Q&A: Karen Dahut, Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton, Discusses Strategic Innovation and Government - (Archived)

Karen Dahut, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

Karen Dahut, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group helps government and commercial customers truly become innovative by re-thinking problems and their solutions. The group’s unique approach has helped commercial organizations, non-profits, and defense and civilian agencies achieve mission success, despite budget austerity.

FedPulse recently sat down with Karen Dahut, Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group, who shared her insights into innovation within government.

FedPulse: Tell us about Booz Allen’s Strategic Innovation Group.

Dahut: Absolutely. Booz Allen is a 100-year old company with a long history of developing innovations that help clients solve the most difficult problems. As budgets began to decline, our government customers were under added pressure to deliver with fewer dollars and resources.

In 2013, we launched the Strategic Innovation Group to help us leverage our historic heritage, while also focusing on driving adjacent innovation for our customers. Our role is to help our government customers tackle the most difficult challenges by re-thinking problems and developing the right solutions to achieve mission success.

FedPulse: How does the Strategic Innovation Group help federal customers meet next-generation IT and mission challenges?

Dahut: First off, despite sequestration and declines in budgets, expectations for achieving success have become extremely high for both commercial and government customers. These heightened expectations, combined with today’s budget challenges, is creating a value gap where innovation needs to play a key role in determining success.

We believe that innovation is a discipline, as opposed to smart people coming up with ‘cool’ solutions. Our approach is to deconstruct a problem to its core, while also leveraging a wide ecosystem of organizations to help find the right solution. Many larger companies believe that innovation comes from within the organization, and our approach is the exact opposite.

Through the development of strategic alliances, we are able to leverage the knowledge and insights from members of academia, non-profits, start-ups, incubators like 1776, and much more.

We don’t have to be the sole innovator, which is a great thing.

FedPulse: We often hear the argument that innovation is expensive. What are your thoughts?

Dahut: What we have learned working with our clients across multiple industries and organizations is that NOT being innovative is expensive. The pace of competition and change is too fast, and those companies that cannot change to address new demands will lose their relevance. Companies must innovate to survive.

An example of an inexpensive way to enable innovation is through crowdsourcing, which increases the diversity and volume of thought to help create solutions from sources that problem owners would never have found otherwise. It is exciting to see the mission impact we have had to date with clients who understand the power that crowdsourcing can bring and use the right set of best practices and lessons learned to ensure they can capitalize on this powerful method of solution generation.

We have helped clients solve dozens of hard mission challenges, getting them better solutions more quickly. This saves tremendous amounts of time and money, while at the same time getting a more effective solution.

FedPulse: Can you share some examples?

Dahut: One great example of where this is providing value is thorough access to new ideas. Recently one of our clients put out a call for innovative technology that would help advance their mission. Our local DC team worked with their normal connections to come up with some possible solutions, and they also reached out to see if there was a way to capture ideas from across the entire company. We created an innovation challenge around this topic using our internal crowdsourcing tool, and the response was overwhelming. Thirty-seven ideas were submitted in less than a week, and one of those ideas was so novel that it was submitted to the client in response to their request. Of over 200 submissions across industry, that novel idea was one of less than 10 that was selected for funding. The really exciting part of this is that the idea came from a team in Seattle, who never would have known about the opportunity in DC had we not created a way to connect tough problems with the absolute best solutions we have across the firm.

Another rich example of how we are helping includes our work across Joint Command and Control (JC2) and the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) enterprise, along with other C4ISR military programs of record, where we leverage our repeatable Enterprise Integration approach to integrate its family of systems. By converging existing systems into an integrated framework that can easily accommodate new technologies, analysts will be able to extract more information from current C4ISR assets and derive more value from the data, so warfighters have instant access to battle-ready information. That means we can deliver real time enemy data with greater expediency to our soldiers to better equip them in a hostile environment.

FedPulse: Tell us about how your group helps agencies maximize innovation during a tougher budget climate.

Dahut: We achieve this in three ways. First, as I mentioned, is we leverage a vast ecosystem of smart organizations. The second is that we are very disciplined around problem deconstruction, and the third is innovation-as-a-service. This means knowing where an organization is on its maturity curve, and helping them understand how to become more innovative through the first two items I just mentioned.

FedPulse: Do you have any additional insights on future challenges for federal agencies (beyond budgets, etc.)?

Dahut: One of the challenges all organizations face is not letting the tyranny of the urgent get in the way of longer-term thinking. As we have discussed, mission accomplishment is increasingly important despite decreasing budgets, so all organizations need to continue to evolve and adapt. This imperative requires the ability to connect with others – and that diversity of thought will help enable the ability to think about old problems and to apply existing solutions in new ways. Because we are so mobile as a society, we have looked deeply at how our clients can leverage technologies to connect and to share, given this mobility, and to apply elements of a dynamic Digital Ecosystem to address these needs. We are helping agencies work, collaborate, and interact, equipping them to forge those essential connections, and reach their users at a personal level.

Another challenge organizations face is that innovation is complex and messy. To be effective at innovation, you need to understand the multiple dimensions and levers that will allow an organization or team to increase its innovation effectiveness. That is why we have developed an Innovation Blueprint, which will be unique to each organization, and will help define the critical dimensions for success for that organization.

FedPulse: Where do you see the government IT sector headed in terms of big trends?

Dahut: I would love to say that we know the next big thing. However, the future is headed in areas that we all talk about on a daily basis. These include cloud computing, data science, health IT, as well as health productization.

The government is beginning to leverage solutions that aid in collecting and managing health data in ways that enhance efficiencies, reduce costs and increase the quality of care. From a cloud computing perspective, I believe that the government will move in this direction, but needs to overcome the challenge of adoption and migration.

We are at the forefront of changing the way that digital innovations impact everyone from citizens to soldiers. Many of these trends will help agencies best achieve mission effectiveness.

FedPulse: Anything else to add?

Dahut: I would just like to add that we are very excited about celebrating 100 years in business, and look forward to providing the most-cutting edge solutions over the next 100 years.

We would like to thank Karen for speaking with FedPulse. To learn more about Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group, click here.

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