In the world of research and development, the old ways of advancing solutions no longer suffice.
Today, the pace of innovation hinges on open innovation — and being close to the mission, particularly in assessing customer needs. Dr. Steven Omick keeps that focus front and center in his role as president and CEO of Riverside Research, the nonprofit research institute he’s currently guides toward the next stage in its 50-plus-year evolution.
Since taking the helm in March 2016, the 25-year industry veteran, who’s worked extensively across intelligence and defense research communities (most recently as president of the internal research-and-development arm of the private defense contractor Vencore), has been busy retooling Riverside Research for its boldest chapter yet: increasing the institute’s presence in the Washington, D.C., area, after moving its corporate offices from New York City to Arlington, Virginia.
“We want to be an organization our government customers — and other government contracting companies in the region — look to as a preferred partner,” Omick says. He’s been equally busy boosting the institute’s internal investments in technology. “We have positioned ourselves as a research-and-development leader,” he says.
Open Innovation Center
A critical step in that direction has been the opening of a 30,000-square-foot Open Innovation Center, headed by Dr. Jeff Pursel, at one of Riverside Research’s seven locations, in Dayton, Ohio.
“We are also listening to our current customers, and anticipating the direction of their needs, so that we are not developing technology for the sake of technology,” Omick says.
With a background in areas such as computational electromagnetics and digital communications, Omick not only possesses the technical expertise but business acumen to differentiate Riverside Research in the marketplace. In fact, the institute typically vies with enterprises across the high-tech government contracting space, with customers in the Defense Department and intelligence community.
Plasma Physics, Machine Learning
Omick is especially excited about the Riverside Research’s innovations in areas such as plasma physics, offering a critical means of testing capabilities of spacecraft-related technology. Such experimentation takes center stage at Riverside Research’s state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, as in Ohio.
“At our Dayton facility, we are specifically looking at critical areas like plasma physics, which requires a significant amount of infrastructure that’s all in one place,” Omick says.
Riverside Research, Omick adds, is equally focused on areas such as machine learning, in order to foster new approaches to sensor data processing across intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance areas. Here, again, research takes center stage.
“When talking about machine learning, as well as trusted systems, computational electromagnetics and other critical areas, we utilize the fact that we have locations in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., as well as in Dayton, so we are close by the customers we seek to help,” Omick says.
Proximity alone isn’t the only value that Riverside Research delivers. Equally important, Omick says, is a focus on specific, versus broad, capabilities. Omick is intentional about this approach.
“In the machine learning arena, for example, we are focused on specific solutions that our customers care about, instead of just broadly discussing ‘machine learning’ — similarly, in the cyber arena, we are looking at the specific area of trusted systems and critical infrastructure protection, instead of just saying that we are ‘broadly cyber,’” Omick notes.
“In all of our technical focus areas,” Omick says, “we differentiate ourselves not by saying we can do everything and anything but by being focused on specific things we can do in those critical technology areas.”
That focus has translated into significant wins for Riverside Research, particularly over the past year.
This past September, for instance, the institute was awarded a $19.8 million contract on behalf of the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Measurement and Signature Intelligence Office, Distributed Common Ground/Surface System by the Virginia Contracting Activity, the agency that represents DIA’s contracting arm.
Two months later, Riverside Research was awarded a $99 million, 5-year, single-award contract on behalf of National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s Advisory and Assistance Services, Geospatial and Signatures Intelligence to drive research and development in geospatial intelligence, measurements and signatures intelligence. Under this contract, the institute is also tasked with guiding operations and maintenance activities, as well as providing assistance in system acquisition.
“Both these wins represent an ongoing commitment by Riverside Research to be a trusted partner to our customers,” Omick says. “I think [these wins]also demonstrate the simultaneous expansion of our internal technology investment in novel new approaches, and our attention to financial efficiency, are providing a significant value to our customers.”
Looking ahead, Omick is focused on maintaining Riverside Research’s heritage across the institute’s entire portfolio — this includes intelligence and defense work in the Dayton, Ohio, region; radar expertise in its Boston office; electromagnetics and biomedical work in New York; and intelligence community collaborations already underway in the Washington, D.C., areas.
Equally critical, the institute will continue its bold move toward greater research-and-development work through collaborations with customers such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, as well as intelligence community research organizations and the DOD laboratory community.
“Those are the agencies we’ll be focusing on in the Washington, D.C., area, as we expand our brand in the region,” Omick says. “I am superexcited about where we are going — and I’m really looking forward to us becoming a much more visible part of the D.C. community.”