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Ram Ravi and his team weren’t sure what to expect when the associate chief information officer at one of our largest government clients called them into his office. They quickly found out that he didn’t hesitate to tell it like it is.
“He said he was giving us an A+ for the IT digital modernization projects we were developing and delivering,” says Ram, Booz Allen Hamilton's program manager for this engagement. “But as for innovation? We weren’t making the grade. The client—who carries one of the largest missions for the federal government—expected more.”
Ram and his team knew what they needed to do. They got down to work, and fast.
“We have so much domain expertise with the client. We know their tools. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we solve their pain points with the existing technologies they already have?’”
- Booz Allen Lead Technologist Rocky Penumalli
Enter the portal—a virtual space Ram and his team created where our people could brainstorm and collaborate on fresh ideas.
“We’re empowering our people. We hear their ideas and are acting on them,” says Ram. “That really motivates the team because they see that everyone’s ideas are valued—from the most junior to the most senior person.”
Within weeks, the team had a trove of ideas, all using existing technologies and software—but combining them in inventive ways to solve critical client challenges.
Around the same time, the then-chief technology officer (CTO) for the client was considering a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) case management tool that could help the agency achieve its regulatory and enforcement mission more effectively, and which has the potential to help save the federal government from losses of $3.5 billion annually.
But the CTO needed to assess if it could scale to the agency’s large, distributed workforce. The tool had limitations and a hefty multimillion-dollar price tag. With shrinking budgets and aging legacy systems, the CTO also knew the organization didn’t have the resources to quickly build a small-scale prototype to test it.
So the quest to find an idea to solve the CTO’s multimillion-dollar dilemma went to the portal.
“The question was, ‘How could we make their lives easier?’” says Lead Technologist Rocky Penumalli. “We have so much domain expertise with the client. We know their tools. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we solve their pain points with the existing technologies they already have?’”
With a small $5,000 investment, Ram and his team formed a lab—an Innovation Incubator. It uses a low-cost scalable infrastructure in the Amazon Cloud, Booz Allen’s Smart Suite application lifecycle management system, and DevOps and open-source tools.
“We created a sandbox, a virtual playground, where our people can really experiment with their ideas,” says Ram.
In the lab, the team identified the proposed COTS tool’s strengths and weaknesses, and technology and process gaps. Then, they built a series of prototypes. It showed how we could solve the tool’s implementation challenges and, ultimately, make the agency more productive in the vital work rooting out fraud.
Our team of problem solvers was now showing a solution, rather than just telling the client's IT stakeholders about it. Our Innovation Incubator was clearly a game changer.
Since then, we’ve replicated the model to successfully build other prototypes, showing how quickly we can incubate and present our ideas. The client views us as their “go-to” innovators, and we’ve earned the reputation as a key systems integrator.
As our people’s ideas continued to flow, we realized we needed to tap the collective strength of our vendors as well. We established strategic partnerships with key tech partners such as Redhat, MicroPact, MarkLogic, IBM, Nuxeo, Neo4J, Chef, and Amazon.
The Innovation Incubator ecosystem gives our people access to training and helps us develop new, targeted capabilities. A repeatable, scalable process lets us fuel even more ideas and formalize how we innovate and prototype solutions.
With our innovation mindset and passionate for our client’s mission, we’re tackling IT challenges head on and have fast-tracked the agency’s IT modernization roadmap. The result is an agency that’s now leaning forward as an early technology adopter, ready to drive its vision of a new, digitally connected citizen services agency.
The Innovation Incubator is not just a change agent for our clients. We’re channeling our people’s creativity like never before, empowering them with the diversity of their ideas to achieve results. They come to the office early, before starting on client delivery, just to work on Innovation Incubator prototypes.
“There’s a lot of quick thinking and hands-on innovation happening in the incubator,” says Rocky. “And we’re building better solutions for our clients as a result. The fact that there’s so much to learn inspires me. It’s such an amazing meeting of the minds.”
No more building solutions in a bubble: We’re collectively embracing our clients’ real-world challenges as the starting point for innovation.