SAIC seeks faster, more integrated approach to technology development

By Marjorie Censer / February 28, 2019

Science Applications International Corp.'s "Innovation Factory," established last year, marks the first step in the company's effort to adapt to a faster pace for defense technology development, the contractor's chief technology officer said this week.

Speaking to Inside Defense at the innovation center in Reston, VA, Charles Onstott said the company's military customers are increasingly focused on rapidly and incrementally developing new technology, rather than in purchasing multiyear, multimillion-dollar programs.

"It's a big change in mindset," he said.

As a first step to transform SAIC's approach, Onstott said he last year commandeered space in the company's Reston headquarters to create the Innovation Factory and bring together teams working on agile development. The idea, he said, was to allow groups working in similar areas to collaborate and to make this type of work a focus.

Previously, these teams were sitting in cubes in different buildings. "We wanted to pick the teams doing this agile, sprint-type development," Onstott said.

Onstott said he's now planning a renovation and expansion of the area that he hopes will be complete in the fall.

He told Inside Defense there are multiple components to adopting a more agile approach, including focusing on incremental delivery, putting together expert teams, relying on partners and investing more in research and development.

Onstott declined to say how much SAIC is now spending on R&D, but, according to its most recent annual Securities and Exchange Commission filing, published in March 2018, SAIC's independent research and development totaled $4 million a year in fiscal years 2016 through 2018.

At SAIC's new innovation hub, one conference room is home to the applications modernization team, which is focused on delivering the foundations of applications to product teams that can then customize and produce specific mission applications. Nearby is a team working to develop analytic capabilities.

Andy Henson, deputy director of solutions development for analytics, said the proximity of the groups makes a big difference in being able to rapidly collaborate. "We will get less done if we don't work together," he said.

At the same time, SAIC is also seeking to connect with start-ups. Last year, the company rented space in Austin, TX, and, in the fall, hired Matt Dew to lead its efforts to connect with start-ups there.

Dew, named SAIC's emerging tech partnerships lead in Austin, said he's seen an eagerness from the startups there to collaborate with major defense contractors.

"We're looking for companies that align with our strategic goals," he said. "We're looking for lasting partnerships."