Recently, FedHealthIT’s Executive Vice President, Susan Sharer, had the opportunity to sit down with Halfaker President and CEO Dawn Halfaker to discuss her firm’s success and what is at the heart of her mission.
Understand Your Customer’s Needs
Our primary focus is developing an intimate understanding of the customer mission and agency goals—understanding what the agency is trying to do, how they work, the constraints they may face, and any impact of the legislative environment. We want to bring real solutions to the table. Those solutions may involve a particular product or technology stack, but it’s ultimately about understanding your customer’s end game, what they’re trying to achieve, and how it will benefit the end-user.
What Steps Can Companies Take to Develop Their Healthcare IT Portfolios?
Developing a Health IT portfolio or scaling a small business in the Health IT space can be challenging—it isn’t just about proving your expertise and capability but showing the customer that both of those assets are scalable. While the first step may initially be a small-scale proof of concept or pilot to demonstrate feasibility, the scale and number of opportunities will grow once you have successfully demonstrated understanding of both the clinical and business environment, capability and expertise. By starting small, developing relationships and demonstrating performance, you gain the trust and confidence required to work on larger efforts and bigger problems.
What are Some of the Challenges You’re Seeing in IT Modernization Efforts Today?
We believe that every challenge is also an opportunity for transformation, and there are a few key challenges that our industry currently faces. The biggest challenge we see comes from the pressure that Federal agencies currently face to decrease O&M costs and budgets. Agencies need to have the flexibility to invest in modernization in order to cut long-term costs and deploy new modern cutting-edge cloud-based systems and applications, but these agencies face budget cuts before they’re able to execute key modernization initiatives to improve their operations. Many programs face pressure to cut costs and demonstrate the ROI of modernization efforts, yet ironically, they are struggling to turn off legacy systems quickly enough to meet their restricted budget criteria. This catch-22 exists in many areas of technology modernization, including AI, which requires upfront investments in technology and training to ensure long-term savings.
What to Expect in the Years Ahead
I suspect the two-year deal on the Budget Control Act will be both a luxury and a reason for caution. In FY18, funding was delayed and not all agencies were able to spend their budgets in time. Now, for the first time in a while, programs have the luxury of knowing what they will have in terms of resources. We hope that that this will allow for more proactive procurement activities earlier in the year. While Q1 and Q2 have historically been quiet, I suspect there may be more spending there to make up for what didn’t happen in FY18.
Looking into FY20 and beyond, there will be a new election which may mean revisiting the Budget Control Act to find another level of agreement. We’re hoping Government and Industry will be able to take advantage of the current budgetary allocation to get some big things done in FY19.
Tell us More about your Company Motto, “Continuing to Serve”
One of the reasons I started the firm was out of a desire to make an impact on our national interests and to advocate for positive change within Federal sectors. Back in 2005, I recognized that there was a wave of Veterans and Wounded Warriors coming back who had their military careers end unexpectedly. Leveraging my experiences, I wanted to provide an opportunity where Veterans could be part of an organization that would help them regain a sense of purpose by doing work that was meaningful to our country.
Throughout the firm’s growth, that has remained a central part of our talent strategy. Our Veterans Fellowship Program offers Veterans or military transitioning personnel the chance to come in to work in various areas of the company and on various projects.
Because we understand that many Servicemembers entered the military at 18, we work to give them an opportunity to learn about the company, explore their interests, try out a variety of roles, and to find the career that is a good match for their personal goals. A lot of Veterans don’t really know what opportunities are available or what their skillsets are.
The 90-day program is flexible, allowing people to work from home or on-site to really figure out what makes sense for them. We have Fellows who are working directly in Healthcare and another who came from infantry and found his place in accounting. Once our Fellows figure out the path they want to take, we work to equip them with the necessary skillsets to ensure future career success.
Balancing Strategic Mission with Company Values
If anything keeps me up at night, it is the significance of the work which we are doing. I have a vested interest in the work that we do, and I really want to be sure that the services and product which we put out are of the highest quality. Ultimately, I want our customers to feel good about what we have delivered for them.
We spend a lot of time planning, thinking about where we want to be, how we get there, and setting the strategy for achieving our vision. We then ensure that we apply our resources appropriately, recruit dedicated staff, delegate tasks and hold everyone accountable to that strategy. If we can put it all out there and have everyone moving in the right direction, it allows us to focus additional efforts on our non-profit efforts and give back to our communities. My work with the USO on the board is a big priority as well. Achieving a good balance between growing your business and giving back comes from having a good plan, knowing what the priorities are and then ensuring we are focused on executing tasks and staying committed to the mission.
Dawn Halfaker is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Halfaker and Associates, an award-winning professional services and technology solutions firm founded in 2006. Halfaker and Associates operates worldwide providing leading-edge, innovative solutions in information technology for government organizations on issues of national and global significance. Under Dawn’s leadership, the Company has achieved extraordinary success and growth which is fueled by the Company’s vision of “Continuing to Serve.”