He provided in-depth insight to how competitive intelligence works within the government contracting (GovCon) sector, how to develop an actionable databank of information, how Leidos finds talent in the field and the ethics inherent in the job.
“You have to be confident, not fearful. You have to be strong-willed and capable of getting your point across through strong communication.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the challenges for competitive intelligence within GovCon and what makes that unique?
“The competitive landscape is ever evolving as our traditional competitors develop through M&A or carve outs, the way they may compete also changes. That means we must continuously update our models and assumptions based on new data as it becomes available. We could have decades of intel on how a competitor competed in a domain, and that competitor gets acquired or merges and everything could change.
GovCon is a unique sector. Other industries are understandably feeling more of an impact based on recent events. Within Capture and Proposal at Leidos, we’re still seeing the level of activity that we would expect during this time, our proposal rooms are booked across our portfolio.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the challenges associated with new companies developing competitive intelligence for the first time and how do you determine what data to use?
“I’ve always said, the job of our CI function is to provide actionable intelligence to capture teams to increase our probability of winning. The work to collect all of that data takes years of lessons learned on our successes and our failures.
Lessons learned are a key piece of our process and they must be done within the right time-frame, after submit and refreshed after award. I devote one staff meeting per month, to dive deep into Lessons Learned.
In terms of the how, we have built libraries of data from all available sources, including prior awards, GAO protests and some internal home-grown models we’ve built. If you’re trying to set competitive intelligence/position to win the group up for the first time, that data takes years to compile but it’s worth it. The focus is really about finding that actionable intelligence which increases our probability of winning.
Our CI-PTW team has spent their collective careers on understanding how to find and use data and make it accessible to capture teams. In the end, that’s what we’re looking to do. We ensure that we’re gathering applicable data through our process.”
ArchIntel: How does your company maneuver the challenges of information sharing? How does that impact your competitive intelligence accuracy?
“There is a wide variety of what data is accessible. Each of our customers provide a different level of materials in our debriefs. Some are very fruitful in terms of CI and others just provide very high level feedback.
There are various levels of accuracy. The key is to continue testing our hypotheses on our competitors. Once you have that information, the data goes back into the machine. You can’t start from zero and expect to be at 100 in such a short period of time. Our database has evolved over decades.
It’s like putting a tile mosaic together with one inch tiles. Each one alone may show the whole picture, but when You step back and look at the whole thing to realize you’ve got a picture in front of you. That clarity becomes the actionable intelligence that you can provide to your capture.”
ArchIntel: John Naismith wrote in 1982 that we’re drowning in information, but we’re starved for knowledge. Do you believe that to be true?
“Absolutely. That reminds me of another quote from about 10 years ago when referring to the amount of intelligence that was being collected, then Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula said he was ‘Swimming in sensors and drowning in data.’
Back then, our customers would have massive amounts of data, but taking that data one step further was a challenge since the sensors were ahead of the amount of people that could actually process that data.
We wish we had the type of environment with too much data, but our mosaic tiles are fewer and farther between. As a result, we get bytes of data in an exabyte landscape. Like I said, it’s very similar to the intelligence domain. We need to have people who understand what matters and what doesn’t.
If you go out and you see someone complaining on a Glassdoor message board about their boss being a jerk, that really doesn’t help us out too much. However, if they’re out there talking about how they’re looking for a job because an option year on the current contract was not exercised, that’s something that could be actionable for us.
All of the data we collect, our competitive intelligence analysts know where to go to find the data they need and how to provide data to capture managers.”
ArchIntel: How do you discover new talent? What qualities are important for market analysts?
“Competitive Intelligence is a really unique skill set and interestingly, we don’t have many people moving around a ton in the job. It really isn’t something where people come in and try it out and bounce around. These are people who have deep experience in drawing conclusions from large quantities of research, then refining their assumptions over and over again.
Leidos has a very robust training program. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. We have made significant investments in educating our people. The courses begin at a baseline or fundamental level and increase from there…so just like you would expect to see at a college – 101, 201, 301 level training.
We invite everyone across the enterprise to attend our training courses. At least a few times a year, we have people that say one of the courses got their blood moving and they want to come work for us. That is the type of person and mindset that we’re looking for in competitive intelligence and across Capture and Proposal.
We look for flexible but firm people. One of the fun parts for an analyst is for her to bring data and recommendations to a Capture Manager and that Capture Manager may not agree. In the end, the job of the analyst is to provide that actionable intelligence to the CM, but sometimes that CM is passionate about her position and will not budge. That’s part of the process and debates are healthy.
We like to have that dialogue and debate within our captures to pressure-test the information our people are standing behind. You have to be confident, not fearful. You have to be strong-willed and capable of getting your point across through strong communication.
Even if what you say is rejected by the capture manager, that capture manager will still use that information as a data point. I love seeing that kind of debate and dialogue and discourse.”
ArchIntel: What ethical challenges have you faced within the competitive intelligence field and how have you learned from those challenges?
“For multiple years in a row, Leidos has been rated one of the most ethical companies by Ethisphere Institute in the sector, which we’re extremely proud of. That is how we choose to operate. We are adamant about our ethics and integrity. That mantra starts at the top and we as leaders reinforce it on a regular basis. We all understand our role in ensuring the highest level of integrity and ethics across the enterprise.
A few weeks ago, one of our analysts found some competitor data out in the public domain. She did the right thing and notified her manager, legal got involved and she recused herself from the discussion.
The data turned out to be harmless and we coordinated directly with the other company. We let them know what was out there so they could remove it. These are the types of behaviors that we reward here. Our analyst was recognized for exceptional ethical standards.
The story was shared across our leadership team as a prime example of who we are as a company. When things like this are shared, people understand that whatever data she could have found was not nearly as valuable to us as doing the right thing.
We work in multiple billion-dollar acquisitions. We understand the importance of ensuring a level playing field. We never want to know anything proprietary. It’s just not who we are.”