Brian W. Callahan, President and CEO of Segue Technologies®, was recently interviewed by Lynn Fosse for a feature CEOCFO Magazine. In the issue, published June 13, Callahan discusses what it has taken to get to Segue to its current position as primarily a Federal Government contractor focusing on the Department of Defense and Department of Interior, how the company works today, and the lessons that have been learned along the way. Read the full interview below.
Information Technologies Solutions Providing Custom Software, Website, Data and Mobile Application Development
CEOCFO: Mr. Callahan, would you tell us about Segue Technologies?
Mr. Callahan: Segue Technologies is an IT solution provider for Federal and Commercial customers. The bulk of our work has been supporting Air Force business systems, but we have several strong projects for other customers such as the USMC, National Park Service, and UNCF. Our IT services are centered around development and sustainment in the areas of web, data, and mobile applications. We strive to be a truly custom IT provider by working closely with our customers to understand their challenges and problems, to design and implement appropriate solutions for their specific needs.
CEOCFO: How does that translate day-to-day – working closely with your customers?
Mr. Callahan: It starts with sitting down and working with our customers. Take one of our Air Force projects for example: We support an organization that is in charge of determining the manpower staffing mix: skills requirements, qualifications, and things like that across their active duty military, reserve, guard, and civilian workforce of about 700 thousand people. We developed custom software that allows them to complete that mission in a way that their previous system could not. It involved sitting down with them to understand how their business works, their processes, the different data systems involved, and their day-to-day challenges. Then we worked to re-design some of their business processes where appropriate and then developed and implemented the new applications. The whole redesign process involved program managers, business process engineers, and analysts that sat down with the customer and looked at options for the new system and define requirements that truly worked. Our people did everything from business analysis, development, quality assurance, and training to support the redesign and then we provided the on-going back-end support of things like setting up a network infrastructure or putting things up into the cloud hosted environment; all those nuts and bolts of technology solutions.
CEOCFO: Where do you focus in addition to government?
Mr. Callahan: We primarily focus in the federal space, split between the Department of Defense and then some Non-DoD work; specifically we have a large customer in the Department of Interior. However, we also do significant Commercial and Non-profit work. For example, one of our largest customers is the UNCF and through them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where we developed an online application that high school students use to apply for full-ride scholarships that are available through very generous donations from the Gates Foundation. Our Commercial projects tend to be smaller, and we take them on a case-by-case basis and are primarily focused on developing web based and mobile applications.
CEOCFO: What did you do for Five Guys?
Mr. Callahan: Five Guys was one of our first Commercial customers, from way back. We developed a website for them to help establish their online presence and an internal communication site, an “intranet”, to help them share information with and between their franchises. When we first starting working for them they had five locations and now they have either opened or are scheduled to open over a thousand.
CEOCFO: Was it a deliberate strategy on where you focus or was it opportunistic?
Mr. Callahan: Initially we were primarily focused on doing government work and we had a couple of contracts supporting the Air Force. We then grew organically out of that, where we had a lot of word of mouth opportunistic things that came up. When we were doing a good job for one customer, that sometimes morphed into being able to help somebody else or doing a larger project for that same customer. With that success and growth, we started looking to try to get in little bit more of the Commercial work because we felt like it had a shorter sales cycle and a lot of times you are dealing with more of the leading-edge technologies. The plan was that we could get our feet wet and build up leading technology experience on the Commercial side and then later, as the government caught up to those things, we would be prepared to support them.
Then, as we grew into supporting the Air Force more, we started looking at some specific contracting vehicles and made a strategic decision to go after those things as they would open up reliable pipelines of business opportunities. To compete for those, we had to look at some other related programs and for strategic partners. As we made a more deliberate push for Air Force and Federal work, some of the Commercial and Non-profit work became more opportunistic.
Where we are now is we have reorganized into having a focus on the Federal space in both the Department of Defense – specifically on Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, where we have existing work. On the Federal Non-DoD side, we are looking at things to grow our business within the Department of Interior and other agencies through some of the specific technical areas that we are strong in, such as business system development and sustainment, data analytics, and web and mobile application development.
Also, about a year ago, we created a subsidiary of Segue Technologies called Caring Village. This is a Commercial product offering, where we are developing a platform that will support communication and coordination of care among caregivers for the elderly or infirm.
CEOCFO: On the federal level are you concerned about a change of administration?
