Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Interview with Anne Reed and William Kaplan of Acquisition Solutions
Article Type: Executive interview From: VINE: The journal of information and knowledge management systems, Volume 38, Issue 2
Who is Acquisition Solutions?
Anne Reed: Acquisition Solutions, a privately held company, was founded in 1996 to identify and implement innovative acquisition and performance management practices for our government clients. It is our vision to be recognized as the nation’s thought leaders in government acquisition and to be the premier provider of transformational solutions that significantly improve our government clients’ processes and mission results.
From inception through 2005, the company operated 100 percent in a virtual environment relying on a culture of collaboration and trust to develop and evolve our current business organization. In Fall 2005, we moved into our current “brick and mortar” headquarters in Rosslyn, VA. This was part of an ongoing strategy to recognize that an investment in a more formal leadership and support infrastructure was essential for future growth.
Among the many functional disciplines and activities, the leadership recognized that an ongoing ability to capture and reuse knowledge, information and experience, on a consistent and disciplined basis was a requirement for future growth and success that would pay great dividends not only in our ability to leverage what we know about what we do (continuous performance improvement – CPI), but also in providing consistent, quality delivery of our products and solutions to our clients (delivering value to clients, employees, and company). From the beginning, a strategic focus has always been “to become a learning organization and to have fun doing it.” Doing this more effectively and efficiently was becoming an increasingly more difficult challenge due to the rapid growth of our workforce. In June 2005, we brought onboard our first Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO), Bill Kaplan, to help us to continue to accomplish these goals.
How does your view of yourselves as a learning organization support your growth and evolution?
Anne Reed: I know that helping our company to craft a meaningful and clear vision, mission, and operating principles that included becoming a learning company was not enough. Even providing the training and the right incentives would not do it. Actually operating as a learning company, one that not only captures lessons learned, but also “learns lessons” as we operate and then transfers those lessons across our company, required:
fostering a culture of openness and collaboration;
appreciating and leveraging our diversity; and
ensuring that we maintained as one of our operating principles “consistent reflection” for everything we did.
This facilitated our ability to maintain both our competitive advantage and our competencies as a consulting company. We recognized that as our competition and our customers change, we must always be operating “faster than the speed of this change” to continue to grow, to prosper, and to continue to deliver the highest value we can to our clients and to our employees. Operating as a learning organization provides us with the necessary agility to rapidly and successfully adapt to any change in our operating environment that is required.
Why do you place value on knowledge management, internally and with your clients?
Bill Kaplan: We knew we had an advantage with which to begin and that a key to success was to build upon the existing corporate culture of trust and collaboration and investment in intellectual property and then expand this to a broader knowledge sharing culture where capturing and reusing knowledge is focused on performance improvement as part of the way everyone works.
We view knowledge as comprising all the information in the company and all the experience and insight in the company. We leverage and focus this knowledge, in context, to improve our individual, team, and corporate performance and to deliver value to our employees, our clients, and our company. This enables our collective workforce to make the best decisions and provide the best solutions. Figure 1 shows this view.
Our Knowledge Convergence© strategy integrates an ability to connect, collect, and collaborate with a discipline of learning before, during, and after process execution to provide our professional acquisition workforce with the ability to access in real time not only codified knowledge (effective practices, relevant documents, templates), but also the most current tacit knowledge (experience and insight) that is the “know how” and “know why” of the separate practice and subject matter areas.
Our consulting operating model (Figure 2) integrates our client facing and client focused activities and our practice areas or solutions. Each vertical is a line of business with an account executive lead. Each horizontal line represents a practice area or solution that we provide to our clients through an account. Each has a practice area lead.
To continually deliver the highest quality solutions to our clients required that we really have an embedded and practical working ability to perform and learn as “part of the way we do business.” This presented a unique opportunity to move from the concept of communities of practice to developing and sustaining working communities of practice.
Timing was everything and we were ready because at this point in our journey we had socialized and integrated across the company:
a shared view of knowledge;
a concept and strategy for moving capturing and reusing knowledge across the company;
implementing practices, including tools and techniques, for creating a knowledge enabled company; and
a consulting model for integrating all of this to better serve out clients.
Your company does not have a separate quality function. Instead, you have aligned and integrated quality management with knowledge management. Why did you take this approach?
Bill Kaplan: From Acquisition Solutions’ inception, our company leadership has consciously and deliberately instilled a strong corporate culture that values collaboration and trust as foundational to delivering high-quality products and solutions. In addition, senior leadership recognized that knowledge management and quality management fundamentally share the same goal – improving performance at all levels of the organization.
Building on an existing quality control process that focused on providing a “second set of eyes” to deliverables and work products prior to submission to clients, the KM team’s initial focus was to introduce knowledge management concepts, strategies, and implementing practices throughout the company, evolving our organizational view of knowledge (see previous Figure 1). We then developed and applied a strategy that emphasized the adoption of a “systematic framework to capture, adapt, transfer, and reuse our knowledge to ensure the highest levels of solutions and product quality.”
