Booz Allen Hamilton emerges from fire with renewed strength and vision
They have quite literally risen from the ashes. Management consulting and technology firm Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) celebrated the grand re-opening of its Digital Solutions hub at 2387 Clements Ferry Road last week, ten months after their former building was severely damaged by a Fourth of July fire.
In her remarks to the hundreds of employees, community leaders and other dignitaries gathered at festivities commemorating the new 75,000 square foot research and development facility, BAH Vice President and Charleston Digital Hub Leader Elizabeth Buske recounted hearing the news that their building was ablaze. She and several other staffers arrived within minutes to find a mass of emergency and fire vehicles on scene and smoke billowing out the front door.
“We literally stood there for hours in disbelief about what was happening to our home,” she said. Fortunately, no one was in the building at the time the fire broke out.
The next day, however, the team was back to work, Buske added, eager to ensure their clients continued to receive the same high level of service and attention to which they had become accustomed. The greater Charleston community opened its doors to the company, providing space for them to work in community centers, churches, and offices throughout the region.
“That is what Charleston did for the Booz Allen hub,” continued Buske. “And it was phenomenal. We are stronger because of it. We are here because of it.”
But that success was just one part of the bigger story shared by Booz Allen Hamilton executives at their May 11 celebration. The company, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, had much to celebrate on the occasion. The expansion of their Clements Ferry Road facility is expected to generate at least $10 million in new capital investment and will increase the hub’s employee base by more than 90 people before the end of the year (currently, the site houses over 301 technologists).
“It’s a forward-leaning technology hub where our teams are developing some of the most cutting edge technology solutions anywhere,” said Gary Labovich, BAH executive vice president and leader of digital solutions. “No question we’re all living in a ‘digital first’ world. You only have to reach into your pocket to figure that out.”
Labovich described a few of the firm’s global projects, including their work for the SPAWAR Office of Polar Programs in Antarctica, for which BAH staffers are creating security for networks, software support for meteorology applications, as well as engineering, design and installation support for the McMurdo Communications System. They also support the Navy’s Data Center Consolidation and Cloud Adoption program in the areas of architecture, systems development and systems engineering.
“We do work literally around the world,” Labovich added. “And I think that’s some of the coolest work we do.”
Additionally, teams at the BAH Clements Ferry Road facility provide support to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Veterans Benefit Management System.
“We are transforming the Veterans Affairs’ paper-intensive compensation and pensions claims system to a web-based paperless system,” said Labovich. “The new system has reduced VA claims by approximately 87 percent and reduced the average time that our veterans have to wait for a claims decision from 191 days to 91 days. That’s pretty extraordinary.”
In her comments to the grand opening crowd, BAH Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer Susan Penfield called the company “an innovation leader” that has been around for more than a century, propelled by the imperative to reimagine solutions to their clients’ large scale and complex challenges.
“That to me really is the heart and soul of what Booz Allen does,” she said.
Five years ago, BAH embarked on a new mission, explained Penfield, to infuse a new and intentional culture of innovation into their work. In 2015, the company purchased software services start-up SPARC, the former occupant of the Clements Ferry Road site, acquiring the unit, its assets and about 270 employees. Shortly thereafter, BAH began construction on a new addition to the existing facility. The fire of 2016 derailed things a bit, but not for long. Today, the campus is an important hub within the BAH Digital Solutions Network.
“You can safely say today that this is not your grandfather’s Booz Allen,” said Penfield. “When you walk into this facility, you will be amazed at how we have evolved as an institution…(Our) tech savvy developers are testing, refining, and expanding their skillset in a space that feels a helluva lot more like a start-up than a 100 year old company!”
BAH team members Pedro Mass and Dustin Hughes, both software developers at the facility, couldn’t agree more. During the festivities last week, the pair took a few minutes to engage in a quick ping pong match at a table set up in one of the company’s large open spaces. There are pods with open benches, collaboration zones for daily team “stand-ups,” and an informal lounge - all enhanced with audio/visual capabilities and white boards. And no one, including the VPs, has an enclosed office.
“We love it,” said Hughes. “Before, we were working remotely in temporary spaces. So now it’s so much easier to coordinate with our team and see them face to face.”
“I really like the natural light and open space,” added Mass. “It just makes it more fun.”
Daniel Island resident Molly May, a technical requirements analyst for the firm, was equally positive about the enhanced workspace.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s been great.”
Those in attendance at last week’s event, including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, were given an opportunity to tour the building and engage in demonstrations of some of the BAH digital offerings, such as a holographic medical imaging system, “Beam” telepresence robots, and a virtual reality system using an HTC Vive headset.
“It is a true state of the art facility,” added Buske, who noted that the staff took full occupancy of the new building in February. “(It’s) a research and development facility where we get to test, build, and deliver world class solutions for clients…and we get to do it together….Today, it’s not just about an office opening. This is a homecoming for us.”
For additional information on BAH, visit https://www.boozallen.com.