AI, commitment to workforce helped fuel GDIT’s growth in 2023

General Dynamics IT President Amy Gilliland

General Dynamics IT President Amy Gilliland

General Dynamics Information Technology President Amy Gilliland sat down with Nextgov/FCW for a one-on-one interview after a big year for the company.

By any measure, 2023 was a successful year for General Dynamics IT. Attrition rates reached pre-pandemic lows for the 30,000-person company, coinciding with a truly monster haul of $13.5 billion in wins — easily enough to qualify among its best years on record.

And fresh off a new strategy unveiled last year centered on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and zero trust, as well as an increased focus on consulting, the company managed to snag several billion dollars in new contracts, including with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Central Command.

And while GDIT President Amy Gilliland acknowledged a “fabulous” 2023 in a recent interview with Nextgov/FCW, she’s thinking strategically about how the company approaches AI — internally and externally — and how best to keep GDIT ahead in an increasingly competitive government contracting landscape. 

The below interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nextgov/FCW: Amy, let's get into the discussion by talking about AI, both how the government should be using it, how you view this technology and GDIT's place in the ecosystem?

Gilliland: So, yes, there is a thirst from the customer for AI and an understanding of the power of what AI can bring. I think there's also an appropriate apprehension about how it's used and the governance around it.

And there's been multiple executive orders published that really emphasize a philosophy on adoption: They use the words safe, secure and responsible. And so within that, we have been very deliberate about our approach.

There's this conception that AI was launched with this generative AI boom and ChatGPT last year, right? But our customers have been using AI before AI was cool. And we at GDIT have been doing this for a long time. I think where we have found success in AI and its adoption is showing proven use cases to the government.

Nextgov/FCW: How about internally?

Gilliland: I’ll tell you on the GDIT side, internally, I see an absolute mandate for us to do this. And it makes a lot of people nervous because they think that computers are going to replace people. But actually, in my mind, I think it helps people work on things that appropriately use intellect and allow computers to do things that our computers are very good at. And it will be critical to our efficiency and productivity as technology gets faster and faster.

So we've been working on AI use cases. We have lots of them internally, everything from proposals — how can you use AI to read the thousands of [requests for proposals] we get, for instance — but also for things to support employees. One example is what we call Career Hub.

Career Hub is the tool that we built to help internal mobility. We know a large portion of our workforce is early-career and that they may want to move around more often. And this is a tool that allows them to put their preferences and experiences in a filter, just like Netflix or Amazon.

And it feeds them jobs that are open inside of GDIT or training that they need to take from our inventory to be prepared and qualified for those jobs. We've had about 20% of our internal transfers last year, which is the first year we had Career Hub, aided by that tool. So that's been helpful.

And I'll give you one other example just to show how AI can really help productivity. Our interns last summer built something that we called ChatGDIT. Basically, they taught the large language model all of our HR policies, which can be among the most mind-numbing policies there are, right? And the thought was that if employees could use ChatGDIT to ask questions of the HR policies, they could get answers a lot faster and easier than trying to find all of them, access them and read them.

And we found that tool to be effective — like 190% more effective in finding an answer than if they had to hunt and peck themselves. So those are all examples of how we're looking at using AI internally. 

Nextgov/FCW: GDIT had one of its biggest years ever in 2023. Can you talk about some of your big wins?

Gilliland: One I’d like to highlight was a re-compete last October at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. We will modernize CMS’ accounting system, one of the largest in the federal government that processes over $2 trillion in payments annually. In this re-compete now, the scope of work involves adding AI to detect anomalies in the accounting system.

In new business, we also won a multibillion dollar Air Force contract — the $4.5 billion Air Force Security Support Services IDIQ contract. I can’t say much about that, it’s highly classified.

We also had a big win this year at [U.S. Central Command] to modernize their IT infrastructure, where they are taking many of the technologies you and I are talking about — our AI solutions—and optimizing their IT environment. They’ve also taken our Zero Trust solution and some of our other digital accelerators — they want them all.

