Program Cycle implementation, and USAID Forward reforms. This comprehensive support ensured that PLR could navigate complex challenges and deliver results effectively.

Recognizing the importance of strategic communication, Highlight researched and implemented the PLR Communication Strategy to publicize PLR’s work to targeted audiences. The team created content and messaging for public relations and press management, briefings for Capitol Hill, informational materials such as factsheets and newsletters, and managed PLR’s social media accounts.

To support the Missions, Highlight implemented technical support for USAID operational policy and practices related to strategic planning, project and activity design and implementation, and program monitoring, evaluation, and learning. During periods of heavy workload, Highlight delivered short-term surges in specialist expertise to develop technical assistance and program support, which included communication, program management, training, staff development, and facilitation support.

As a result of Highlight’s comprehensive support, PLR achieved several significant milestones. In collaboration with stakeholders at M/CIO, the team assisted in launching an online, public Development Cooperation Landscape Tool. This tool empowered USAID staff and partners to view and analyze the budgets and programs of other development cooperation actors working in a country, enabling USAID to better understand partners’ priorities, effectively leverage resources, identify areas of alignment, and reduce duplication of efforts across various regions.

To better communicate USAID’s progress in eradicating extreme poverty, Highlight’s team researched, analyzed, and developed a log of stories and photos highlighting key issues and accomplishments. They presented this story through various engaging formats, including written articles, social media posts, fact sheets, and presentations, making it easy for Bureau staff to showcase successes in programming. Over the course of a year, Highlight’s management of PLR’s Twitter account, @USAIDPolicy, generated over 500 tweets and 600,000 impressions, attracting more than 1,300 followers. This successful social media strategy significantly increased PLR’s visibility and engagement with key audiences.


  • Policy Analysis Support
  • Planning Support
  • Administrative Support
  • Strategic Communication
  • Technical Assistance
  • Web Services
  • UI/UX


Highlight’s support enabled PLR to achieve organizational and behavioral change, creating an enabling environment for Program Cycle reforms to take hold. Through enterprise process improvements, the team developed and implemented a Program Cycle Engagement Strategy that connected with internal and external stakeholders and promoted organizational buy-in to institutionalize the Program Cycle. We equipped USAID Offices and partners with tools, technologies, and processes empowering informed decisions, and ultimately increasing the impact of every aid dollar spent.

Case Study: Comprehensive Solution for Premier Agency Data Environments


Our Federal Civilian customer faced the challenge of consolidating multiple data analytics environments across its enterprise into a unified shared service. The agency required a comprehensive solution that would streamline data management, enhance reporting capabilities, and provide users with self-service analytics tools. Additionally, the customer needed to ensure the security and compliance of its data environments while supporting the agency’s data governance efforts.


To address the agency’s challenges, Highlight, implemented a holistic approach to service management for the agency’s premier data environments. The team focused on three key areas: PDIRM (Data Integration and Repository Management System), D2D (Data to Decisions), and Business Objects-based business intelligence and reporting solutions.

For PDIRM, Highlight provided data integration and repository management, ensuring data quality, integrity, and control. The team operated and maintained the customers Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence Framework, managed source system data, and developed Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) processes. They also supported the OBIEE/OAS environment, handling upgrades, patches, security requirements, and data modeling. We enhanced data quality, integrity, and control through the implementation of data integration and repository management processes in PDIRM.

In the D2D environment, Highlight supported thData Domain, which included multiple datasets and dashboards. The team managed ETL processes from various sources and supported datasets for corresponding dashboards. They also redeveloped and refactored the D2D portal from Drupal 7 to a more current version, implementing new security requirements and creating integrations with Aurora, Tableau, and MicroStrategy. We improved user experience and self-service analytics capabilities through the redevelopment and enhancement of the D2D portal

For Business Objects, Highlight provided operations and maintenance services, including data standards, system integration, business analytics, data services, and reporting. The team modified and added connections, ETLs, reports, dashboards, and data universes to meet the evolving needs of users. Highlight Increased flexibility and adaptability of business intelligence and reporting solutions in Business Objects, enabling users to access and analyze data more effectively.

Throughout the project, Highlight focused on service management, user support, and system enhancements. The team conducted vulnerability scanning, managed compliance, and supported Security Assessment and Authorization (A&A) to ensure a secure environment.


