Interview: Simon Fovargue Chief Executive, Leidos UK by Jane's Defence Weekly
Although Leidos can trace its heritage back to the formation of Science Applications Incorporated (later SAIC) in 1969, the chief executive of Leidos UK and Europe, Simon Fovargue, says his wholly owned subsidiary company is still in a “scale-up” moment, having been divested from SAIC in 2013 as a “global science, engineering, and information technology company”.
The company's first foray into the UK defence sector came when it secured the UK Ministry of Defence's (MOD's) 13-year, GBP6.5 billion (USD9.22 billion) Logistic Commodities and Services Transformation (LCST) contract in 2015, Fovargue noted. This work, which still provides about half of the company's defence-related revenues, has effectively constituted a modernisation of the UK defence supply chain through the application of new technologies. The LCST contract, Fovargue pointed out, “reassuringly is one of the few large-scale transformation programmes that have a green report by the [UK government's] Public Accounts Committee."
Technology, said Fovargue, is crucial to what the company provides – so much so that “if you talk to [the UK MOD's] Defence Equipment and Support [organisation] with regard to LCST, they don't think of us as a logistics company; they think of us as a technology integration company.” Although he was not at liberty to discuss the specifics of Leidos UK's other work for the UK defence establishment, Fovargue described them loosely as “solutions and services for defence intelligence," "command-and-control solutions," and other various “geospatial and special projects;” services that Fovargue said were “delivering information advantage".
With the Leidos parent company having 90% of its business in the US public sector, predominantly with the US Department of Defense and intelligence community, Fovargue noted that International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and other US export restrictions make it difficult for the company to leverage its capabilities and readily apply them to export markets. Leidos UK therefore needs “to build indigenous UK-based capability to serve our UK customers,” he said.
One thing that is working in the company's favour, according to Fovargue, is that the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the UK MOD's Integrated Review (IR) this year have all accelerated what he called the MOD's “digital modernisation agenda”.
Asked by Jane’s to comment on the IR, Fovargue replied, “There will be lots of comments made around personnel and platform numbers and we're not in that part of the part of the market, but in terms of the picture that the Integrated Review paints … at the heart of that strategy, I think it actually is a tremendous opportunity. I think [UK defence capability] will always be a combination of people and platforms, but importantly [also] the technology, and you've got to balance that through affordability: something that we're well used to doing. It requires you to make choices, and I think the Integrated Review is trying to place some bets on disruptive technologies and future ways of operating, cognisant of the threats that we've seen.”
Regarding how Leidos typically goes about providing an effective customer solution, Fovargue explained, “Typically we favour creating a new solution, using modern technologies. … And typically we would like to establish a new way of working, of delivering a better customer experience and more efficient service. To enable that new technical solution we will need to get at the data in the legacy systems normally, and that is generally one of the biggest challenges. Until we get to such a time where we have ubiquity and freedom of movement of data across system silos and customers, we are still constrained by these.”
Characterising the solutions that Leidos UK provides, Fovargue said, “There are no swivel chairs, there are no spreadsheets on walls, but it's with modern software interfaces, so it saves time and money, but it also allows defence to modernise the way it does its business, and catch up with the way logistics are run in the commercial world.” In terms of the capabilities Leidos needs from its workforce, Fovargue said, “There is huge demand for people with the right skills, and the key bit for us is matching skills that we've got today with the skills that we need for the future. And that's something that we spent a lot of time thinking about and creating an operating model that will help us attract, retain, and develop those skills. So if I look at the organisation today, and we ‘heat map' what we've got, it's largely driven by our customers and the contracts and solutions that we deliver.”
Areas where Leidos employees are currently strong, Fovargue noted, include cloud migration, software development, and cyber skills, “but if I look to the future," he added, “it doesn't need to be very far; if I look 12 months, 24 months, 36 months out and try and map the skills that are needed to be successful, capabilities that our customer needs, I can see some gaps."
“We want to provide and do tough stuff and help our customers, but we want to provide meaningful work,” said Fovargue. “I have two things that I want to do. The first thing is I want to be a trusted strategic supplier to the UK public sector for mission-critical solutions – and here we are already a strategic supplier, and I think we deliver on our commitments pretty well – but the second thing is I want to be a great place to work; I want to feature on one of those ‘glass door' surveys, or ‘The Sunday Times best place to work'.” His aim at Leidos UK, Fovargue said, is to provide his employees with work “that is challenging, interesting, that makes them get up in the morning, that is personally rewarding, and that gives them the opportunity to develop as an individual.”
“And this is why the question of skills is so important,” he added. “To find the right talent you first need to know what you're looking for, so you need a clear, focused strategy and direction of travel, know that you are securing the right contracts. And then you need a really slick mechanism that manages your most expensive resource – your people – effectively.”
This article first appeared in Jane's Defence Weekly and can be found here.