Leadership Voices

Duplicated: To Have Value-Added Innovation in Government, Collaboration Is Essential – [#2997]


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To Have Value-Added Innovation in Government, Collaboration Is Essential

Sujey Edward

Chief Technology Officer, Octo Consulting Group

Octo’s oLabs Provides a Purpose-Built Space for Collaboration to Drive Mission Success

As a young man, Sujey Edward dreamed of becoming a sportscaster – but when it turned out he was more academically inclined, he weighed his options. 

“I wanted to go do something interesting and creative,’” he recalls thinking.

That something turned out to be technology. Edward worked his way through several tech roles, starting out in the dot-com bubble and working in the financial markets before he finally found his calling in working in government services.

“When I worked in the financial space, it felt important. But I didn’t feel I was truly impacting each individual or each individual life. So when I got into doing government services and starting to do that work . . . I really felt like we could do some craziness as far as impacting lives,” he said.

Now chief technology officer for federally focused IT modernization firm Octo, Edward is focused on helping government technical teams develop disruptive technologies, lean software development methodologies, immersive user experiences and scalable architectures. 

But more importantly, he gets to use his vast knowledge base to work on something he’s passionate about: Solving some of the most important mission challenges in the government.

“I started out hands on keyboard, building systems, moving to whiteboards and kept talking about visions about how systems should be built, and now as CTO, I get to work with a lot of great leaders on how they can impact the missions that they’re supporting,” Edward says. “It’s exciting, rewarding and important.”

For this reason, Edward is passionate about the introduction of Octo’s latest innovation space, which aims to provide a space for government and IT leaders to collaborate and problem solve around those challenges.

“We are not focused on the problems of five or 10 years ago, we’re really looking ahead for the technology and where the wave of technology is moving.”

 Sujey Edward, Chief Technology Officer, Octo Consulting Group

Innovation Is the Key

Founded in 2006, Octo is an IT modernization firm that provides next-generation technology to the federal government. The Reston, Virginia, company specializes in IT modernization solutions such as Agile software development and cloud engineering and is an integrator of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, open-source software and blockchain.

One of the key focus areas for Edward and Octo overall is helping government customers innovate. Many agencies struggle to do this on their own, partly because they’re busy solving today’s – or yesterday’s – problems.

“Innovation and technology move so fast, it’s like lightning speed — for every day that you go, technology advances five days,” he says. “When you’re stuck solving the problem that you had five years ago, and you’re not only not solving at the rate technology is moving, you are really gaining this gap.”

But many federal integrators provide solutions they have created in silos or disconnected to some degree from their customers. Edward realized what agencies really need is a space where they can collaborate with IT innovators and other agencies to research, develop and prototype the best technologies to solve today’s challenges while positioning themselves to be ahead of where they need to be. Enter oLabs, Octo’s new innovation center for research and development. It’s a collaborative prototyping and experimentation space where Octo and its customers can develop solutions for the most vexing challenges in the federal government.

Octo’s role is to apply emerging technologies to help its customers jump the technology curve, not just solving today’s problems, but putting them in a position to be ready for tomorrow’s.

“We are not focused on the problems of five or 10 years ago, we’re really looking ahead for the technology and where the wave of technology is moving,” Edward says. “Sometimes, customers don’t know what their problem is going to be in three to five years. That’s exactly where we’re looking in oLabs — the future state.”

And to do so effectively, collaboration with federal customers is a necessity.

The more than 14,000-square-foot space is built with that collaboration at the core of every element of oLabs. There are no offices but plenty of meeting spaces. Open floor seating and conference rooms built around collaboration (in-person and virtual) allow people to meet and work together.

“Ultimately, software systems are about people working together – that’s how you build truly effective and innovative systems,” Edward says. “It’s not like one cowboy working in their garage; it’s people collaborating. That environment is built around the design, the solutioning, defining the problem and working with each other to brainstorm and problem solve solutions for users.”

“It’s a space that people would love to come to work in. It’s a space that has the compute and the technology that people need to actually do their work.”

 Sujey Edward, Lead Technologist for Public Sector, VMware

Designing for Innovation

oLabs isn’t the only innovation space in the area, but a couple of things make it unique.

First, it has some serious horsepower in-house: a DGX A100 AI Server, two petabytes of flash storage, 15 petaflops of AI compute, a virtual shoot house to develop augmented reality for close-quarters combat — plus the latest end-user devices including Microsoft HoloLens, HTC Vive, Android Team Awareness Kit, rugged embedded GPU compute devices and IVAS goggles.

