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Executive Spotlight: Doug Kelly, Health & Civilian Sales VP for NTT Data

Doug Kelly, Health and

Civilian Sales VP,

NTT DATA

Executive Spotlight: Doug Kelly, Health & Civilian Sales VP for NTT Data

Doug Kelly, vice president of federal health and civilian sales at NTT Data, shed light on adapting to complex COVID-19 challenges, accelerating technology adoption in the federal landscape and optimizing government processes during a recent Executive Spotlight interview with the Potomac Officers Club. Kelly – whose career spans multiple senior-level posts within companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA (formerly CSC) and Accenture – discusses some of the key trends he’s seen in client service through his post at NTT Data.

What can you tell us about your background and how you’ve been able to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the federal landscape over the course of your career?

“I am a lifelong North Carolina basketball fan. I was fortunate to be a student at the university during the final years of one of the greatest coaches of all time, Dean Smith. 

I don’t think he would mind if I borrowed one of his quotes: ‘Basketball, more than any other sport, is a team game…about the thousands of small, unselfish acts, the sacrifices on the part of the players that result in team building.’ 

I think the same is true when working with clients and colleagues across the federal civilian market. These past two years have been nothing if not complicated. That said, I have consistently seen my colleagues work tirelessly, cooperatively and unselfishly as a team in service of our clients and their important missions. 

NTT DATA serves a wide range of federal public health clients – such as CDC, NIH and CMS – who are on the front lines of the pandemic response. We’re seeing first-hand how the dynamic nature of the virus creates unpredictable chains of events that place significant stress on our clients’ operations, technology and infrastructure. Client service has moved in a decidedly more complex direction over the past two years. During that time frame, we’ve regularly seen how tapping into NTT DATA’s global industry footprint for expertise and talent helps our clients more quickly address delivery needs.”

If you were given free rein to enact changes in the federal landscape, what are the first three changes you would implement and why?

“If I were limited to three changes, I think making targeted adjustments to processes with the broadest impact would be best. And that brings me to procurements, which are foundational to government and industry (and likely to anyone reading this interview). 

First, I would increase transparency to reduce incentives for protesting. There are relatively simple and effective ways to do this, as the Defense Health Agency illustrated in 2021 with its Workforce 3.0 opportunity. DHA created an information hub that provides regular updates on the status of the procurement. If this became a standard approach, industry could make better-informed bid and no-bid decisions and would be less likely to protest to learn more about how, or why, they lost. 

Second, I would limit the number of protests that a given vendor could file in a one-year period. Going back to the basketball theme, think of this as the limited timeouts a coach can use per game. Protesting has become a full-time job for some vendors and seems increasingly inevitable, particularly on any award with a total contract value over $15M, or when an incumbent loses. The net result is significant delivery delays for federal clients as well as unpredictability in staffing and growth for industry. Capping protests annually would reduce the pro forma protest approach that is prevalent today, while incentivizing firms to preserve usage of that remedy for protests that have true merit.

Third, I would allow for commercial references as a standard to past performance and/or corporate experience requirements in RFPs. The last five years have seen a sharp increase in the government adopting emerging technology and methods from industry – digital services, AI/ML, cloud native development, etc. While this is quite a positive development, we often see RFPs require past performance for such areas from federal clients only. On the one hand, it is wise for clients to confirm that a technology or method has been delivered successfully in the federal context. But on the other hand, the reality is there are considerably more commercial examples from which to draw, and the likelihood is that these examples will show a more complete view of the art of the possible, since they were usually implemented in less constrained operating environments.”

With emerging technology influencing the federal government and industry more by the day, what are some of the challenges on the business side of innovation that aren’t always discussed as often as they should be?

“Historically, the government has spearheaded many innovations that are in use today, from barcodes, to wind turbines, to the internet. But funding innovation is very different from developing practical applications and implementing innovation. Industry has historically provided this skill in the federal setting, in close coordination with forward-looking government agencies. At times, our collective zeal to rapidly implement an emerging technology leads us to under-emphasize the people and process dimensions of delivery success. There’s nothing groundbreaking about organizational change management, but its utility has never been greater. 

For example, agile development’s incremental value delivery hinges upon intentional, timely communication and consistent expectation management. I think our clients are starting to re-emphasize this discipline via contracting. For example, in the past year, I’ve seen multiple civilian clients invest time and funds in procuring smaller organizational change management contracts that complement larger technology-centric efforts.”

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