2018 Market Outlook: Kevin Heald of Novetta

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.

Next in the series is Kevin Heald, vice president of defense intelligence solutions at Novetta. His division focuses on big data analytics, cyber solutions, cloud deployments, and software development solutions for Defense Department and intelligence community customers. Here are his insights:

Kevin Heald, Novetta

We have seen a lot of demand for machine learning for a myriad of domains. But the reality is that ML doesn’t happen without a large set of quality training data. DOD has unique data sets that are growing by leaps and bounds, but processing all of that data to find the right training data can take a lot of time. Incorrect training data can have adverse effects on the models used to make potentially life or death decisions. Finding creative ways to triaging data and applying it for diverse missions will be a key advantage.

In addition, ML and AI don’t really happen without the flexibility of cloud services and the ability to experiment rapidly. I cannot underscore the truly amazing things, in compressed timelines with large data sets, that our teams are able to accomplish by utilizing cloud services. It enables testing of new technologies, models and algorithms that enables us to succeed or fail rapidly and then iterate on the next idea.

The dearth of cleared talent with the right skill sets is a challenge for everyone. The clearance backlog limits the cleared talent pool from growing fast enough to keep up with demand. Therefore, “pre-cleared” people with skills in critical technology areas (machine learning, artificial intelligence, cyber and cloud) are in a holding pattern to perform work that is critical to our national security. These talented people have options outside of the national security space and won’t wait for the time it takes to process a clearance.

We have to do better if we expect to attract the talent we need to tackle the challenges we have in front of us. Fortunately, some progressive government customers are thinking outside of the box to get new talent involved early and encouraging unclassified development. But clearances are still legitimately required to do a lot of the work that is required today.

It’s all about reading demand signals and playing the long game. The recently published National Security Strategy is an example of a guidebook to where we are heading as a country and provides strategic demand signals. We can then map both current and future capabilities to those strategic areas to look at acquisitions coming a year or two in the future.

I also have been able to gain great insight by networking with industry partners and having engaging conversations with government leadership. I do think that we all continue to be severely hampered by the budget process and the constant flow of CRs. It prohibits proper planning, stifles innovation and limits our ability to address our biggest challenges in defending our country.

The promise of new “game changing” technologies are both concerning and exciting. GovCon still has a tendency to jump on the latest technology as a panacea for curing all ills. Implementing new technologies still requires disciplined agility to ensure that it meets a customer needs to make the mission more successful. But the potential for technologies such as ML and AI are amazing. We are just starting to scratch the itch of what is possible. However, a major challenge is recruiting, hiring, retaining and clearing the best and brightest talent to fulfill this potential.

The market is constantly evolving and this will only accelerate over the next several years. Young leaders need to absorb the knowledge from previous generations and adapt it to use in the new world. They can then apply it and earn new scars they can pass on to the generation after them. Additionally, there are so many great free/low-cost training options out there (Coursera, Udacity, etc.) that can help give someone an edge.

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