Abt Associates focuses its operations on making people’s lives better.
By Alan Dorich, Knighthouse Media
Abt Associates is in the business of improving the quality of life for people worldwide. “We’re not your typical type of company,” Vice President of Contracts and Procurement Lisa Ashcraft declares. “The people here are extraordinarily passionate about helping other people.”
Founder Clark Abt started the Cambridge, Mass.-based company in 1965 and initially performed research for the Department of Defense. But over the years, Abt has grown to provide research and consulting services on domestic social policy and international development.
In addition, the company offers data collection and surveys, digital transformations, monitoring and evaluation services, and technical assistance and implementation services. “We have a diverse set of capabilities in our company,” Ashcraft states.
Today, Abt works in nearly 60 countries, with over 90 percent of its contracts held by U.S. government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “We address everything from homelessness in Houston to malaria in Mali,” Ashcraft says.
Nice and Smooth
Abt’s contract and procurement operations are represented by its contracts team (client-facing), its procurement team, comprised of its purchasing and subcontracts group, plus its small business program office. Because the company does not make any products, it largely engages other professional service companies.
According to Ashcraft, these are essential to Abt being able to implement programs and complete studies. “If there’s a capability or competency we need to buy, we will source and look to contract with the right company to fulfill that particular need,” she says.
“But don’t get me wrong,” says Ashcraft, “we do procure many supply items as well!” A good example is when the company performs malaria spraying in Africa. It will purchase the various items needed, including the insecticide, spray gear and protective clothing. “We even buy trucks and other vehicles to transport the spray workers from village to village,” she says.
“Getting some of these items to remote villages can be extraordinarily challenging,” Ashcraft admits, adding that the company has to make sure that it hires the right number of people, as well as have the appropriate number of products.
One imperative, she emphasizes, is that operations run smoothly and that is achieved when the procurement team and the operations side of the business work in lockstep. Accordingly, both sides meet regularly to understand, in this example, how long they will be spraying, as well as confirm exactly what they will need, when and where.
“Truly, my team is in a business partnership,” Ashcraft says. “If you don’t have effective communication throughout those channels, a break down may happen and something detrimental to program success could occur.”
Abt also takes a similar approach when it comes to surveys, e.g., a study of veterans with PTSD for the Veterans Administration, “We have an entire group that’s dedicated to survey work,” she says.
“They’re incredibly adept,” Ashcraft continues. “[They] have vision when it comes to putting together business analysis tools to synthesize large amounts of data enabling them to make insightful recommendations to our clients.”
Abt has – and continues to – update its technology. While the company recently upgraded its ERP system, the procurement team also has implemented tools that will benefit staff throughout the firm, empowering them to work more efficiently, Ashcraft says.
These tools include Oracle’s iSupplier Portal, which allows Abt to electronically transmit its purchase orders to suppliers. Its suppliers and subcontractors can now check their invoices and payment status through the portal as well.
According to Ashcraft, this system is not only critical for making sure things are running smoothly, but also enhances transparency in establishing strong relationships with its subcontractors and suppliers. “It’s important to me that we treat our subcontractors and suppliers fairly,” she states.
“Enabling our suppliers is going to alleviate a lot of the angst that comes with phone calls to Abt, asking, ‘Where’s my payment?’” she says. In addition, the portal allows its subcontractors and suppliers to be more proactive when it comes to registrations. “In the past, we hadn’t had that. This tool will ultimately allow for much more in the way of self-service. It’s truly a win-win.”
A 35-year veteran of the contracts and procurement industry, Ashcraft previously worked for many government contractors in the Washington, D.C., area. “Each one was a progressively bigger career step,” she recalls.
But since joining Abt nine years ago, she has not looked back. “I love what I do and the company for which I work,” Ashcraft says, noting that she is proud of the company and its focus on making lives better.
Abt has recently achieved EDGE Certification and is the first U.S. government implementing partner to meet the global business standard for gender equality.
“We’re very proud of that achievement,” she says, as well as being named by USAID as its Large Business Contractor of the Year in 2017 in recognition of the accomplishments of Abt’s Small Business Program and their success in partnering with small businesses domestically and overseas.
Ashcraft herself is a recipient of the Professional Services Council’s PSC Leadership Award for her dedicated work with the organization. “I represent our company on a number of different councils and committees, so I was really thrilled to be recognized,” she says.
She also praises her team at Abt. “I have simply the most hard-working, dedicated and smart group of people,” she says. “My commitment to them is to be a good leader, to be transparent, to communicate actively, to listen and to enable them to excel professionally.”
Ashcraft notes that she strives to stay positive when working with her team. “If I don’t come in with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step every day, my attitude can otherwise affect how they feel,” she states. “I am like their own personal Energizer Bunny! Being a good leader for them is paramount to me. They also know that I live and work by the Golden Rule and am here to provide assistance. I am extremely proud of my team and the value they bring to Abt.”
Ashcraft sees a strong future for Abt, which is well positioned with its diverse customer base. “You generally don’t run into companies that are as diverse as we are,” she says, noting that it serves a variety of domestic and international clients.
But Abt, she explains, is working to find new ways to cater to its clients. “We are now looking at our own company’s capabilities and trying to expand that footprint with the agencies with which we currently work,” she says.
In addition, “We are in a wonderful position to continue our growth and expand our social impact,” Ashcraft says, noting as well that Abt regularly partners with local schools to aid students who cannot afford school supplies or need additional tutoring with their homework, among its many community outreach activities.
“We do everything we can to improve the quality of life and economic wellbeing of people around the world,” she says. “It feels great to work for a company that is dedicated to bettering people’s lives and I’m proud to work here.”