2018 Market Outlook: Mike Leff of AT&T Public Sector

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We look forward to a new year and new opportunities for innovation and growth in the government contracting community. This past year, we experienced an increased emphasis on big data, insider threat, merging technology with health care, and the internet of things, among others.

WashingtonExec reached out to those most knowledgeable and experienced in the federal contracting space. We asked executives in and around the Beltway for insight on the direction they see the government contracting community heading in 2018. Topics discussed include M&A activity, public/private sector collaboration, cloud computing, the incoming millennial workforce in defense/IT/health care, talent retention and more.

Mike Leff, vice president-Defense, AT&T Public Sector

Next in the series is Mike Leff, vice president-defense, AT&T Public Sector. His focus is to help the Defense Department achieve missions critical to U.S. national security by providing software-defined and cyber-aware network(s) that build on the strengths of AT&T’s advanced technology. Here are his insights:

There is undeniable momentum driving the adoption of mobility, cloud, big data and internet of things solutions among federal agencies. Those tailwinds will continue in 2018, as agencies continue to modernize their information technology.

Also, 2018 will see further advancement and interest in technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality and blockchain. Eventually, each could help improve how government agencies deliver their missions.

Blockchain could provide the foundation for new approaches to federal agency acquisition of goods and services, including technology capabilities. It offers a means to disintermediate brokers and other third parties, verify transactions and ownership, protect against cyber threats and make the supply chain more efficient. It has the potential to ensure greater transparency and trust across the community of federal buyers and providers. And it could make government procurement processes faster and more dynamic.

AI has the potential to transform the way government delivers services to citizens. Help bots, automated contact centers and help desk services are prime areas of innovation that AI addresses. It’s easy to imagine government agencies exploring the possibilities of an “intelligent assistant” that interacts, learns and eventually predicts the needs of the users it serves, whether they are citizens, members of the military, or other agency workers.

We live and operate in a world that, increasingly, runs on software. This viewpoint, more than anything else, is driving our approach to recruiting and training our talent. Over the last several years, we have been investing in reskilling our workforce as we continue to convert our core network offers to a software-defined model. We are doing this to deliver the agility, scalability, speed and flexibility benefits of a software-based network to all our customers, including federal government agencies and the military.

We see the current administration focused on creating jobs, reforming taxes and rolling back regulations. As agencies adjust, they will continue their quest to find more efficient ways to deliver services to constituents. While agencies might be squeezed on spending, they still must deliver their missions effectively. A key to doing so will be finding ways to overcome the inefficiencies of legacy technology investments and the costs of maintaining them.

Outsourcing technology capabilities and services to the vendor community can help them achieve their missions while avoiding long-term capital and staffing commitments. We think the government will be contracting with the private sector more heavily in the coming years.

Our strategy has always revolved around our world-class communications network and technology capabilities. We’ve invested in and built premier networks that are fast, secure and reliable. And we invested in our network and enterprise resources to deliver integrated, highly secure enterprise solutions worldwide. This has expanded the reach and capabilities of our innovative platforms and allowed us to give our federal government customers a better experience.

Today, we lead the industry in the transformation to a software-defined, virtualized network. This has dramatically increased our network’s flexibility, adaptability and capability. And we are moving quickly to evolve our network to offer multigigabit speeds with our evolution to 5G, to help expand our wireless footprint. These investments have shaped the strategy that’s guided us up to now: Invest to be the premier integrated communications company in the world.

The pace of change in technology makes it difficult for public sector to modernize fast enough. The technology infrastructure underpinning many federal agencies is aged and costly to maintain. So much so that technology maintenance costs often consume most of the technology budget. This impedes modernization efforts and stymies innovation.

That said, forward-thinking CIOs and agencies are getting more creative and a bit more daring. Cloud adoption appears to be on the rise. Agencies are exploring IoT and data analytics. Mobility continues to be a priority. And we’re seeing the military and related federal intelligence, security and public safety agencies exploring machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence.

Last March, we were honored to join with the federal government in a public-private partnership called FirstNet. Through this relationship, we will build, deliver and manage the first broadband network dedicated to America’s police, firefighters and emergency medical services when they need it.

As of Jan. 11, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands have opted into FirstNet. This is significant for the public safety personnel that this network will serve. First responders in those states and territories will gain immediate access to our network, including priority and preemption features during high-traffic or emergency situations.

Public-private partnerships such as FirstNet are effective ways to address large, multiyear infrastructure challenges. In a typical public-private partnership, the private sector entity is responsible for performance throughout the life cycle of the project so there’s greater incentive to deliver better quality projects and employ more innovation. Also, the private sector entity typically assumes a reasonable amount of financial risks with performance further motivated by penalties for failure to meet certain deliverables on mutually agreed timeframes.

In a public-private partnership, the government can leverage massive investments made by the private sector to develop and deliver capabilities so there is no need to start from scratch or construct parallel and proprietary approaches. A 2016 study by Syracuse University showed that public-private partnership infrastructure projects in the United States demonstrate significantly greater likelihood of meeting respective schedule and cost requirements as compared to conventional approaches.

The Modernizing Government Technology Act that President Donald Trump signed into law Dec. 12 is a positive step forward in federal acquisition policy. It effectively establishes funds specifically for upgrading legacy technology infrastructure. It should benefit federal cybersecurity and shared services initiatives while also opening the door to more results-oriented innovation among agencies.

We also see the government moving to the cloud and showing more interest in purchasing capabilities as-a-service. Programs built on a spend-it-all-or-lose-it-all formula can result in wasteful spending. That’s why there’s great appeal in the as-a-service, consumption-based formula. Buy what you need, pay as you go. Nowadays, agencies can purchase a variety of capabilities as-a-service, including networking capabilities, compute, security, devices, storage and more.

The generation entering the workforce now is replete with digital natives who have a lifelong facility for navigating our software-based, socially networked world. As they populate the public sector workforce, they are helping to spearhead a transition from legacy technology, processes and thinking. They will be a great source of innovation and approaches that prioritize speed, efficiency, teamwork and community. They are results-oriented and socially conscious.

And they are entering the workforce at a time when the concept of a vertical career path seems to have evolved into something completely different. The traditional notion of a career “ladder” has been replaced by a lattice, where workers must constantly learn and evolve their expertise and skill sets. Constant professional innovation is a requirement.

An engineer, for example, might be an expert at software coding today. The pursuit of mastery in coding requires continual retraining. At the same time, the software engineer needs to acquire new and different skills to remain relevant. Perhaps it’s learning how to code for AI or robotics. Or understanding data science better. Relevance requires continual reinvention in today’s workforce.

Acquiring soft skills, like leadership and management skills, will also be critical for this generation. Unlike any other generation in history, workers from this generation have spent at least as much time interacting with others digitally, online as they have in person. This will inevitably shape how they manage teams and organizations. It will be fascinating and inspiring to help this new generation maximize their potential in the public sector.

RelatedNew Roles for Mike Leff, Rob Dapkiewicz in AT&T Global Public Sector Re-Org

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