Cal Shintani is the Senior Vice President and Chief Growth Officer of Oceus Networks, a Reston-based contractor that provides broadband services and solutions worldwide in delivering high-speed voice, video and data communications to government and commercial industries.
Shintani focuses on growth strategies and implementation for Oceus Networks, including leading business development, sales, marketing, capture and proposals, and leading corporate development activities.
WashingtonExec recently spoke with Shintani about the technology procurement process, whether it helps or hinders innovation, and how to attract the coveted early adopter market in the contracting industry.
WashingtonExec: What challenges are government agencies facing when they buy emerging technology, and how can agencies prepare themselves to meet that challenge?
Cal Shintani: The challenge for government agencies is that our traditional procurement process requires them to have a minimum of two, normally three, quotes when they are acquiring anything. So if you’re a government acquisition official trying to buy emerging technology, it’s really hard to find three of this new widget or app, for example. So how do you compare prices on something that is all by itself? That’s a tough challenge.
The government recognizes this challenge and looks at it a couple different ways. They have a few contract vehicles that allow for emerging technology, recognizing that they’re not always going to get two or three quotes, but these contracts let them at least try the technology on a trial basis. Then there are some agencies that have rapid fielding procurement, through which they can try something, take it out into the field and send it back before they conduct a larger procurement. For the government to meet procurement challenges, it must engage in rapid fielding procurement and test emerging technology without buying it in large volume.
WashingtonExec: Do you think that any of this is prohibitive, as far as innovation goes for the government?
Cal Shintani: I think it depends on the agency. Some parts of the government have a better handle than others, which is also true of us in industry — some are really good at innovating and some aren’t.
The agencies that are the best at innovating also have a good culture of not avoiding failure, but allowing themselves to try a pilot and if it doesn’t quite work, that’s okay.
The hardest part from a government perspective is that if you spend money to try something and it doesn’t work, you have to wonder if you used tax dollars wisely. There are more government agencies that, if they try something in a small way, and see that it doesn’t work, but it leads to a better procurement later, they think that’s a good use of their money. But that’s a hard perspective for our government officials to adopt, who must be very cognizant of limited budgets.
WashingtonExec: How can agencies ensure that they’re getting a good deal when they purchase new technologies and services?
Cal Shintani: There are a couple of ways to look at it. Most of our customers are looking at the total cost of ownership, including support, spare parts and changes in operation and training, instead of how much it costs simply to purchase the technology. However, they also look at how much time and money they will save as a result of it. A lot of agencies are also looking at the replacement strategy. They know that a laptop is only going to last a year-and-a-half or two years, so they include in their procurement how to replace that technology as they move along.
Something we focus on at Oceus Networks is offering our customers best value and, in order to win a particular procurement, we have to do a really good job explaining how the extra dollars translate into better capability, better mission support and how it will save them money or effort in the future. All of those tradeoffs are involved when the customer is looking at how they can purchase goods and services.
WashingtonExec: How do you stay ahead of the competition when you are going after early adopters in the industry?
WashingtonExec: We work very hard to listen to and understand customer requirements by going out into the field and participating in exercises with our customers.
Most of our customers are Department of Defense and Public Safety, so we are literally out in the field, our guys are in tents, wearing khakis, getting muddy or cold, that sort of stuff. This is important because we have to understand the environment in which our customers operate.
We get a lot of feedback from those exercises. When our products are still in beta stage, a few of our customers will take them through their working environment and give us feedback. Based upon that feedback, we develop the next iteration and go back and take it to those customers. Recently, we established offices right outside the gates of some of our key customers, because it’s one thing to participate in a planned exercise, it’s another thing when your customer has an idea and they need you right away. Now, one of our lead engineers can go right inside the gate and interact with the customer.
As a company, the biggest thing is to stay ahead of the technology curve — to understand where our customers are and then take commercial technology to apply it in different ways or adapt it for DoD and law enforcement use. We have really good engineers who go out to tech conferences to understand what’s out there. We study what’s new in our arena, like telecommunication and security, but we also go to conferences focusing on where we think we may want to go in the future. For example, Internet of Things or machine-to-machine are two of the up-and-coming applications of technology, so we send folks to those kinds of conferences to understand where commercial industry is going and how we might be able to apply that to the federal government.
WashingtonExec: Do you have any hobbies or interests that you would like to share with our readers?
Cal Shintani: I enjoy going to plays, musicals, concerts and dance performances. The D.C. metro area has tons of opportunities, and I don’t just go to the bigger places like the Kennedy Center or Wolf Trap (although I do like to go there), but I also like to try some of the new theaters like Synetic Theater or Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; they try things a little differently, so that’s fun to do.
I recently attended Synetic Theater and saw their latest “silent Shakespeare” play. Synetic performed a silent version of “Much Ado About Nothing” – no words, just music, mime, action and dance. You have to see one of these performances to really appreciate the innovation and creativity of this theater company.