SAIC’s Nazzic Keene on Upcoming CEO Role, IT Modernization and Federal Innovation

Nazzic Keene, SAIC

Current chief operating officer of Science Applications International Corp. Nazzic Keene is anticipating a smooth and exciting professional transition as she steps into replace current chief executive Tony Moraco, who’s retiring in July. Since joining SAIC in 2012, Keene has applied her more than three decades of experience in information systems and technology services to the company where she has held various roles in corporate strategy and global markets until becoming COO in 2017.

WashingtonExec caught up with Keene to discuss what her plans are as CEO, emerging technologies on SAIC’s radar and how the company will continue to drive innovation in the federal government and IT modernization.

What does preparing for the role of CEO entail? Were there specific skills you had to dive deeper into or anything new you needed to consider?

I think one of the things that the board and Tony has done exceptionally well is put together a structured approach to succession planning. So, the course of the last few years was to make sure that we did have a special plan for key roles in the company and recognize that everybody’s going to make a choice to retire at some point in their career.

I think the approach was very thoughtful. It was an open and transparent conversation over the course of the last couple years with the most recent appointment of my role as COO a couple of years ago. When the announcement was made, it was fairly well received by all of our stakeholders and not just the employee but also with our customers and with our investor and shareholder community.

In your new role, what do plan on tackling first?

Certainly continuing the work that I have been doing as I was responsible for the ultimate integration of Engility into the SAIC portfolio. That continues to be a top priority: to ensure that we keep the great momentum that we have. It’s gone very well to date.

We’ve had the opportunity to get out and talk to most of the major Engility sites and all of the Engility leadership that joined us. We continue to focus on making sure that we come together as one company right out of the chute and that we’re going to market together and we’re positioned to achieve our collective goal together as one enterprise.

That integration is a top priority of mine and then just continuing the work that Tony and I have been partnered on over the last couple of years in ensuring SAIC continues its journey on growth, to continue to drive through differentiation in our market and innovation focused on the people aspect of our business, and the war for talent in ensuring we have a company that continues to attract and retain the best talent in the industry.

What do you think your biggest challenge will be?

The collective focus on talent across all of our industry contains an opportunity as well as a challenge. It’s an opportunity to ensure that we’re investing in ourselves as a company and investing in attracting and retaining the best talent in the industry, and not just in the Washington, D.C., area but across the nation and, in some cases, even globally. And then, again, the Engility acquisition and continuing to drive our strategy of differentiation in the markets, setting ourselves apart and bringing together the best solution in the industry, whether it’s the commercial market or in our core market, to serve our customers.

We’ll continue that thread of innovation, differentiation and solution development to be able to best serve our customers.

What are some technology trends you see SAIC diving deeper into? Are there specific emerging technologies the company will be interested in?

We continue to serve the market in our core areas and in sharpening the pencil on the Engility acquisition, the reason that was so attractive to us was to continue to expand our presence in our solution sets in delivering to the intelligence community, as well as in the space domain. Those are examples of being able to expand our presence and strengthen our market position as a result of an acquisition.

With that as a backdrop, we certainly see bringing together solutions in IT modernization. We have a great example of that in our federal market and our federal customers look to modernize their IT infrastructure for various reasons. In some cases, it’s because they’re antiquated and require modernization to better serve their constituents. In some cases, it’s to drive out cost so that they can repurpose their dollars for mission critical effort. And in some cases, it’s just necessity because of the age and complexity of the aging system.

SAIC partners with commercial industries. We partner with the cloud service providers to help our customers modernize their IT infrastructure, go to the cloud and get the best of commercial technology and serving the federal space. We’re focused in the cyber arena across our entire portfolio, whether it’s the civilian side, the Department of Defense or the national security portfolio, as well as in analytics and ensuring that we can bring tools to bare that our customers can use to leverage the vast amount of data that’s available to make informed decisions to best serve their mission.

Training is another area in serving our customers as they look for readiness and ensuring that they can have troops ready through new methods of training in a faster, more complete way.

There was a recent announcement that the company opened a new office in Austin. What’s SAIC’s approach to innovation and how will having offices or hubs in different innovation areas help with driving innovation in the federal government?

That is critically important for us as the government looks to companies like SAIC to drive innovation and bring new ideas to bare to best serve their mission. The Austin example was a great one — that’s where we’re looking to partner with the customer in bringing great technologies.

Another example is that we have a gaming studio in the Seattle area. In that region of the country, there’s so much talent around gaming. We actually hire experts that, in many cases, are writing gaming solutions or gaming applications for whether it’s somewhere in the commercial technology space and, in some cases, it’s just actually writing games. Standing up a gaming studio in that area allows us to hire that kind of talent to serve our customers. 

We also have a constituent of professionals that we give money to to innovate and bring forward creative solutions. We bring those folks together on an annual basis to really provide some great thought leadership and to bring forth their ideas and solutions. We also do R&D and, through research and development dollars, look to develop innovative solutions. But most the time, we try to do it in conjunction with our customers so that we can get their input and get their ideas and then be able to bring those back to solve their critical issue.

Is SAIC able to apply that approach to innovation to areas like IT modernization?

Absolutely, without question. We actually have a solution that we bring to bare in that space called Cloud Migration Edge and that’s an example where we developed, using our own dollars, an innovative solution that allows migrating applications for platform to the cloud. We absolutely do that where we try to bring through technology a meaningful way to advance IT modernization in service of our customers.

What type of CEO do you aspire to be and do you have any mentors?

Donna Morea has been a mentor for many years. In her now new role with my new role, we’ll continue that journey, which has certainly served me well and my leadership roles over the course of the last many years.

Tony has been a very strong mentor of mine for the last six to seven years and I’ve learned a great deal from him. He’s established SAIC’s presence as an independent company in this space. I’ll certainly look to continue my relationship with him over the years to come as he goes into retirement.

We’ve been a very successful company these last two years so I want to continue the work that we’ve done in our strategy development and our positioning in the market. But certainly, we all have our own style. I’ll look to continue to drive change and be an advocate for change and being a change agent where it makes sense and where it allows us to continue our journey, strengthen our position and ensure that we are in fact one of the top providers in our space so that we can attract and retain the best talent in the industry. We certainly want to be the company that people aspire to join and stay with each and every day.

Do you have your own plan on how you can be an inspiration for up and coming professionals at SAIC and those who want to be change agents in this industry?

Part of it is it will get developed as I settle in my new role and it’s certainly something that I’ve been doing as the COO of the company and continue to advocate for career progression and continue to advocate for change, again, where it makes sense and when it makes sense. 

One of the things I will be very focused on and have been over the course of my career is building an exceptionally strong and cohesive team. I feel privileged to work with the professionals that I get to work with every day at SAIC and we’ll continue to focus on ensuring that we have a transparent and collaborative environment. We have the opportunity to share our vision and our strategy with with all 23,000 employees so we can keep that motivation and energy, share the success story and really focus on creating a high-energy company as we go forward.

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