BEING ONE WITH THE CUSTOMER
Diverse Systems Group’s strategy for success as an IT company is almost zen-like: Be one with the customer.
CEO Keith Scott also describes it this way: “I’m trying to become part of my client’s DNA so that we are one and the same.” And when his company reaches that level with a client, “you become a trusted advisor, so that your thoughts are their thoughts, and your actions are their actions.”
Based in Bethesda, MD, Diverse Systems Group does 95 percent government-contract work, with five percent in the commercial space. Its services include application development, cybersecurity, PMO support, health informatics, systems engineering and telecommunications. Diverse Systems Group employs 66 people, and the leadership is looking to increase its executive program management, which will help grow the business.
How does a consulting company become so integrated with its clients? From the beginning, says CFO Mike Troiano. Employees work on the proposal effort itself to understand its strategy and meaning. When the team wins the bid, the employees already feel a sense of investment. It’s also a great way to pave a promotion path for someone, he says.
But once the contract is won, it’s essential for the client to know that everyone, especially from the top, is committed to doing a good job. “The customer has to know that everybody in the company believes their job is to make that thing happen, whatever that is,” Troiano explains. “That has to permeate our whole organization.”
While it’s hard to wine and dine a government client, the best treatment Scott says his company can give is performing services well and delivering top-notch customer treatment. This has helped develop a reputation for consistent, high-end work. He admits that Diverse Systems Group isn’t always the least expensive when engaged in a bidding war, but he believes the company’s reputation has been key to winning bids.
That approach hasn’t come without a learning curve, of course. Scott recalls a client about 12 years ago, in Diverse Systems Group’s early days, who didn’t have a very detailed contract in regards to what the expectations were, nor were they clarified during the kickoff. As Diverse Systems Group worked through the discovery phase, it found that there were a lot of missing details that were out of scope and out of the company’s ability. Diverse Systems Group took on a partner, at its own cost, to help meet those demands. It was a $20,000 loss, partly due to all the time management spent.
The lesson learned: Be upfront about the requirements and make sure there’s straightforward communication, especially with clients the company hasn’t previously worked with.
Keeping employees happy is another obvious box to check, especially because some contracts can be long — three or four years, Scott says. “There’s not a huge number of opportunities for people to move around within that contract,” he says. However, Diverse Systems Group offers to pay for certifications and training, to help individuals excel and grow along with the company. He and Troiano agree that it’s not about helping employees grow from point A to point B, but to achieve point Z.
While Diverse Systems Group doesn’t run out and celebrate every time it wins a bid, it still likes to do something special for the employees every now and then. “A lot of companies sit there and look at the bottom line to decide whether they should do something for their employees,” Troiano says. “I’ve never, never, ever done that.” Instead, the executive team understands the importance of recognizing employees regardless of costs, because they know the employees are the most important asset to the company.
Receiving client feedback is another way Diverse Systems Group works to grow and deliver its best to clients. Scott says the company receives feedback every day because employees are constantly in front of the clients, communicating. After gathering all the feedback, project managers take it back to Diverse Systems Group and relay it to all involved, from the manager to the engineer to the developer to the help desk individual, he says. It’s critical to make sure “they’re all in lockstep on delivering those goals.”
As he builds the business, Scott looks back on some sage advice from his grandfather: “The day you don’t learn something new is probably your last day.”
Photo (L to R): Front row: Julie DeLuca, HR Director; Andre Ray, Program Manager. Back row: Mike Troiano, CFO; Kandace Needle, Office Manager; Keith Scott, CEO