Having spent 30 years serving in the government contracting and federal IT arena, Paul Leslie has witnessed the technological advances that has shaped today’s government community.
Now a leader and serial entrepreneur in that community, the Dovel Technologies CEO has spent his career becoming an expert in growing businesses through operational excellence, business development, strategic planning, and mergers and acquisitions – all within the public sector.
Prior to his current role, Leslie served as President of Apptis, Inc., a Chantilly, Virginia-based technology services company, and before that as President & CEO of Apogen Technologies.
WashingtonExec talked to this serial entrepreneur about the federal IT space, market trends and his involvement with the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.
Leslie began our discussion by describing the evolution of the IT marketplace.
“First we saw a major response for the automation of business processes, developing systems to meet specific Agency requirements, which ultimately became systems confined to processing data in a stovepipe environment. Then we saw the boom of network communications – LAN/WAN, internet expansion or ‘explosion’, which led to broad processing power, data center consolidation, enterprise computing and virtualization. Looking back , I am amazed at the significant technology improvements in computing processing power, storage, and the increase in availability of information to the end user.”
On today’s technology and what its roles are, Leslie said,
“With the ever changing technology landscape, today I believe the key issues or trends are around Big Data or Data Analytics and Cyber Security. Now that we have opened the door to years of critical data captured electronically the Big Data issue revolves around data management, control, and most importantly data analytics. Then with all of the open access to information today, especially given the increase in social networking at work and home, the need to protect information and critical data is essential. Having the good guys stay one step ahead of the bad guys is getting more difficult every day. If I were just starting out in my career this is an area I would focus on today.” Leslie said he’s continually fascinated by the opportunities for knowledge and the need to improve technology due to challenges currently related to cyber security and big data.
“We are seeing lots of development and modernization opportunities that will hopefully lead to terrific growth; not only in 2013 but beyond as we look into 2014 and 2015”
Now in the halfway point of the year, Leslie said the company is in terrific shape to meet his short and mid-term goals.
“For the last two years we’ve been growing at a 50-60 percent growth rate year over year and we anticipate being there again this year. We are seeing lots of development and modernization opportunities that will hopefully lead to terrific growth; not only in 2013 but beyond as we look into 2014 and 2015.”
Speaking of 2014 and 2015, Leslie also gave insight regarding Dovel’s goals for the next five years.
“We are obviously going to stay focused on our core technical and industry domain competencies that we have today and our key industry sectors. For example, about 70 percent of our current business is in the health IT sector and we’ll continue to focus our strategic growth in health. Also, our brand as a technology thought leader, we will continue to look at growth strategies to expand our business in other federal and defense sectors, focusing on our higher end expertise with application modernization, architecture planning, design and implementation, cloud architecture and integration, mobile computing, and security architecture.”
In 2011, Dovel Technologies acquired ZapThink, a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and cloud computing company. We asked Leslie how the transition and merger has been going.
“The whole purpose of ZapThink is to highlight the fact that we have experts and very intelligent people that understand and can apply the concepts of service oriented architecture, cloud computing, agile development, mobile computing, data management and control, and cyber security ZapThink continues to drive innovation in SOA, Cloud and Enterprise Architecture with its market leading Licensed ZapThink Architect SOA training course and Cloud Computing for the Enterprise course that provides Agile Architecture insight and best practices for both government and private sector enterprises.”
Moving the discussion from technology to the contracting business, we asked Leslie to weigh in on the government’s Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) procurement evaluation strategy. His thoughts? Leslie said he sees LPTA as bad for government, bad for tax payers and bad for business.
“The main reason why I think it’s a bad model is because in the end, the government customer won’t see their requirements and expectations being met. It will have the opposite effect of what the government is trying to accomplish – to reduce costs and do more with less. The reason for that is because they are not evaluating or assessing the true value or quality, efficiency, or overall improvement of services. All they are measuring against is the lowest price.”
He added, “I believe that many of those projects are going to fail because contractors will have less experienced people with less experienced managers trying to provide critical support for the lowest price. Many years ago we used to explain to customers that they may want a contractor to meet tight deadlines, provide a high quality product or service, and provide the lowest price – and then we would let them know that they could only pick two. I think this math still works today. LPTA means that either quality service or meeting deadlines will be compromised.” Leslie also noted that Dovel recognizes the need to be competitive and supports the cost efficiency goals of government customers, but they do so through the use of innovative solutions designed to improve systems efficiency through modernization, thereby reducing current and long-term future costs.
One of the current business trends that he is excited about is the favorability of using small businesses to solve big problems. Leslie believes this can be attributed to the understanding that small businesses can be more responsive and aggressive in meeting modernization initiatives as well as being focused on bottom-line efficiency in government achieving its budgetary goals.
Outside of Dovel, Leslie is Vice Chair and board member of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia (the Community Foundation). Having been in the area since the beginning of his career, he said it has always been important for him to appreciate what the community provides for both the business and family environment and to give back.
“I’ve been on the Board of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia for the past three years. It’s something that is very, very important to me. The things the Community Foundation does for the local community are absolutely terrific. We have a discretionary grant making process where grant proposals are awarded in five areas of focus in the community where the needs are.”
Those areas of need in the community include education, child and youth development, health, mental health and aging, poverty relief, military personnel and their families.
Last year, the Community Foundation awarded $2 million in grants to non-profits, schools and interfaith groups, as well as $193,000 in scholarships to graduating high school students in Northern Virginia.
“What I find amazing is how much I’ve seen from a charitable giving growth standpoint in the last five to six years. Since 2006, the discretionary grants have grown from approximately $12,000 to almost $500,000 in grant making last year which is absolutely incredible.”
According to Leslie, the Community Foundation has created a new grant program called the Innovation Fund.
“The fund shines a light on innovation to help nurture its growth in the region. Grants from this fund will support programs in Northern Virginia that promote inventiveness, creativity and new design. It will also provide and encourage STEM education. The grantees of this program will include schools in Northern Virginia and other nonprofit and community based organizations that are providing programs promoting creative and innovative thinking. I’m really excited about being a part of the Innovation Fund as we move forward.”
Just recently the Innovation Fund awarded $25,000 to nine schools and non-profit organizations in grants of up to $5,000 to support their innovative approaches to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education across Northern Virginia..
Having lived in the greater Washington for more than three decades, when Leslie is not working or enjoying time with his family, he says he feels right at home at any Irish Pub in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area. He also mentioned that Old Town Alexandria is one of his and his wife’s favorite spots.
“It has great charm and absolutely terrific restaurants. We very much enjoy going down there for a night out or even for a weekend retreat.”
One of Leslie’s interests is sports and he mentioned the Washington Capitals as one of his favorite local sports teams.
“Originally I’m from Boston so any Boston area team I have a fondness for – I’m really a big Red Sox and Bruins fan this time of year.”