“This is the time for change,” said Eric Olson, CEO of Buchanan & Edwards. “It’s a thrilling moment to be a government contractor. The social changes wrought by the pandemic — the way so many people are rethinking their relationship to work — that’s a challenge, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity to be on the ground floor of a major historical shift.”
Since 1998, BE has delivered high-end solutions in support of some of the most critical national security missions within the federal government.
“We think of ourselves as solving the hard problems of government, in support of the security and prosperity of the American people,” Olson said.
The company got its start deploying enterprise resource planning software in the State Department. Today, it supports the national security mission across the intelligence community and Defense Department and civilian communities, with a wide range of customized IT services, full-spectrum cyber capabilities, intelligence operations, and data analytics and governance.
The year 2022 is shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a new playbook, Olson said — for customers, employees and the industry.
“We’re all thinking about things differently now.,” he said. “We’re rearranging priorities and thinking about what really matters to our customers and our employees. We have federal customers who are allowing remote work for the first time ever. The pandemic has changed all the rules, and that means these are extraordinarily exciting times, not just in terms of technology but in terms of business overall. If you’re not rethinking your business’ approach right now, then you should be.”
As a mid-sized GovCon, the company seeks to differentiate itself through a high-touch, value-added approach.
Contractors in the middle tier face unique challenges, Olson said. They don’t have access to government’s small-business set aside contracts, and the larger GovCons can usually beat them on price. In this environment, finding a competitive differentiator is critical to success.
“There have to be reasons for customers to want to come to us,” he said.
Those reasons rest on a combination of agility and innovation.
As a mid-sized GovCon, “it means we can be more nimble,” Olson said. A smaller company can pivot quicker in support of emerging technologies, helping government agencies to embrace cutting-edge solutions as they come to market.
To stay ahead of the curve, BE has established its own innovation hub, where consultants can help develop prototype projects. As Olson describes it, this innovation effort is meant not just to surface new ideas, but to provide the firm’s consultants with avenues for professional advancement.
“If you’re a consultant, we want to give you opportunities to grow your career,” he said. “You can come into our Innovation Hub and work on leading-edge concepts. We also have an internal venture capital fund, where if one of our employees comes up with a great idea, we can invest in that, so that they can pursue their vision.”
For Olson, keeping employees engaged and interested isn’t just an HR matter; it’s a key piece of his growth strategy for the firm.
“As a services provider, our primary offerings are the skills, abilities and expertise of our talented employees,” he said. “That’s it. We don’t sell products or own real estate. We have some intellectual property in our solution accelerators, and it’s certainly a differentiator. But at the end of the day, if you strip all of that away, all I can offer our customers are top-tier skills.”
To that end, BE looks to offer higher pay and better benefits than competing firms, Olson said.
“If I am going to be more nimble and more innovative than everybody else, I need to hire high-end people. That means I have to offer more,” he said.
But that’s just the starting point. From there, he looks to the corporate culture to keep people interested and engaged. And he’s taken organizational steps to make that employee-first culture tangible and real.
“We actually have a role in our company called the ‘talent advocate’ and all this person does is advocate on behalf of all of our consultants — if they want to change contracts, if they want to change careers,” Olson said.
In addition to investments in training and professional development, Olson has also made recent tweaks to the benefits package, with things like reimbursement for emergency Uber trips, allowances for upgrading outdated tech and enhanced flexibility around when and how people use their personal time off.
The intangibles matter, too — like transparency and trust.
With this in mind, Olson brings hard data to the quarterly town hall meetings, sharing with employees a corporate scorecard that includes top-line and bottom-line metrics.
“I want our employees to be proud to work here, and I want them to be able to prove it,” he said. “That means I need to be transparent, to back up my promises with metrics that drive change.”
On the back end, the company looks to leverage new technologies internally to make its own operations as efficient as possible, with robotic process automation in place to automate and streamline many internal processes.
“I am passionate about making sure that the things that we’re advocating to our customers, we are also using internally,” Olson said. “We’ve automated almost all of our backend, and we’ll continue to streamline and innovate. Every quarter, we pick another process to modernize and automate, and we’ve reaped tremendous cost savings by taking this approach.”
The pandemic has forced many inevitable changes, Olson said.
“It’s initiated a global shift in how we work, live and conduct business,” he said. “If you’re not moving forward, then you’re going to get left behind.”