Knowledge management practices also are a crucial component of our CPI model which embeds processes for learning before, during, and after (fast learning) at the point where work is done. We call this “knowledge at the point of execution©” and it is fundamental to the way our internal and external teams plan, execute, assess and then improve their performance.
Making these learning processes part of the way, we work allows the teams to finalize their project plans based on the most current information, experience and corporate know-how. They can then assess ongoing performance “in the moment” to reinforce positive patterns or make immediate course corrections. Upon completion of the project, the teams reflect on what they have done through a facilitated process (retrospect) to identify the learnings and advice that can be shared and reused across the organization. We call this a Level 1 Knowledge Transaction.
Validation and adaptation of relevant learnings and insights through our communities of practice and subject matter experts enables the emergence of more effective practices and processes which then are “operationalized” company-wide by embedding them into our training and the next iteration of all our relevant client engagements and internal initiatives. We call this a Level 2 Knowledge Transaction.
In summary, the focus is not just on capturing the lessons learned; it is on “learning the lessons” and then reapplying them in real time to consistently deliver to a client’s needs and expectations.
Bill Kaplan: Simply stated, always looking ahead based on what we know about what we did. A great deal of knowledge, intellectual capital, is used daily in executing our business. Like all other critical corporate resources, our knowledge must be leveraged and further developed in an organized, disciplined, and systematic manner that enables us to capture, adapt, transfer, and reuse this valuable resource. Among the areas in which I must focus, three stand out:
explicitly leveraging our knowledge in ongoing operations;
improving our ability to learn from past challenges and successes in strategic decision making and client solution delivery; and
creating value from the knowledge, experience, and insight held by our employees and our clients.
Anne Reed: Growing this amazing company requires that we continually adjust to the needs of our clients and our workforce. We know that to maintain this valued workforce and to continue to provide the highest quality solutions to our clients, we must provide our employees with every opportunity to evolve and to learn what they need to know to be successful, as individuals, as members of a team, and as essential building blocks of our future growth and success. We can only do this if we maintain our focus as a learning organization.
About the authors
William S. Kaplan the CKO in January 2005 and is a respected author and Consultant in the knowledge management field of practice. Recognized as one of the early leaders and practitioners of knowledge management in the government sector, he is experienced in the planning and design of integrated knowledge architectures to support diverse organizational requirements. Prior to joining the Acquisition Solutions team, he served as the Deputy Knowledge Management Practice Manager and a Senior Consultant for Knowledge Management at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) serving both public and private sector clients. He was one of the original thought leaders, practitioners, and consultants who developed the vision and strategy for the SAIC knowledge management consultancy. He was involved in all aspects of building the practice, including strategy, process, metrics for success, tools, systems, and the evolving creation of a corporate culture to support knowledge management. He also completed a distinguished 25 year active duty career in acquisition and program management in the US Air Force and the Department of Defense retiring in the rank of Colonel. He is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Defense Systems Management College Program Managers Course, and has experience in system program offices as well as in contract and acquisition management and policy development. He is widely familiar with the many aspects of the government acquisition process. His post-military experience includes consulting support, special studies, and policy development for the senior acquisition leadership in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the development of several acquisition management and workforce training projects for both OSD and the military services. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Science degree in Knowledge Management at The George Washington University.
Anne F. Thomson Reed is the President of Acquisition Solutions in January 2003, and President and Chief Executive Officer in 2008, she provides key stewardship for the company as it continues along the path of rapid growth and expansion of services. Prior to joining Acquisition Solutions, she served as a President of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) State and Local Government Solutions, where she provided leadership and direction to an organization that supported over $1 billion in state and local government business. She joined EDS as Vice President of the Government Global Industry Group, where she consulted with CIOs and other government leaders from across the world on e-government strategies and on information technology strategic investment decision-making models. She capped a 20-year career in the public sector as Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), where she pioneered efforts in e-government and capital planning, while reengineering business processes to take advantage of new technologies, telecommunications improvement, information assurance, computer security, and protection of privacy. She also served as Chair of the Federal CIO Council Interoperability Committee. She previously served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration at USDA, with a focus on business modernization, and served in the Department of the Navy, in the Office of the Comptroller and the Naval Sea Systems Command. In earlier years, she had a senior administrative appointment with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and worked as a city planner in Nashville, Tennessee. She has received much recognition and numerous awards for her achievements in improving government, including the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Alumni Achievement award (2001), the Vice President’s Hammer Award for her leadership during Y2K planning and implementation (2000), Government Computer News’ Government Executive of the Year (1998), the Federation of Industry and Government Information Processing Councils’ Government Executive of the Year (1997), and Federal Computer Week’s Federal 100 award (1999 and 2002). In 1998, she was inducted into the Pi Alpha Alpha national honor society for public administration by the American University, and in 1995 she was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of Kentucky. She currently serves as a Principal on the Council for Excellence in Government, as well as on advisory committees for numerous associations. In April 2002, the Governor of Virginia appointed her to serve on the Commonwealth’s Chief Information Officer’s Advisory Board