Networking and communications have changed drastically over the past few years in response to emerging technologies and shifts in the government contracting sector. As communications capabilities evolve, innovative solutions are being integrated to keep GovCon organizations ahead of the curve.
Executive Mosaic spoke with Don Parente, vice president of public sector sales and solution architecture at MetTel, to get insight into how software, artificial intelligence and other technologies are changing the trajectory of networking.
Parente, who has over two decades of communications industry expertise, also shared his thoughts on the major trends influencing the GovCon market and how to achieve success in the competitive and ever-changing industry.
Which emerging technologies do you anticipate will have the greatest impact on the federal landscape in the next few years?
There’s been a lot of buzz about ‘generative AI,’ but it’s really practical applications like intelligent process automation that are driving change. When people look at AI, they’re mostly worried about chatbots that can impersonate humans or robots that are going to take over the world, but the reality is that AI is going to be used in other ways that are perhaps more impactful but not as obvious to the average person who’s not a technologist.
We’ve already started incorporating some AI capabilities in our managed network services. Some examples of this include being able to predict an outage before it happens, or looking at trends in performance to see if perhaps a customer needs additional bandwidth, or maybe they’re not using a circuit when they should be — those are the types of things that AI could allow you to do.
We also use AI in our SD-WAN product offering. When we look at the underlying network that supports the SD-WAN, we’re using AI to monitor those circuits and make sure that they’re delivering the promised level of performance for our customers. These are things we can do with greater granularity and accuracy – while enabling humans to focus on more intricate work — when we start applying intelligent process automation.
Where are you seeing opportunities for accelerated, meaningful tech growth for the U.S.?
There is a major pivot that needs to take place in networking and the architectures that we use, and it’s driven by the exponential growth in bandwidth. Everyone is using more bandwidth than ever before. When you look at the impact of the pandemic, one of the things that is not so obvious is the impact on bandwidth. For example, when we all first started working from home, we realized that we would not be seeing each other, which spurred us to move toward video calls on collaboration platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Now as we return to the office, we’re still using the video because we’re comfortable with it. But that requires exponentially more bandwidth because the video is blowing away all the legacy circuits already in place.
This requires us to start moving to architectures that are more scalable. We think broadband is going to be a big player in the future in terms of serving enterprise networks. In the past it was all ethernet, but ethernet is slow to provision at times and harder to scale. Broadband is a lot faster.
If you look at the Infrastructure Act, there’s a lot of funding going toward building out more broadband in more locations. To leverage those investments, you have to start moving into environments that are more internet-based. 5G is another great example, and I think there’s also some exciting stuff going on with low Earth orbit satellites. So being able to incorporate all those technologies to serve the new bandwidth needs is really critical.
We’re also looking at SD-WAN technology, which has been around for a few years now. It’s been more widely adopted in the enterprise space and not adopted as much in the federal space, but I think it’s going to be because of what we just talked about. When you start taking all these disparate internet technologies, whether it’s 5G, broadband or satellite, the only way to bring it all together in a cohesive way is to overlay it with a software defined networking technology. MetTel was recently the first company to deploy SD-WAN over Starlink, which was a huge accomplishment for us, and we think it’s a major area of growth moving forward.
What’s the most impactful trend you’re currently seeing in the GovCon market? How are you seeing GovCon organizations respond to that trend?
For years, people have said cybersecurity can’t be an afterthought, and I think that philosophy has finally taken hold. If you look at frameworks like SASE, which stands for Secure Access Service Edge, they’re built on a foundation of security. It starts with things like SD-WAN and then starts tying into things like firewall as a service, zero trust network access, cloud access security brokers, secure web gateways and others.
So when you start looking at the building blocks that make up networking technology, they’re inherently built around security first, and then we integrate them into the networking environment. That’s one of the biggest changes that I’m seeing over the years.
What advice do you have for GovCon companies trying to move up in today’s market and increase profitability?
What immediately comes to mind is managed services. We’ve seen the ‘great resignation – including a large sum of retirees and people opting out of what they really don’t want to do and moving on to new things. One way to fill that void is with managed services. If I had to stand up an entire network operations center and staff it for just one agency and did that for every single agency, that redundancy would make it impractical. You could build platforms and staff them in a way to serve multiple agencies at the same time. It’s a much more efficient model, and it’s more cost effective for the taxpayer.
Managed services provide a way for enterprises to scale and grow with required skills that are difficult to find in the labor market, and it’s absolutely something the government needs. So managed services are inherently more profitable because you’re doing more with less. When you deliver managed services and apply AI on top of that, you’re taking it to the next level.