  • Database Management
  • Data Operations
  • Decision Intelligence
  • Data Governance and Strategy
  • Business Intelligence


The customer benefited from a streamlined and unified data analytics platform that improved data management, reporting, and self-service capabilities. Successful support for the agency data governance efforts included data discovery, metadata extraction, and maintenance of source system data dictionary artifacts. By consolidating its data analytics environments and partnering with Highlight for comprehensive service management, the customer achieved a more efficient, secure, and user-friendly data analytics platform. This empowered the agency to make data-driven decisions, improve operational efficiency, and better serve its stakeholders.

Case Study: Deploying Mission-Critical Cloud Services


Our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) client relies on an Analytic Support System as their primary information gathering service for tracking vessels and managing maritime intelligence across multiple security domains. However, the on-premise hosted Analytic Support System faced challenges in obtaining an Authority to Operate (ATO) and required significant solutioning to ensure security needs were met. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mandated that a cloud-based system with an ATO be operational by September 1st, 2021, as the legacy system was set to be terminated. A shutdown of the system would have severe impacts on all aspects of our customer’s operations.


Highlight worked in Agile teams to securely deploy the first version of the cloud-based Analytic Support System by the critical deadline. The team focused on delivering the majority of existing capabilities and modernization features, prioritizing critical features necessary for daily agency operations. Highlight kept the user community informed about available features, productivity impacts, and the roadmap for achieving full completion of legacy features and new capabilities. The modernized system obtained an ATO, enhancing security and compliance and ensuring uninterrupted operations for the customer.

The modernized Analytic Support System leveraged AWS-managed services such as EC2 instances, RDS, S3, and Kinesis, deployed across multiple Availability Zones for enhanced reliability. Highlight’s team developed new tools and enhancements using the Agile Scrum SDLC, performed comprehensive testing, and provided full lifecycle support from development through deployment.

Highlight’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) team provided comprehensive support, including access management, Tier 1 user support, outage management, testing, patching, and database administration. The team maintained a 24/7 on-call schedule to respond to and resolve any outages or system degradation. They also worked closely with the development team, led by subcontractor Krozak, to ensure seamless integration and implementation of code changes across the NIPR and SIPR environments.


  • Program Management 
  • PMO Support
  • O&M Personnel Management 
  • System Development
  • Database Administration 
  • Web Services
  • UI/UX
  • Cloud Services
  • Tier 1 Help Desk


The modernized Analytic Support System empowered the customer with enhanced maritime intelligence capabilities, supporting vessel tracking, event logging, and case management across multiple security domains. Highlight’s documentation team played a crucial role in creating user guides, technical manuals, and training materials, facilitating user adoption and system proficiency. Highlight successfully modernized the Analytic Support System, enabling the customer to continue their critical operations with enhanced efficiency, security, and reliability.

Case Study: Enterprise Data Governance, Management, and Strategy


Our federal civilian customer was challenged with significant civilian and government reporting requirements. With over 100 databases, some holding multiple terabytes of data, the agency needed enterprise governance, data management, and database development support. Our customer had information in each database containing different data definitions and data fields that often did not map to each other.


Highlight developed a streamlined process to create an AWS cloud-based data warehouse and moved key databases to the cloud. In less than a year, we created a data lake leveraging Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) and cloud-based tools like MicroStrategy, Amazon Redshift, Oracle, and PostgreSQL to perform ETL analysis and provide meaningful reporting as a basis for informed decision making.
We migrated and consolidated multiple high-risk legacy to modern database technology, resolving the risk of data loss or impact to operations. We created enterprise-wide data dictionaries and standards for more effective information sharing, enhancing data architecture design and data analysis capabilities. As a result, created a path to reduce system redundancy, improve current system utilization, and develop or acquire solutions to meet enterprise data management needs.

Highlight also implemented a Business Intelligence (BI) reporting function for the Enterprise, which maintains USAC data across four main data areas. We ingested, catalogued, and enabled over 10,000 data elements, 50+ datasets, 200+ reports, and 40+ dashboards using MicroStrategy and other tools. As a result, this data is now available in MicroStrategy in a consumable way for more powerful reports, helping USAC pass its OMB and OIG audits.

With this system in place, our customer can query its most important data quickly in a single system, performing analysis across the enterprise and providing insights unavailable to policy makers and managers just one year prior.


  • IT Strategic Planning
  • Enterprise Architecture (EA)
  • Change Management
  • Records Management
  • Data Management and Analytics
  • Business Intelligence
  • Database Management


Highlight helped our customer successfully realize multiple enterprise initiatives and implement the goals of the IT Strategic Plan. We created an enterprise data warehouse with accompanying data lake on modernized infrastructure using the AWS cloud. Now, the agency can perform data modeling, data mining, and predictive analysis with consolidation of tools saving the agency over $200K annually.