From implementing conversational artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improving constituent service, to deploying wide-ranging IoT programs to generate actionable data, digital transformation and IT modernization are among the top priorities for federal government agencies and the military today.
While the government and military are investing heavily in exciting, innovative technologies and programs, they find themselves behind the private sector in embracing many of these solutions. And, while working to play catch up in their digital transformation efforts, they also are in the unenviable position of having to simultaneously plan for the challenges and threats of the future.
It is critical that federal agencies and the military implement digital infrastructures that are able to keep pace with future technological innovations and deploy cybersecurity infrastructures that can adapt to the ever-evolving threat landscape. Especially today, at a time when some pundits claim that near-peer adversaries may, in fact, be passing the U.S. in innovation.
Here to assist the federal government through its digital transformation efforts is Octo. Octo helps federal agencies achieve mission success using emerging technologies, such as AI, blockchain, cloud, data science, and the now ubiquitous DevSecOps, to modernize their essential systems and software.
To learn more about the current digital transformation trends and challenges facing the federal government, how Octo helps facilitate these modernization efforts, and discuss lessons learned from the company’s recent integration of Sevatec – which nabbed them a nomination at this year’s ACG Corporate Growth Awards – we sat down with Ethan Meurlin, Octo’s Vice President of Marketing.
Here is what he had to say:
Corporate Growth, Capital Style (CGCS): Can you tell our readers a bit about Octo? What solutions and services does it offer, and what markets does it serve?
Ethan Meurlin: Octo is exclusively a federal IT modernization and digital transformation services provider. We serve a diverse group of customers across defense, intelligence, homeland security, health, and civilian agencies.
We help agencies do more with less, jumping the technology curve so they are not just where they need to be today to be “caught up,” but to be where they need to be in two years or five years. We leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the latest in cybersecurity tools and tactics to scale their applications and systems and continue providing value to mission execution long term.
When you look at the massive amounts of data being collected by the government, it’s obvious something needs to be done to make sense of it all. – Ethan Meurlin
CGCS: Digital transformation has been a hot topic across the government. What are some of the trends and challenges driving today’s government agencies to embrace digital transformation initiatives? Have recent events expedited or accelerated the government’s modernization initiatives?
Ethan Meurlin: Two things are driving digital transformation to be top of mind for everyone – the massive amount of data out there and the need for secure systems to support the need to share that data. The only way to handle these challenges is through emerging technologies.
When you look at the massive amounts of data being collected by the government, it’s obvious something needs to be done to make sense of it all. We file for patents online, submit Medicare claims online, file VA claims online, submit our taxes online. All this data needs better systems to process it efficiently and accurately. And that’s just the civilian side of things.
If you look at our warfighters and intelligence community, you see they are constantly collecting data on our adversaries. All that data needs to be dealt with and consolidated and aggregated into a usable format and then it needs to be shared securely with other intelligence, military, and homeland security entities to stay ahead of our enemies. We provide technologies that do this, harnessing AI to make data usable, findable, and accessible to everyone from the person with a Data Science Ph.D. to the member of a Special Forces ODA or diplomat in an austere environment.
Then, there’s cybersecurity. When you consider the recent cyberattacks and the impact those have had on our nation, you see a growing need for cybersecurity and zero trust. These things, taken together, coalesce around the need for better, more intelligent, more supportive, and more secure systems that help us interact with our government in everyday life and protect us from harm. Emerging technologies are critical to securing these systems and our nation’s infrastructure.
CGCS: Why are trusted private sector partners like Octo essential for government agencies looking to embrace new and innovative technologies? Why are their in-house capabilities, development teams, and IT departments incapable of executing and implementing these programs on their own?
Ethan Meurlin: It’s not that the government isn’t capable. The government has some of the best technologists in the world – there just aren’t enough of them, and the government is not always set up to respond quickly to the latest in technical advancements.
That’s where we come in. We provide the ability and capacity to rapidly develop new solutions and to prototype concepts in our internal R&D facilities like our own oLabs™. These R&D facilities produce the technological innovations that are then implemented within the government by contractors so we can move the agency’s mission forward together.