“All of the innovation spaces in this arena, they have no compute on site,” Edward says. “And what that means is, you’re still counting on a cloud to go do your work and go do all those types of things. But if you’re in the middle of the desert, there is no cloud, there is no 5G. How is your tech supposed to work if you are counting on being in Virginia? It’s not going to work out there in the field. So we replicated that environment as closely as we could here in oLabs so our customers and partners know these solutions will work. Then we take them in the field and test them together — side by side.”

The second aspect is that oLabs is solely focused on the federal government. In contrast, many companies may say they’re 100% federally focused but still have a portion of their business in the commercial sector, Edward says.

“Being fully federally focused I think helps us recruit the right types of talent here,” he adds. “The people that want to do work on good tech, but also that are focusing on the federal market.”

And last but not least, oLabs was designed to be visually appealing.

“From a design perspective, the greatest fear I had in the world was that it was going to look like a giant man cave in there with a bunch of tech and no design or sophistication to it,” Edward says.

To make sure that didn’t happen, Octo hired a team with an eye for design. The result: a space that invites cross-pollination and collaboration between engineers, academics, technologists, thought leaders and domain experts, but that also looks amazing.

“It’s a space that I think is artistic, it’s a space that people would love to come to work in,” Edward says. “And I think it’s a space that has the compute and the technology that people need to actually do their work.”

“Advertising why a mission is important and why people should invest time, money and effort and technology and brain power against it is important.”

 Sujey Edward, Chief Technology Officer, Octo Consulting Group

The Focus Areas

All of Octo’s customers are defense, intelligence, national security, civilian and health agencies, with key customers including the Defense Department, the intelligence community, the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. Edward says Octo has commitments from several different DOD and federal civilian agencies that plan to work out of oLabs. What’s great, he says, is that oLabs will enable these customers to have government-to-government conversations they couldn’t have had before. “They’re going to be able to build a community around a set of challenges in two completely different mission sets,” he says. “And being able to collaborate together inside of an environment like this is going to be fantastic. Again, we’re all about opening up as many channels of collaboration to make our government work better as we can in the process of helping them achieve their missions.” Even though missions and problems vary for each individual agency, oLabs has five areas of focus:
  1. Artificial intelligence: Whether it’s machine learning, deep learning or other AI technology, Octo experts’ experience, skills and domain knowledge help ensure each customer’s unique problems are solved.
  2. Data: Octo’s data scientists have guided development of data science tools that use predictive analytic algorithms and emerging technology, enabling customers to connect data sources within an enterprise to make data more sharable, and to convert data into actionable intelligence and data-driven decision models.
  3. Agile DevSecOps: Octo’s full stack engineers, Certified Scrum Masters and Certified Scaled Agilists provide guidance on developing fully automated, on-demand deployments that get rid of waste and optimize legacy workloads with modern architectures.
  4. Cloud: Octo’s cloud experts leverage best practices in designing architectures to help government agencies stay ahead of infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and software as a service.
  5. Cybersecurity: Octo’s cyber experts ensure customers and Octo stay one step ahead of cyber threats, overseeing cybersecurity strategies based on user challenges and requirements.
“It’s a space to talk, it’s a space to meet and it’s a space to solve problems.”

 Sujey Edward, Chief Technology Officer, Octo Consulting Group

An Invitation to Enhance the Mission

For government IT leaders who want to drive innovation at their agencies, the message is simple: “Come to oLabs and let us help you.” Chief information officers, in particular, are focused on their current challenges, but they have to have an eye toward the future, too, Edward says.

“CIOs certainly understand their challenges and are awesome at thinking creatively about how to tackle them, but they also often lack the resources to invest in the future, which can be frustrating. We want to give them the resources they need to think about what’s coming next and tackle tomorrow,” he says. “The thing that makes our market unique though, is the mission sets. So advertising why a mission is important and why people should invest time, money and effort and technology and brain power against it, I think is important.”

oLabs allows leaders to answer the tech piece on its own, to experiment and to prototype. oLabs provides a valuable resource for federal agencies and their CIOs by providing demonstrable solutions that display the art of the possible. This is extremely beneficial with tight budgets and expansive missions. The collaboration made possible within oLabs allows agencies to maximize their dollars with flexible solutions that put them ahead of the curve. In the end, it’s about collaborating to solve some of the toughest, most vexing federal challenges through experimentation, prototyping and, most importantly, collaboration.

“It’s not like a showroom, that’s not what we’re doing here,” Edward says. “It’s a space to talk, it’s a space to meet and it’s a space to solve problems. And, above all, it’s a place to help government leaders take innovation — and mission success — to the next level.”

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