2019 Market Outlook: ECS’ Aaron Faulkner on 3 Cyber Trends

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Aaron Faulkner, vice president of ECS’ Cybersecurity Center of Excellence.

We look forward to the new year and new opportunities for innovation and growth in the government contracting community. This past year, the public and private sectors both experienced more emphasis and demand for cybersecurity, merging technology with health care, and how to best mitigate the insider threat.

As a part of an annual series, 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 in the industry. Topics discussed include M&A activity, public/private sector collaboration, cloud computing migration, the incoming millennial workforce in defense/IT/health care, talent retention and more.

Next in the series is a conversation with Aaron Faulkner, vice president of the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at ECS. Faulkner shares his top three trends in cybersecurity.

Recent headlining topics have included merging technology with health care, cloud storage, big data, insider threat, and the internet of things. What will be of most interest in 2019?

I see three trends underway and gaining momentum: big data, open source software and cloud migrations, specifically to managed Software-as-a-Service platforms. With improvements in data security and the combination of policy and missions dictating improved information sharing, big data projects will continue to deliver impactful results with applicability across every imaginable vertical from cybersecurity to business applications to weapons systems platforms.

Open source software will continue to rise to the top in 2019 as it is not only delivering great value across the government; OSS is being used as a highly successful market entry strategy for new technology companies. A perfect example is Elastic, the company behind the Elastic Stack, which has taken the world by storm with more than 400 million downloads and went public in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Last, agencies will continue to incrementally migrate applications and workloads to the cloud, but ’19 will be the year of wholesale transition from legacy on-premise applications to SaaS. This trend is directly attributable to the growth of FedRAMP authorized solutions, which now includes more than 100 distinct COTS/GOTS offerings.

What will 2019 hold for government contracting? How’s today’s market affecting how you develop and retain talent?

ECS is moving out aggressively in 2019 and beyond, and will continue to fill capability and customer gaps through strategic investments in people and through M&A actions. We have the great fortune of having a parent company that is the second largest IT services firm in the U.S., giving us tremendous access to a national talent pool. Our retention metrics are enviable due to a great culture, plus the vast opportunities of types of work we perform in software development, cloud/hybrid computing, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence/machine learning, advanced engineering and sciences.

To compete for talent within the public and private sectors, we always offer competitive salaries and benefits, plus programs for education reimbursement and incentives for earning technical certifications.

More uniquely, ECS encourages our talented employees to move across programs and industries to gain new experience and continuously refresh their skills. For example, ECS delivers cybersecurity services across government, and we also provide managed SOC services to U.S. commercial customers and rotate our cyber analysts and engineers.

What has been your business strategy across multiple presidential administrations and what’s your organization’s plan for growth in 2019 and beyond? How has your company overcome legacy infrastructure?

A major part of the culture at ECS is an expectation to continuously look beyond the horizon and understand what’s next in technologies and solutions that will benefit our customer and make us that much more competitive. We have a phenomenal track record for investing early in emerging technology. For example, and it’s hard to believe, but it was nine years ago now that we first migrated an application to AWS for a government customer and today we support hundreds of cloud workloads across AWS, Azure, IBM, and GCP. ECS has remained a leader in cloud. In fact, just recently, we were one of the first AWS partners worldwide to earn machine learning competency status.

Beyond technology, we’ve been able to grow from administration to administration because of our willingness to embrace new business models such as offering managed services delivered to contractual SLAs and KPIs at a fixed price.

In fact, in less than 10 years, ECS went from a small, private, services business to a large, publicly traded company with annual revenues over nearly $700 million and over 2,500 employees. By promoting managed services that go beyond traditional T&M or cost-plus type contracts, ECS has not only opened up new market opportunities, but we have aligned ourselves with the way our customers use and buy technology.

What excites and concerns you the most when looking at the future of GovCon? 

The concept of shared services becoming more and more of a reality has me pretty excited. I am sure that I am not alone among my industry peers who are ready to move beyond solving the same problem sets from agency to agency and would much rather be part of a process of problem-solving and solution sharing. There are already examples of success from the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration.

However, there are substantial opportunities for improvement. Looking ahead, I am anxious to see programs like CDM transition to operations, especially Group F, which includes all non-CFO Act “micro-agencies.” Right now, DHS and GSA are working together so that under the DEFEND task order, an integrator will provide one SOC as a shared service across all seventy-five of them.

That is one example that not only makes sense but can serve as a model for future consolidation and rationalization of SOC services that are built once and shared many.

What future collaboration topics and projects should take place between the public, private and academic sectors?

Collaboration between industry and government is the best I’ve seen in my career to date. I can’t think of a conference such as RSA, BlackHat, Gartner, etc. where there hasn’t been a solid turnout of federal and Defense Department leaders, technologists, and engineers. There is a very strong government desire to participate in conferences, collaborate with industry on pilots, and work together to deliver solutions faster.

Earlier this year, ECS was awarded an OTA for a DOD customer with a potential value of $100 million. We went to production pilot virtually immediately and unlike a traditional acquisition, we were able to communicate and collaborate with the end-customer through the entire process, saving time and money, and ultimately delivering a better outcome.

ECS is heavily engaged with academia as well, for the benefit of our customers in two specific areas of machine learning and AI. The reality is that the talent pool in these domains primarily resides at National Labs and universities like Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins, VA Tech and George Mason. We are working in close concert with academia to deliver innovations, especially with our work in new algorithms for projects that are benefiting our warfighters as well as humanitarian relief efforts such as natural disaster recovery.

What is the next big reform in acquisition policy? How do you predict the federal government will prepare for the 21st-century workforce?

There is a lot of work to do yet in acquisition reform. I was happy to see DOD rebuke certain elements of LPTA competition in the 2018 NDAA — that was long overdue. It is also encouraging to see DOD leadership pushing for use of e-commerce platforms like Amazon. I am all for simplifying procurement and given the audibility and logging that e-commerce platforms natively provide, the expansion of a similar program in the federal government makes great sense. The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act is interesting; however, we have yet to really see the benefits that were intended by the legislation.

As for the 21st-century workforce, we’re there now. To ensure the government receives the best capabilities, solutions and service, we as industry leaders must continue to ensure as much free market competition as possible, maintain high barriers for entry for bidding complex and high-risk capabilities, and foster pathways for delivering innovations in government through accelerators such as Dcode and Eastern Foundry.

What’s the most important tool or piece of advice to educating the next generation of defense/IC/IT/health care leaders?

I would offer some classic advice for all generations of leaders in our industry and that is: know your customer, know their requirements inside and out, align your capabilities and be able to expertly decipher the path to procurement.

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