Editor’s Note: The winner of the Chief Officer Awards Private Company CTO Award announced June 17 is Allen Badeau of NCI.
On June 17, WashingtonExec will be virtually celebrating the most impactful and innovative C-suite executives in government and industry. These chief officers work in technology, security, data, operations, finance, business and more, excelling on both sides of the government contracting sector. Our team of judges have chosen the finalists for the inaugural Chief Officer Awards, so before we announce the winners during the event, we wanted to get to know the finalists a bit better. This Q&A series highlights their careers, successes, proud professional moments and notable risks.
Allen Badeau is chief technology officer at NCI and a finalist in the Private Company CTO Award category.
What key achievements did you have in 2019?
By far, the CTO organization’s key achievement in 2019 was our deployment of artificial intelligence to support a variety of customer initiatives. For one customer, in particular, our AI solutions have saved them a total of 155,000 labor hours and approximately $15 million over a 9-month time period. These funds have been reallocated to support other initiatives, such as enabling more mission, reducing bureaucracy and investing in training for staff.
Seeing our customers experience never-before-seen efficiencies, dependability, accuracy, as well as time- and cost-savings is extremely rewarding. Over the next 10 years, no technology is going to play a more important role in our lives than AI. Helping our government customers operationalize innovation, navigate new and advanced technologies — such as intelligent automation, machine learning and code modernization — is a very exciting journey to be part of.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I think it comes down to managing expectations with our customers, as well as with my internal research and development teams. Recognizing that technology breakthroughs can happen at any time of the day or night — whether it involves R&D and/or an AI development — is a critical aspect of our work, so being able to stay on target is key. Technological advancements don’t always occur or exist in the standard 9-to-5 office setting. In fact, they often happen at some of the weirdest times. Considering this, overpromising and underdelivering is not a successful way to operate.
Our R&D activities focus on knowledge-sharing, innovation and collaboration with our customers. These efforts take place in the NCI Center for Rapid Engagement and Agile Technology Exchange, or CREATE, Lab, located in our Reston headquarters office. The CREATE ecosystem brings together people, processes and ideas, as well as software and hardware resources — exploring the strategy and implementation of new and advanced technologies and redefining how innovation is integrated into our customer’s environment. This setting enables us to work closely with our government partners and tailor our solutions to focus more efforts on solving their biggest challenges.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
My decision to leave the government and become a contractor. I had spent three years as a senior research fellow with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Department of Health and Humans Services. Some of the research we were doing back then, such as modeling disease transmission via coughing and sneezing on airplanes, is very applicable today with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I wanted more flexibility in the technology space as well as diversity in the customer space.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
NCI’s transition from being a typical service-based company to a system innovator, solution-based enterprise is definitely a proud achievement of mine. It is difficult to layout a 3-year plan to make this type of transition, but it is even harder to stay with it when things don’t always go as planned. However, it is the belief that what you are doing is right and having a team that shares this mindset ultimately helps get you through the challenging times. And when things finally click and start moving in the right direction, it makes it so much more meaningful.
What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
AI and quantum computing are major initiatives of NCI. We continue to develop and expand our AI capabilities, including the recent launch of our robust Empower platform. Our focus on strategically integrating new partners, as well as emerging AI tools and capabilities, into this platform is truly significant and will help produce a government workforce that is exponentially more creative and productive.
At the same time, we are already partnering with quantum providers to assess the performance of our AI capabilities in that space — this will ensure NCI is ready when this technology becomes more widely available down the road. The two are very much tied at the hip and when the next breakthrough in quantum takes place, the ripple effect felt by the AI community with be tremendous.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
I’ve worked on a lot of programs within the DOD, intelligence, civilian and foreign government space, but the achievement I’m most proud of is actually connected to a mop bucket. Performing all of the computational fluid dynamics modeling and simulation of Rubbermaid’s leading commercial mop bucket was a significant challenge. But helping with the design of the WaveBrake mop bucket, which is almost used universally is really a great feeling.
I see them everywhere I go and it is very much a personal challenge for me not to say something to people who don’t use it correctly. Yet knowing I helped design and develop something used throughout the world is rather awesome!