Michele Bond and Fiona Barshow: Navigating the Changing Federal Marketplace

By Lynn L. Borkon, FedHealthIT Contributing Author

FedHealthIT recently interviewed Michele Bond, Senior Vice President of Federal Health and Civilian Programs, and Fiona Barshow, Vice President of Business Development at ASRC Federal DNC, which serves health, defense and civilian government customers.[1] Both executives have vast experience in the Government IT market and offer insights on how they are navigating the changing federal marketplace as their own company continues to evolve.

FedHealthIT: DNC has had great success. What are some of your key lessons learned through the years?

Michele Bond: As you know, DNC was recently acquired by ASRC Federal in the fall of 2015 but the history of the company dates back to 1984. DNC began as a data management and IT engineering company, primarily serving DoD customers. Throughout the past 30 years, we have focused on what we do best—and have been disciplined in pursuing opportunities that were a good fit for the company.

With roots as a small business, one of our advantages is our flexibility to change course pretty quickly when needed. We evolved our capabilities and aligned with opportunities related to those capabilities.

 

FedHealthIT: How did you establish credibility in the marketplace?

Michele Bond: There is no magic pill for growing, but having the right people in the right places is very important to establishing credibility in the market. Acquiring business leaders is important. You can’t just decide to get into the federal health market by hiring a BD person. You must have people who have the right domain experience; and who understand the environment, the technology, the requirements, and the customers—and talk the talk.  We have found that sometimes hiring needs to be opportunistic. When good people become available, it may be the right time to figure out where to fit them in even if it’s outside the planning cycle. At DNC we’ve done that multiple times. Not only for leaders, but also investing in a team, and we continue to do that as ASRC Federal DNC.

Proposals today have very prescriptive requirements. We invested in developing a talent pool that was trained and certified to meet them. It is important to understand what your customers are buying and the skills they are looking for—so you can build that talent pool.

Fiona Barshow: It’s also important to be an active “voice” in the federal health industry. This includes active leadership and participation in forums that promote collaboration and dialog between government and industry. There are many opportunities to engage through organizations like AFCEA, PSC, G2Xchange; as well as contract specific communities like GSA Alliant and NITAAC CIO-SP 3.

 

FedHealthIT: What strategies have you utilized for growth?

Michele Bond: Our growth strategy has been built on two essential components:  1) high quality performance and 2) business development. It’s critical to have high quality past performance. You can’t just hire a business development person and expect to grow into a market.

It is also important to have a disciplined growth strategy focused on opportunities that are well-aligned to your capabilities and your customer set. It is not productive to bid on everything just because the task order was issued on your GWAC.

 

FedHealthIT: Could you describe some of the challenges you faced as DNC evolved from a small to a mid-tier company, to a subsidiary of ASRC Federal? What helped you compete along the way?

Michele Bond: Shortly after I joined DNC we graduated from an $8.5 M company and learned how to compete in the full and open market. We had Alliant (GWAC) small and Aliant large, CIO-SP3, and others. Having the right vehicles was very important as we migrated from small to mid-tier.

When the business grows, you can expect some plateaus. You must learn how to compete at a different level. As a mature company you have more sophisticated pricing, competition, and proposals.

We were acquired by ASRC Federal in November of 2015. ASRC Federal is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an Alaska native corporation. One of the benefits of the acquisition is that we now have access to a number of vehicles we never had access to before, including GSA Oasis (multiple pools) and DISA ENCORE II.

 

FedHealthIT: How is the transition going?

Michele Bond: One of the lessons we’re learning now that we have access to multiple vehicles is that we still need to stay true to our capabilities. So many task orders encompass all of the areas and you can spin your wheels if your customers are not aligned to them or if you don’t have good customer knowledge and relationships.

We still need to have discipline in determining which opportunities to pursue. We ask three questions:

  1. Do we have customer relationships and knowledge?
  2. Do we have work or past performances with that customer?
  3. Is the work aligned to our core competencies?

We have flexibility within the framework, but if it’s none of the above, we don’t pursue it.

That was the lesson we learned as DNC and the lesson we’re carrying forward now that we are part of the ASRC Federal family.

Fiona Barshow: Now, in addition to our longstanding capabilities—engineering, data management, software development, and integration—we can bring capabilities and expertise from our sister companies to the health market. We’re trying to effectively leverage the ASRC Federal family of companies’ broad array of capabilities, including scientific computing, large-scale infrastructure engineering, cybersecurity, analytics, and cloud.

 

FedHealthIT: What challenges and trends do you see for 2017-2018 in the federal marketplace?

Lack of Visibility

Michele Bond: One thing we would like to see is more visibility into the acquisition strategies. It certainly is a challenge to put together the right team and offer the best possible solution upfront when acquisition plans are vague.

In many cases you don’t know until the opportunity is released whether it is going to be large, small, 8a, SDVOSB, SDVOB, full and open, on a vehicle/which vehicle, etc.

It is difficult for industry because you can’t do any pre-planning. You don’t want to bring your team together if it’s not the team you will be bidding.

Fiona Barshow: Another challenge facing all of us is that the acquisition cycle is extended by months (and sometimes years) due to protests.

Multi-Phase Approaches in Acquisitions

Fiona Barshow: The use of multi-phase approaches in acquisitions is another trend we are seeing, for example, at CMS. This is good for government and industry. Multi-phase approaches streamline the effort you put into it and that’s very encouraging.

Michele Bond: A multi-phase approach is good because it requires only a minimal investment, but it’s also about having the right people. You have to have a good team of people who have the right certifications—and communication skills—because at the orals, the government wants the delivery team to participate at the first stage of the down select. That’s tricky, particularly if you’re a small business.

 

[1] ASRC Federal, a subsidiary of the largest Alaskan-owned and operated company, acquired DNC in November 2015.  

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