Ronald “Fog” Hahn, executive vice president of strategic growth at Amentum, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding competitive intelligence. More specifically, how the company remains competitive against larger organizations in the field, how to break into innovative markets and how the government contracting sector is unique from other markets, specifically when dealing with RFPs, pricing and communications.
“The challenge within competitive intelligence is that people have different viewpoints of what competitive intelligence means. I view competitive intel from the broader perspective and I break it down by the market segments we’re competing in at the time. Amentum constantly looks at every market segment we compete in to understand overarching trends and the impact of technology, vice focusing on individual companies.”
ArchIntel: From a strategy standpoint, as you break into a new market, what are the benchmarks you meet to come into that sector?
“We really focus on market trends, new technologies, capabilities and requirements. Then, we break it down into a few key areas. First and foremost, we evaluate the capabilities needed to be successful, this includes both people and technology. We then evaluate how the market is procuring the services, so we look at things such as contract vehicles, contract type, and evaluation criteria. We are seeing a real shift from low price to best value within the federal services market.
We need to be able to bid competitively, so an understanding of pricing in a market is critical. We research competitive rates and, most importantly, decide how we will bid. You must get your nose out in front and anticipate where the market’s going, particularly in growth areas. The key to all this is really knowing your client and understanding their mission and challenges. You have to really understand the problem you are trying to solve, so that close engagement is critical.
Technology is rapidly changing our markets, the emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are making the art of impossible now possible. Therefore to remain competitive, we must constantly evaluate and adapt to market conditions and trends.
If we can accelerate in those areas, then it’s an ideal growth market. We can then hire the right people, integrate the right technologies, compete for the right contract vehicles and work through relationships so we can get out in front of the target.
Then we’ll look at competitors and barriers to see how we would compete with those companies already in the market. When we put together our strategy, competitive intelligence is a big part of that. We apply our CI principles to that market to see where the opportunities are and understand their opportunities and risks. All of these factors are evaluated and utilized to develop our market strategy.”
Lastly, we look at branding and which companies have brand recognition within a market. Brand can become a significant barrier in a very commoditized, highly competitive market. At Amentum, branding is an important component in our growth strategy.”
ArchIntel: How is the government contracting (GovCon) sector unique compared to other markets?
“The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) really changes how procurements are made in the federal market compared to the commercial market, where the buyers have much more flexibility in how procurement changes are made. This can be a hindrance especially in regards to bringing innovation into the federal space.
It’s incredibly important to understand your customer when bidding on a government contract. If you don’t understand the client and their challenges, you almost never win, even if you have the capabilities. A competitor who does know the customer well is going to bid and will write a proposal that’s tailored.”
ArchIntel: What are the common challenges that are seen from clients and contracts in both the private and public sectors?
“Having been in the government arena for almost 30 years, I can tell you that most of the government’s workforce, on the operational side, is challenged when drafting an RFP. We see a lot of RFPs that are recycled. Also, what the government puts in the RFP sometimes creates an issue because it doesn’t actually map to what the job entails.
The other challenge is understanding rates. If you don’t understand all the ins and outs of an RFP, you can create unintended consequences. A GovCon proposal manager or capture manager has to learn how to respond to the RFP precisely. If you try something new or add something that’s not in the RFP, even though it may be a benefit to the government but isn’t a requirement, your competitors are going to beat you on price. So the necessary precision is the biggest constraint.
We are seeing requirements for innovation and past performance constantly on RFPs. That becomes very prescriptive. You have to show where you’ve done a job to a specific scope and scale; these are mutually exclusive.
We try to work with the government to understand the specific RFP language because we strive to respond precisely. We can’t do anymore and can’t do any less – we won’t be competitive in either case.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success within the field of competitive intelligence?
“There are a couple of factors we look at when gauging success. First, we ought to understand our competitors and their solutions as well as have an understanding of the role we play.
Did we identify best practices? Do we know what our competitor can offer? Do we understand the best way to bring innovation into the federal market and demonstrate successes from the commercial side?
If we are successful, we understand the requirements, get the proposal right and know our competition within the market. However, that doesn’t necessarily ensure we’re going to win.
But if we got our process right, we’ll have a strong technical proposal that is price-competitive, and that’s what I’m looking for. If I see one of those elements is missing, then we’re not successful because we really should be able to meet those standards.
Competitive intelligence is more important now than ever before. You have to prioritize investing in and bidding on the opportunities when you have the best chance to win and need to eliminate the outliers where you will not be competitive.”
ArchIntel: Megatrends author John Naisbitt wrote in 1982, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” How true is that today?
“In my opinion, the single biggest challenge for both government and industry is sifting through data. We have no shortage of data, but have to ask ourselves if we’re getting the most out of that data and turning it into knowledge.
I ask myself if the information I have enables us to make a quality business decision that adds insight to a bid or pricing a proposal, because there’s always a bottom line. Even though we may want to win an opportunity, if it’s not going to be profitable, there’s no value in it.
Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help us boil down data and turn it into actionable knowledge. This enables us to analyze the market in a ways that may reveal something we may have missed. In the end, we have a better predictive understanding of the market and our competitors.”
ArchIntel: How do you compete with the big players in the industry? How is their strategy different?
“Well we are a big player in the industry, and regardless of capability success in this industry requires partnerships and relationships. At Amentum, we take great pride in being a great teammate whether as a large prime or sub, putting the mission first remains what’s most important. While we have managed to achieve consistent growth over the past five years, our growth has been entirely organic.
If you look at mergers and acquisitions (M&A), particularly across the aerospace and defense industry in the past 10 years, you find competitors that have grown almost entirely through M&A. They see an innovative technology, then they go and buy it.
Although we haven’t done any large-scale acquisitions, we’ve still managed to grow. That has been amazing for Amentum. Going forward, we expect continued growth both organically and through acquisitions.”