Simone Acha is the Vice President of Enterprise Solution Technologies at ECS Federal Inc. Prior to her current role, Acha served as CEO of iLuMinA Solutions until it was acquired by ECS in the fall of 2012.
Acha, who has served in the federal technology sector for the last 25 years, discussed with WashingtonExec the recent acquisition, girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and gave a briefing on the big data opportunity in the federal space.
We started our conversation with Acha by asking her about the ways in which the acquisition of iLuMinA Solutions has elevated or expanded the firm.
“A good thing that will come from this acquisition, is allowing us to expand into other agencies across the federal government where we have been primarily focused in the DOD and give our team members new career opportunities.”
ECS Federal works with the Department of Defense (DoD) as well as other federal civilian agencies, all of which have been affected by the government’s cuts to federal agencies or the sequestration. Acha said the firm has been preparing for the specific cuts to the DoD for an extended period of time.
“We have had to be prepared to shift and remain flexible with our services to continue through this sequestration. You have to be in a position to be able to expand and look for other opportunities and even find ways that the government can be more efficient in their spending. I think that’s an opportunity to take a step back from what you are doing and look for services that you can provide to help them get ready for this lower spending level that they are going to have to sustain.”
Acha is considered at the top of her game in her field, and is an expert on a myriad of topics, including data management, data mining and the buzz word of du jour- big data. She explained to us where the federal government is in terms of implementing these solutions.
“I think, at least from our perspective, we’ve been very much focused in business modernization – the modernization of a lot of the federal business systems, many of them put in place in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. They are moving those disparate legacy systems into a more consolidated, main backbone type of business system.”
“People do have a need for knowing what marketing trends are coming, knowing what the best out there is based on surveys and analysis, which tools are performing in what quadrant – all of those kinds of things are important information feeders to a lot of decision makers both in the commercial and federal sector”
Some of the current talk surrounding big data includes the discussion of people making the decision to charge companies for their data. In the federal sector, Acha explains, it’s not clear yet whether there is an immediate application for that idea.
“People do have a need for knowing what marketing trends are coming, knowing what the best out there is based on surveys and analysis, which tools are performing in what quadrant – all of those kinds of things are important information feeders to a lot of decision makers both in the commercial and federal sector.”
Moreover, on the topic of big data, Acha revealed what she thinks is its biggest misconception.
“That it is a onetime project or a system that you stand up. I think a lot of people just think you do big data and the reality of it is that you grow into big data. It is not a product per se, it is really a revolution of how you look at your data and how you work with your data and grow into it so you can leverage it. It is a learned skill. It is not actually an entity by itself.”
When she’s not working for her firm, Acha fills her free time with volunteering by giving tours at the Corcoran Gallery American Art in D.C. Acha talked about what inspired her to volunteer.
“When I first started at the Corcoran in 2004, it was about both having an outlet for being able to give back to the community as a volunteer. But it was also a chance for me to challenge or expand my right side of the brain. Obviously in the IT world, I tend to spend a lot of time on the left side with logical and IT thinkers and the right side helps me balance so that I get a different view of life. I think art is very important in our community and very important that we support arts and things like the Corcoran Gallery, the Smithsonian and other famous institutions that we have in the Washington area. I think they all do outstanding jobs in helping us to retain culture in our community.”
Not only does Acha give back to the arts community, but she’s involved with STEM as well. With her career being in a STEM field, she said she’s happy to be involved encouraging young females to take that same path.
“I’m a very big fan of STEM. The one effort that I am involved in is through the Women in Technology (WIT). I am a volunteer mentor to the Girls in Technology (GIT) which is focused on young high school ladies in the Maryland and Virginia areas in the Washington, D.C. metro area. As you know the statistics are still showing that girls are not pursuing as many degrees in STEM as the young boys in our society. We are trying to get in there at the high school level and encourage them as mentors, who have achieved getting degrees and are working in the STEM technologies, to show them that there are women out there doing very well in STEM. I think it is very important that we get more young women engaged in STEM and comfortable and confident in STEM. “
Acha credited her career in STEM to her godmother, who she says meant the world to her. Without her, Acha told us, she’s doubtful she would have pursued her current career in engineering.
“By following her example I was able to say that I could do it too. My godmother, LaVona Drankhan, was a female mathematician who ended up at Rockwell International working on the Apollo programs and then helped the space shuttle programs. She started with Rockwell in the late 1940’s; if that gives you an idea of how difficult it was to be a woman working in this field. She was truly a pioneer and just an amazing woman who made incredible achievements at a time when it was not expected. Having that example in your life really kind of makes you say ‘anything can happen’. There’s no goal that is out of your reach.”
While on the topic of her godmother’s major STEM influence, we asked Acha if she had any other family members who are working in STEM fields.
“I have a sister who’s a veterinarian, one that’s a lawyer, a sister who has two masters in microbiology and public health, and my baby sister has a PhD in economics and she works for pharmaceuticals doing corporate ethics in science and research. Three of us are full time STEMs. I will tell you that I laugh because my father was Peruvian and of course people always assume that Latin men are machismos, right? I say, I don’t know if that was just God taking care of that stereotype but he got five girls and oddly enough, every one of them he raised to become professional women.”
On a final, more personal note, as most people probably don’t know, Acha is a world traveler. She revealed to us her favorite travel destination.
“I have visited five continents but I would have to say that my favorite travel destination to this day is still Peru. I’m somewhat a little biased to it because my father is Peruvian and I have family there. But I still think it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world – and fabulous food that goes without saying.”