An interview with ADI Executive Director, Matthew Cornelius

ADI Executive Director, Matthew Cornelius

By: Carissa Nee, Director of Communications and Marketing, Aveshka

This past May, Aveshka became a formal member of the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI). I spoke with Matthew Cornelius, ADI’s Executive Director to talk about his views on Aveshka’s addition to the ADI membership as well as gain perspective on ADI’s near term moves to help modernize IT for the government. 

Aveshka: Matthew – thank you for the opportunity to shed some insight into ADI and its important initiatives. For those that are unfamiliar, please tell us about ADI and how you came to your current role as its Executive Director.

Matthew:  ADI is a coalition of customer-centric commercial technology companies focused on empowering Federal agencies to better deliver the modern, secure, effective digital experiences that citizens deserve. ADI exists to serve as a unified voice for innovative companies who are dramatically accelerating transformational change in government through the use of commercial technology. Our mission is to aggressively drive digital modernization within government by breaking down institutional barriers, advocating for necessary change, and generating tangible results – for policymakers, for agency leaders and, most importantly, for our fellow citizens.

As for my role as Executive Director, I joined ADI last December. Before then, I had worked for several years in high level technology and cybersecurity policy roles in the White House, during which I had worked with numerous industry and association partners on key priorities. I got to know ADI and loved their enthusiastic members, sharp policy insights, and strong focus on improving the way the government buys and uses commercial capabilities to achieve mission outcomes. So, as I was looking for the next step in my career… it happened to coincide with ADI’s search for a full-time Executive Director. It just felt like a perfect fit for me… and I hope our members will say the same now that I am on board!

Aveshka: ADI’s membership base consists of firms of varying sizes – ranging from large scale companies like AWS and Google to mid-size firms like Aveshka and even smaller companies. How does ADI go about choosing companies and organizations to become part of the Alliance? 

Matthew: The most important thing for ADI as we consider new members is if they “believe what we believe, and if they have a unique perspective to share on our priority issues.” As for the size and diversity of our membership, that is a core feature from ADI’s inception. We make it cost effective for companies of all sizes to join and to have their voice heard. It doesn’t matter if you are our largest member or our smallest, each member has the same vote. New members join through a variety of channels (inquiries to our website, recommendations from current members, etc.) but we have a very objective, rigorous application and evaluation process to ensure anyone who is interested in joining is treated fairly. We have grown over 30% in membership since the beginning of the year and I’d love to see us continue to expand our membership… so we always keep the door open for companies that are thoughtful, innovative, and looking to drive true digital transformation, cybersecurity improvements, and IT modernization in government.

Aveshka: Aveshka values its partnership with ADI and seeks to carry out ADI’s mission. From your perspective, what was appealing about Aveshka specifically joining ADI? 

Matthew:  Aveshka was always a very compelling and interesting potential member for ADI. As I said, we look to welcome and include new members that share our priorities – and Aveshka clearly fits that bill. For me personally, I was astounded by the innovative solutions Aveshka was bringing to the Federal market and the speed at which you were building your partnerships across agencies and industry. Aveshka has been incredibly involved in OTA consortia, which ADI strongly supports, and is focused strongly on leveraging new and emerging technologies that are just barely being piloted in government at an incredible speed. I loved Aveshka’s aggressive, but customer focused, nature and willingness to jump in immediately start working collaboratively with our other members on key policy efforts.

Aveshka: Within the last few months, ADI’s membership has grown. In your mind what is the ideal number of companies that you’d like to see as part of ADI’s membership base? 

Matthew:  I don’t know that there is an ideal number for ADI. My main focus is that we grow smarter, not just larger. We want to bring on other innovative, creative companies that value our mission and the relationships they will build among our current member base. I expect that we will continue to grow because the issues we focus on are so timely now, especially with the response and recovery efforts the government is leading to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. IT Modernization is important to all citizens now – because they are experiencing in real and visceral ways how legacy systems and poor technology development in the government is keeping them from getting the benefits and services they deserve. This means that Congress and Administration stakeholders at all levels are looking for policy solutions to improve the way the government is buying and delivering technology to meet citizen needs – so ADI’s mission has really met the moment. I think there are lots of other companies in this space who believe what we do and will want to join… and we definitely welcome their interest!

Aveshka: There are clear benefits for industry partners to collaborate and come together.  Can you share with us some recent examples and success stories of how ADI member companies have partnered up to solve problems for the federal government?

Matthew:  Honestly, I don’t think a week has gone by since I took on this role at ADI where I haven’t seen a press release, blog, or other announcement from an ADI member about some new contract they have been awarded, some new partnership agreement they have finalized, or some new challenge was addressed because of a partnership between that member (or members together) and the government. The types of products and services our members provide are more important and necessary now more than ever – so I expect those types of stories to continue. While I don’t want to single out any one company (like I said, there’s just too many great examples!), we do try to highlight those efforts on our website and social media channels – because we are proud of the work our members do on behalf of the American people and, importantly, each success brings some new ideas and opportunities for ADI as a group to engage policymakers, lawmakers, and other partners to highlight these powerful outcomes and help advocating for innovative commercial technology solutions in government. 

Aveshka: You recently testified at the Subcommittee on Government Operations Committee on Oversight and Reform, stating that the government has a cultural problem, choosing to operate on outdated systems that are tailored only to that specific agency’s needs and requirements. What are the high-level activities ADI plans to execute in the near term to help change that culture and mindset to adopting modernized IT systems and COTS solutions? 

Matthew: Yes, I recently testified on Federal IT Modernization in front of the House of Representatives… and it was a very surreal experience to do it in the middle of a pandemic. But the fact that Congress was putting a focus on how critical modernization is to the COVID-19 relief efforts just shows how much more attention ADI’s core issues are receiving from those who need to take action. As for near term priorities, we want to continue educating Congress and advocating for smarter, more targeted modernization and cybersecurity spending in any upcoming relief bills – because these investments are so necessary to deal with the constantly evolving coronavirus response efforts. Agencies are relying on commercial capabilities to deal with the pandemic, so continued funding for these efforts is vital. In addition, we are working with Congress to ensure agencies have access to rapid procurement authorities that will enable them to pilot and scale innovative technology solutions quickly and to instantiate a “commercial first” framework in the broader acquisition process that will drive agencies to prioritize commercial capabilities first in their procurements, rather than designing the kind of long term, overly specific contracts that have repeatedly failed and costed outrageously too much money. In the more medium term, we are building out our priorities for the next Congress and Administration (regardless of what happens in November) so that we can make some necessary changes to law and policy that will speed up the adoption curve for commercial technology in Federal agencies, improve Federal cybersecurity spending and outcomes, and encourage stronger public-private sector engagement, learning, and training that will lift the skill level and competency of both agencies and industry so that they can more effectively partner together to achieve important outcomes for our fellow citizens. 

As one can see, there is a lot left to do – this is precisely why ADI has partnered with thought leaders like Aveshka.