Craig Halliday, CEO of Unanet, recently took part in Executive Mosaic’s latest Executive Spotlight interview with GovCon Wire to discuss Unanet’s latest acquisitions and expansion of its technical capabilities as well as the company’s growth strategy, the importance of streamlining federal acquisition and the lesser known challenges surrounding innovation in the federal sector.
“One of the biggest challenges we are seeing from the business side of innovation is not enough focus on adoption and employee experience. In the end, no matter how much innovation happens on the technical/solution side, the necessary positive outcomes (from consuming that solution) won’t be realized unless there is successful adoption across the employee base.”
You can read the full Q&A session with Craig Halliday below:
GovCon Wire: What can you tell us about the implementation of recent acquisitions you’ve made and how they’ve benefited your portfolio, technical capabilities and driven value for your company and customers?
Craig Halliday: “Unanet posted an all-time high in new customer additions in 2021 across our government contracting and architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) lines of business.
That performance is a real testament to the value that our most recent acquisitions — Cosential in 2020 and Clearview in 2019 — have brought to our customers and our company. Our due diligence gave us confidence there would be a strong strategic and cultural fit there, one that would enable us to build on our strengths.
In 2021 we saw it all gel into a company that provides its customers with the complete package: product-driven innovations, quick, smooth implementations, and a genuine commitment to service and support so the GovCon and AEC customers we serve get the best possible business outcomes using our ERP and CRM solutions.
The Cosential and Clearview acquisitions have been critical to growing our total addressable market, uncovering new cross-selling opportunities within the government contracting and AEC segments, and laying the groundwork for Unanet to pursue new growth opportunities.
Our focus is not only on further scaling our ERP and CRM offerings — and in doing so, leaning heavily on customer input, as we always have — but also on bringing our solutions to new customers in markets outside North America.
There’s a big need internationally for the kind of purpose-built, project-based cloud software we offer, particularly among AEC firms around the globe.”
GovCon Wire: Following the success of your recent quarterly results, what were the key factors that led to that company-wide performance and how will you continue to work to capitalize on that success moving forward?
Craig Halliday: “The sense of positive momentum here at Unanet is palpable among our GovCon and AEC customers, because of all the things we’re doing to strengthen our ERP and CRM solutions, and within our own workforce.
As a result of the boost we’ve gotten from the Cosential and Clearview acquisitions, and because of the extra effort we have put into supporting our employees throughout the pandemic, personally and professionally.
Even though we’ve been dealing with the effects of a pandemic for two years now, I feel like our connection with customers has never been stronger and more positive, and that’s largely because people feel genuinely valued and supported here. We’re seeing an excellent employee experience translate into an excellent customer experience. That’s really gratifying to me.
Our focus here in 2022 and beyond is on sustaining that positive momentum. It starts with maintaining an unwavering focus on our customers. Everything we do is guided by the belief that our customers shouldn’t just buy our solutions, they should experience genuine success using them. So we’ll continue to invest heavily in customer success.
Customers consistently tell us we’re easy to do business with. But we want to make that experience even better for them. We’re also actively seeking new opportunities to grow and add value for our customers.
Some of that is going to come from additional enhancements to things like our Unanet Connect marketplace of pre-built integrations, our analytics tools, and our customer feedback loop.
Some of that is going to come from continuing to invest in our employees by giving them the best possible workplace experience. And some of that is going to come, potentially, from more M&A activity. We’re open and alert to acquisition opportunities, but it has to be the right fit.”
GovCon Wire: With federal agencies working to implement the latest trends in technology such as AI, 5G, cloud and many others, what are your thoughts on the success and challenges that government agencies are dealing with to stay ahead of innovation to establish the U.S. as THE global leader?
Craig Halliday: “Streamlining federal acquisition is an area with great potential for AI and machine learning, but those processes are complex by design, making adoption of AI a challenge.
Also, federal regulation language is very different from natural language. The very specific government contracting vocabulary, syntax and other constructs call for AI models specifically trained for this very unique environment.
The acquisition process is actually one of the impediments to adoption of AI initiatives in government. The U.S. Department of Defense, in particular, is using “other transaction agreements” (OTAs) to do AI market research and establish new teaming arrangements with nontraditional vendors.
As the government tries to leverage AI in numerous applications, there is concern about the risks. One pending bipartisan bill seeks to increase the federal acquisition workforce’s understanding of artificial intelligence with a training program addressing the risks and benefits of the technology.
Contracting officers would be taught how to procure trustworthy AI and the latest national security trends pertaining to the technology. Risk and benefits are common themes across most of the technology sector, with an emphasis on cybersecurity. The issue, as always, is how to control and mitigate the risks without stifling innovation.
The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have published guidance around cloud infrastructures in support of 5G. The guidance is the first of a series created to address high-priority cyber threats to critical infrastructure. That initiative is worth watching closely.
In the area of cloud, the government is changing the buzz phrase du jour from “Cloud First” to “Cloud Smart.” Time will tell whether the change is substantive. Cloud adoption began in earnest in the government almost a decade ago as primarily a cost-containment strategy.
That’s still an objective, but emphasis is shifting to elimination of data silos as the government seeks to unify its gigantic data store. Much of the early move to the cloud simply replicated local silos. The new initiative is aimed at modernization and maturity, a worthwhile pivot if it’s well executed.”
GovCon Wire: We often discuss innovation from the technical or capability side. What are some of the unique challenges that you’ve seen on the business side of innovation that haven’t been addressed or discussed enough?
Craig Halliday: “One of the biggest challenges we are seeing from the business side of innovation is not enough focus on adoption and employee experience. In the end, no matter how much innovation happens on the technical/solution side, the necessary positive outcomes (from consuming that solution) won’t be realized unless there is successful adoption across the employee base.
Strong adoption within an organization comes when a solution, whether it’s a CRM system, an ERP system or some other type of software or app, demonstrates its value to employees early and often.
When employees have a solution they know will help them do their jobs better and contribute to the success of the business in important and substantial ways, they’ll embrace that solution, simple as that.
Employee experience is the back half of that equation, where the more focused the solution is on employee experience, the better the chances are of improving adoption.
About Craig Halliday
Craig Halliday is chief executive officer of Unanet, a company that develops digital enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions for government contractors, as well as firms in the architecture, engineering and construction fields.