WashingtonExec recently caught up with Sandy Gillespie, chief operating officer of NCI Information Systems, Inc. (NCI), a provider of enterprise solutions and services to U.S. defense, intelligence, health and civilian government agencies. Gillespie spoke about managerial excellence and bringing commercial solutions to the public sector. She also provided insight regarding NCI’s new CREATE Lab (which stands for Center for Rapid Engagement and Agile Technology Exchange) and the firm’s contribution to the Federal Communications Commission recent accolades.
With three decades of experience in the IT space, what are time-tested best practices for managerial excellence you hold tight to in the midst of changing technologies and company priorities?
Gillespie: Commitment to operational and technical excellence, continual improvement, and innovation starts at the top. So, the first best practice is to have a management team — like we have at NCI — that embraces forward-thinking technologies and best-in-class solutions for both their customers and employees.
NCI, for example, has wholeheartedly embraced artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics and agile methodologies. Our goal is to attract and retain really smart, ambitious, talented professionals, subject matter experts and leaders who can thrive in an environment where they get to learn and apply new technologies in their work every day, in service of our federal customers.
This kind of environment is contagious — in a good way. Commitment to helping customers navigate their challenges is high. When employees are doing valuable work they enjoy, employee engagement and collaboration are high. And innovative outcomes are high, because teams are driven to find the best solutions that will make a difference for customers.
What, in practical terms, does outside-the-box strategies and pushing the innovation envelope look like across NCI teams and among the clients who benefit from those approaches?
Gillespie: Innovation has always been a part of NCI’s DNA. We make a point to say “what if” together — with our customers and among our teams. For example, our CREATE Lab is a customer innovation center specifically designed for our customers and technology partners to come together to ask, “what if?” With our CREATE Lab, we have a sandbox for rapid prototype development and production environments to test software or try out cutting-edge, transformative technologies. It’s a hands-on space to imagine and explore a range of technology solutions.
One great example of thinking outside the box with a customer is our work with the Federal Communications Commission.* Earlier this year, FCC was named the global 2018 INFORMS Franz Edelman Award winner for creating the world’s first two-sided spectrum “incentive auction.” Our operations research team developed sophisticated mathematical models that helped the agency determine how to rearrange television stations into fewer channels to free up spectrum for wireless providers.
This was a highly complex and challenging initiative, but our team was able to find answers to previously unsolvable problems. NCI was proud to have supported FCC on its groundbreaking auction.
What are the most effective ways you’ve found to motivate members of your team to achieve results?
Gillespie: In the past year, the NCI leadership team has stepped up our efforts to implement programs that embrace employee engagement and hold each other accountable. We made some very important changes to our performance management process that builds and fosters a meritocratic work culture to support organizational performance excellence. It’s tremendously motivating to the individuals, teams and the entire company to be a part of a culture that rewards excellence.
In addition, it’s so important for employees to be proud of whom they work for — this includes improving our work culture as well as embracing and transforming the employee experience. I’m a true advocate for instilling a culture of innovation and collaboration within the organization — this is what empowers our employees to work hard and embrace challenges head-on and with a positive attitude.
What distinguishes NCI’s approach to existing and newer technologies on behalf of customers, and how do stay apprised of customer needs across the public sector to facilitate the delivery of those technologies?
Gillespie: NCI is committed to bridging commercial innovation best practices and our federal customers’ environments, along with providing exceptional service delivery. Our team is constantly and systematically tracking and evaluating emerging technologies, like blockchain, quantum cloud computing and big-data initiatives. We look ahead 10 to 15 years to imagine how these technologies might evolve and how they might be useful to our customers. Not technology for the sake of technology, but technology for the sake of serving customers.
Our “NCI experience” model keeps us grounded. We always start by listening, with a goal of helping to navigate through customer challenges. Our customer feedback shapes our short-term and long-term solutions, from delivering on-site customer training to exploring together in the CREATE Lab through developing our own technology roadmap.
Finally, we apply talent and resources to build out solutions and partnerships with best-in-class technology providers to ensure we continue to lead through innovation, inspired by customer need.
For any general managers reading this profile, what’s the first step you’d advise they take to similarly drive innovation and excellence across their teams?
Gillespie: Raise your hand! Once leaders understand their customers’ missions, it’s time to step forward and model hard work, curiosity and empathy to drive innovation that serves the customer.
As you help drive NCI’s next iteration of transformation, what are you most excited about tackling next — what can industry partners and customers expect from you and your team next?
Gillespie: Artificial intelligence is here to stay. I’m excited by the way we’re expanding AI-as-a-Service for best-in-class AI solutions that can transform and change the culture of government. Our focus is on scaling humans with AI — augmenting the workforce so human potential is elevated, agencies are more efficient and individuals are more satisfied in their jobs. Our “Navigate, Collaborate, Innovate” tagline emphasizes NCI’s investments to develop partnerships with other companies to bring cutting-edge technologies to the federal government — and we’re doing just that. We’re just getting started and the potential is enormous!
Related: Meet Pinnacle Awards Finalist Sandy Gillespie
Disclaimer: This disclaimer is required by Order No. FCC12A0017 under GSA Schedule Contract No. GS-35F-0108K. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not reviewed or approved any statement in this document for accuracy or validity. The FCC and its employees do not endorse goods or services provided by this firm or any other firm, except as allowed by 5 C.F.R. 2635 .702(c)(l)-(2), which do not apply here.