How ICF is positioning for IT implementation growth Onufriyenko

Front-end advisory work has always been a core aspect of ICF's business as the company looks to be more involved in all aspects of federal systems modernization.

Three years ago, ICF laid out to investors some ambitious financial targets for itself with federal technology modernization and digitization called out as a main driver of the growth it wants.

Public health also remains one of the five key areas the global technology consulting company has prioritized for its strategy to blend front-end advisory services with implementation, now increasingly including IT integration work.

Acquisitions of three companies during 2020 and 2021 have given ICF more of those implementation skills in so-called "low-code/no-code" software platforms based in cloud environments.

More transactions are a certainty for ICF, but a major end goal of those purchases was to better position for $100 million-plus federal IT contracts.

During ICF's 2022 Investor Day held Wednesday, public sector group leader and executive vice president Mark Lee characterized "most of the meaningful wins" as in the range of $50 million-to-$100 million in size. At the time of ICF's last investor day in 2019, that range was $10 million-to-$25 million.

On top of the acquisitions, Lee cited ICF's investments in people and business development processes as also directing the company toward having more of those larger competitions in the pipeline compared to years past.

"A lot of those larger ones did have a technology component, whether they were all technology or not, I think that was part of it," Lee said. "Our implementation capabilities have certainly improved now and I think there aren't a lot of $50 million advisory contracts.

"There has to be an implementation perspective, and I think as we've gotten better at that, we've been able to find and win bigger contracts."

ICF now has $350 million in annual digital modernization revenue and 1,000 technologists on staff: respectively 4 times and 3.5 times greater than what those numbers were in 2020. Some of that is acquired sales, Fairfax, Virginia-headquartered ICF is evidently also finding more of that IT spend from agencies coming from organizations outside of the office of the chief information officer.

That is because some CIOs in the federal government consider themselves more as supporters of modernization efforts than process controllers, according to Lee.

"What's happened in the past is the mission (organization) would say, 'Hey, I need this', so they would give a requirement talking to the CIO," Lee said. "The CIO will go out and buy it and then come back with a finished product that usually wasn't what they really needed because it didn't really reflect an understanding."

One ongoing project at the National Cancer Institute is an example of an agency thinking in the reverse.

Jean-Claude Chidiac, ICF's senior vice president of digital modernization, said the company worked with NCI over the course of a few months to stand up a digital service center for users to connect with applications and teammates in one place.

"Our DSC today at NCI has user experience specialists, change management experts, communications specialists, domain experts, including fields like cancer research as well as architects and technologists across multiple technologies and platforms working together seamlessly," Chidiac said.

ICF's work in public and federal health also increasingly has a technology bent to it like so many other domains the company works to take an inter-disciplinary approach to. The COVID-19 pandemic and preparation for future similar situations is driving that conversation of how to link IT with public health.

Jennifer Welham, senior vice president for public health and social programs at ICF, singled out helping clients manage and draw insights from health research data as a focal point for the company.

Health research funding from federal agencies adds up to "billions of dollars every year," Welham said, adding that the only way to get value for that money is to handle and learn from the data.

"It's no secret how overwhelmed the world is with data at this point: we can look no further than our phones and the number of pictures we have and the number of unread emails," Welham said. "We can't even manage our own data."

All of which is pointing ICF to look at what Welham called the "intersection of health and IT bioinformatics" as a capability area it wants to add more of in the future. That intersection is essentially the tools and methods needed to get advanced analytics around research data, she said.

Two other capability areas are also front-of-mind for ICF. Chidiac cited cloud-native open source as one the company is looking to strengthen and broaden its footing in.

Lee touted the general analytics category as a third but with this caveat: "It's obviously constantly changing and what's now cutting edge soon will be old hat, so I think that requires continued investment for sure."