Mr. Callahan: I always take a wait and see attitude toward that. What I think has been the hardest in the Federal space, has been when you have uncertainties from the Government, not necessarily who is in office. A few years ago, when we had a Government shutdown, or even when there were just the threats of one, it created uncertainty. That impacted our business because in some cases we had contracts where there were stop work orders issued. The threat of sequestration also really had an impact because our Federal customers were just waiting to see; they did not know what was going to happen and how much money they were going to have or what type of direction they were going to have. The Impact was nothing was happening. Then, once sequestration kicked in, it took a while for the Government to figure out what the budget would look like and how they could go forward and start to implement based on what was then known. For us it is the uncertainty that results from these things that causes a lot of problems. So for a change in administration to me, it is too early to tell how that will impact our customers, and subsequently us.
CEOCFO: How do you find people with both the technical skills and the attitude that is necessary to represent Segue?
Mr. Callahan: One facet is having a fantastic human resource and recruiting team that is great at tracking down those people. Another key is that we have focused for the last couple of years on a blogging campaign whereby we have Segue employees write blog posts for our website directly related to whatever area of technology or business space that they are interested in. They write about things that they have current knowledge of and a lot of times it might be talking about new technologies or processes. I think that gives a great snapshot of our company to people who are not only potential customers of ours, but potential employees, because through reading some of our content, they can get a sense of who we are from a technology standpoint and a cultural standpoint. In reading our content, you get a sense, that our people are very focused on solving problems and working cooperatively together. This use of blogging, and promotion through various social media mechanisms, has been a great way of helping to reach out to high caliber staff through a broad approach. What we are trying to do is attract the type of people who not only have the skills, but are going to be a good fit for our corporate culture. However, regardless of our approach, the bottom line is that if you have a good reputation from customers and the current workforce of being a sound and ethical company to work for, I think that helps attract people.
CEOCFO: Giving back is important at Segue. How do you decide where to put your attention and why is it important for you personally?
Mr. Callahan: The first thing is trying to be a good neighbor. We look at some things that are local, such as organizations that help people in need or animal welfare or other local things that we are involved with. We also like to support Veteran organizations, particularly Wounded Warriors. I am a former veteran myself and we have one of our employees David Hart, who I served with previously in the military, who has set up a warrior weekend and has been doing that for the last few years. This thing has grown and essentially what we do is invite wounded veterans to come in for a long weekend of fun activities. It is a way to pay back to those people who have sacrificed for the country. It is also a great bonding experience for them to come together and get a chance to socialize with people that may have similar experiences or are facing some similar challenges.
CEOCFO: How is business?
Mr. Callahan: Things are going very well. Last year we had about 25% growth and we are looking to continue that momentum into this year. We have also spun out a separate subsidiary called Caring Village, for which we have done some usability testing and some private beta testing and we are looking to release that this May. We are encouraged about what we are doing and think we have a useful product and it is targeting a large and growing segment of the population.
CEOCFO: Why present Caring Village as a separate entity?
Mr. Callahan: It is quite a bit different from a business model standpoint from what we are doing right now. In government contracting, you tend to have longer-term contracts. The sales cycle is long but you are working closely with a smaller number of customers. Caring Village is a model focused more on subscription-based fees. There are some things that go on there in terms of cross marketing in supporting affiliate program sales and things like that. It is a different business model and we felt that is such a different mode of operation and management that we should keep things simple and avoid confusion, so we created Caring Villages as a separate subsidiary.
CEOCFO: What have you learned along the way?
Mr. Callahan: Across the board through growth, we have been able to bring in a lot more experienced people and broaden our technology and managerial understanding. We built out a lot of the internal infrastructure, and not just physical, but some of the internal processes and approaches that we take to things. I would say that more than anything, a key for us has been through growth, we have been able to bring in more skilled people. We were a small company to start off with and you tend to have people who get spread across a lot of different projects, but you have people that tend to be good at a lot of different things. That is just the nature of the business when you are that small. As you grow, you can start having people who are more specialized and I think that goes a long way towards improving our offerings.
CEOCFO: Why choose Segue Technologies?
Mr. Callahan: The top reason to choose Segue over any of our competitors is that you are going to get a commitment to understanding your specific business process, understanding your specific problems, and dedication to the business outcomes you expect to achieve. You will get our commitment to not only understand those, but to translate that into whatever the best technical solution is that is specific to your needs. A lot of our competitors come in and they have a pretty packaged technology or some type of software that they plan to use and it may or may not be the best fit for you, but they will jam it in there and hope that it works. We take the opposite approach to that. You can look at our past performance. We have delivered for some very mission critical, high-visibility programs and in many cases, we have come in where others before, even much much larger companies, have failed and we have been able to succeed.