From a customer perspective, Sevatec brought deep entrenchment in key national security markets where Octo’s exposure was nascent. – Ethan Meurlin
CGCS: Octo’s combination with Sevatec was nominated for a Deal of the Year Award. Why was this combination a smart decision for the two companies? How did the companies’ capabilities, culture, etc. complement each other? How did the combination better position the company to compete and thrive in the crowded government contracting marketplace?
Ethan Meurlin: When we looked at Sevatec, we saw a company highly complementary to what we had built at Octo, so the combination felt very natural. The deal brought together the organizations in a manner that leveraged the best of both.
Culture comes first, and our cultures were both rooted in employee care, and an unwavering commitment to service and delivery of excellence. From a customer perspective, Sevatec brought deep entrenchment in key national security markets where Octo’s exposure was nascent.
We had a shared customer base at several core civilian customers where we have seen tremendous momentum as a result of coming together. And on the capabilities side, we’ve brought together our technical expertise and IP and really built on each organization’s strengths to solidify our position as the premier digital transformation provider to our customers.
Octo now offers our customers an option not previously available in the market – a company large and technically capable enough to be a viable alternative to the largest federal contractors. Additionally, while we have more than 1,100 employees, we still retain a business model that allows us to be agile in response to customer demands. And for our employees, the career mobility and ability to collaborate with like-minded peers drive the exciting technology-forward culture of innovation at Octo.
Communication and transparency are critical in any integration, but especially so when the communication mechanism is exclusively virtual. – Ethan Meurlin
CGCS: What challenges did the companies face in the integration process? What best practices or lessons learned did Octo identify from that process that could benefit our readers?
Ethan Meurlin: The Sevatec transaction took place at the height of the COVID pandemic, which meant that we took on our largest integration to date in an almost fully remote environment. When you’re not able to get together with people, to bring people together face to face in a time where there is so much concurrent change, it’s a challenge.
Communication and transparency are critical in any integration, but especially so when the communication mechanism is exclusively virtual. We held frequent town halls and in-depth virtual collaboration sessions. We developed an integration newsletter and launched a series of videos introducing the leadership team to the newly-combined company.
In blending both Octo’s and Sevatec’s leadership teams, we needed to make sure everyone knew there was a highly experienced and capable set of experts at the helm, leaders who had a plan to guide the combined company forward. As soon as it was safe to do so, we started holding in-person events to bring people together.
While the business integration was proceeding well and at a reasonable pace, the in-person events were a real accelerant for the integration of our people. Once we started getting our teams together there was an immediate recognition of the similarity of our cultures and things really started to gel.
So, if there is a lesson learned, it would be to integrate two companies when there isn’t a pandemic. But if you do, reach employees where they are, and overcommunicate. Be transparent. Get creative. Be visible. And once it is safe to do so, bring your people together. Nothing replaces in-person work for building trust among newly formed teams.
Octo has always played a role in data interoperability and usability across specific platforms at the U.S. Air Force and NGA. Volant builds on that capability and allows us to take it DoD and IC-wide. – Ethan Meurlin
CGCS: Octo recently made another acquisition, picking up technology integrator and software development company, Volant Associates. Why was this a smart investment for Octo? What does Volant Associates bring to Octo?
Ethan Meurlin: Volant brings deep technical expertise and relationships that expand our capabilities within the Intelligence Community (IC). As architects of the Common Data Fabric (CDF), they bring data sharing and advanced analytics capabilities that are at the heart of how the Department of Defense (DoD) and IC are reshaping the data sharing ecosystem.
Octo has always played a role in data interoperability and usability across specific platforms at the U.S. Air Force and NGA. Volant builds on that capability and allows us to take it DoD and IC-wide. We are committed to helping our customers improve data sharing to stay ahead of our near-peer adversaries as well as non-state threats like ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
We also see a use for these capabilities in other areas like homeland security and law enforcement where intelligence gathering and sharing are essential to thwarting domestic terrorism and organized crime. Bringing this into even more timely situations, think of health care and all the information sharing occurring between local, state, and federal governments. All of this information can be shared securely and rapidly using CDF.
We are actively building upon Volant’s capabilities to create new solutions with even broader applicability, which will bring us the ability support secure data sharing within any organization where data needs to be shared quickly and securely.