We also won an important recompete last year of our [$1.7 billion Flight School] contract, where we do all of the simulation and training for U.S. Army aviators at the Fort Novosel facility — the largest of its kind in the world. That’s a really important recompete for us.

And we had another piece of new work that we won to modernize the Indian Health Service’s electronic health records system. We had worked with the Tribes before, but not at that level, so that’s an exciting win also.

Nextgov/FCW: What are some major pursuits coming in the next year that you’ll be going after?

Gilliland: You know, if my employees were standing in front of me, I would tell them that every pursuit matters. So let me tell you about a couple.

I think about it not in terms of individual opportunities because we're bidding 2,000 opportunities a year. Now, obviously some of them have larger number dollar figures than other ones, but every single one of them matters. And what I'm really trying to get the employee population to do is to drive those digital accelerators.

So we are incentivizing our program managers and our bid and proposal and capture teams to learn about our technologies so that they can bring them to the mission. The customers want these new technologies and we have them, but what we have to do is bridge from having just our technologists understanding them and knowing them.

So that is a huge focus for our employee population this year. And we've rolled out our own training program on these accelerators.A second area that I am really focused on is consulting.

So the good thing about GDIT and what it's reputationally known for is execution. We are very good at doing what we say we're going to do. But our employees are often so focused on getting the job done for the customer that they aren't looking to the horizon to offer customers a technology roadmap to where they need to go.

And so we also have a consulting training that we're putting folks through this year to help them after they learn about the technologies, because not everybody is good at sales. And I think they feel in some way like sales is bad, but sales is not bad. What I know is that the customers actually rely on us to bring them what's out there.

That's our duty. So we're trying to help them with that consultative mindset. And that's a mindset shift.

Nextgov/FCW: The “people side” of the equation is a thing I always hear from you and you've already talked about it with a couple of your AI programs on the Career Hub. But talk about the internal efforts you have going on.

Gilliland: If our people feel like we're taking care of them and that they can thrive, they take care of customers and the mission gets done. So I think it is a very logical connection between taking care of your people and how they perform.

We do execute well and I think the evidence of that—we had a fabulous 2023, won more awards ($13.5 billion) than we have in the history of the company and performed well financially. Our voluntary attrition is down to levels that are lower than pre-pandemic levels. And so I think what that indicates is that our employees are helping us understand where they are and we're trying to meet them there.

When I go out and I have town halls or dinners or lunches or whatever, every time I go out to the field, what I hear from employees is a thirst for technical training. They want the next certification. They want to understand what kind of solutions we're building as a company.

If you think about it, these are technology driven individuals. That's why they do what they do. They're thirsty to continue to evolve.

So we've really upped our game and our investment in the kind of training that we're providing.

Nextgov/FCW: We're seeing more incumbents getting unseated in big contracts. GDIT has lost a couple of those too, but it seems like everyone has. What's your take on that trend? Is this something companies need to think about differently? What's driving it?

Gilliland: I'd say a couple of things about that. First, I'd say you're right, we've lost a couple. And you're right, everybody loses a couple. Overall, we have a very high percentage of success on our re-competes.

Now, with that being said, part of winning a re-compete is executing well. And customers need to think of you as doing more than just delivering the donuts, right? Going back to that consultative mindset, what have you done for me lately? How have you thought about what the future is? So, we've leaned into talking to our folks about how to have that conversation. Now, when you talk about like, are there more losses now? I wouldn't say statistically for us that is true, but the environment is more crowded. There are more people that you are competing against generally per solicitation.

The government is very open to small business, even for large opportunities. So that creates a factor that maybe wasn't there before. And then to the extent that price, you know, it always says “best price,” but sometimes best price means LPTA (lowest price technically acceptable).

And I would say we see that, maybe increasingly so. And the disappointing part about that is that the government ends up coming back around because of unreasonable prices. And the customer ends up not getting the manning that they need and the solicitation ends up coming back out.

Those are exogenous things we can't control, but what we can control is the quality of our solutions. And so that's why we've been so focused on our solutions.