Consultancy Booz Allen plans Boston expansion into big data

Booz Allen Hamilton’s roots go back 101 years. But that hasn’t stopped the management consulting giant from trying to play a key role in the Financial District’s emerging innovation hub, dominated by much younger entrepreneurs.

Booz Allen is planning a major downtown expansion as it makes its Boston office an important center for its data science and analytics operations.

The McLean, Va., company expects to move from its Batterymarch Street office into about 13,000 square feet at 50 Milk St. in February. That’s the same building where the Cambridge Innovation Center opened a Boston outpost of its tech startup space last year, spanning a number of floors.

Booz Allen’s executive vice president, Fred Blackburn, said he expects that within 18 months the Boston office will add 100 data scientists — the kind of experts who use analytics to solve business problems. That’s in addition to the 67 current employees moving from the much smaller office on Batterymarch Street. Blackburn said the firm could hire an additional 100 people in the subsequent 18 months. It employs about 22,500 people globally.

“There’s such a rich talent pool here in the Boston space,” Blackburn said. “We really see this as a key innovation hub for us as we go forward. There just flat out isn’t the quality and richness of the talent pool anywhere else.”

Booz Allen’s local expansion can be traced back nearly three years, when its executives embarked on an aggressive strategy to pursue private-sector clients. At the time, nearly all of its revenue came from the federal government. That’s because the consultancy had split up in 2008, with Booz Allen retaining the government-focused workers. The commercial-sector teams were placed under the Booz & Co. banner (and later acquired by PwC).

Booz Allen managers saw the data analytics practice in Boston as a prime resource, one that could make the firm more attractive to private-sector clients by showing them ways to use data-crunching to solve real-world business problems. So they began ramping up local staffing levels.

Recently, Booz Allen has made a point of embedding itself within Boston’s innovation community, chief scientist Alex Cosmas said.

One example: The company just set aside $10,000 for a prize for the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, to award a team in the business plan contest that most effectively uses data analytics for business innovation.

Another example: Last year, Booz Allen bought Epidemico, a nearly 30-person Boston firm that specializes in analyzing population health data.

“There are Booz Allen consultants volunteering their time willingly to go to meetups, to go to seminars, [to visit] local universities every single day,” Cosmas said.

Cosmas said Booz Allen considered the Seaport District and Cambridge for its new Boston-area office. But the Cambridge Innovation Center’s expansive startup space on the other side of Post Office Square, in a building formerly occupied by the investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman, made staying in the Financial District particularly appealing. Booz Allen expects to co-host events with the center.

Stas Gayshan, managing director at the center, said it could be helpful for many of the nearly 200 startups at the Boston outpost to forge relationships with the management consultancy.

“Large companies are really good at scaling innovation,” Gayshan said. “It’s the way you take innovation to the world.”

Blackburn said that Booz Allen focuses on big companies for traditional consulting revenue. But he sees opportunities among startups for revenue-sharing agreements or to take small equity stakes in these young firms, he said.

And, of course, there’s the hunt for talent. Mixing with recent college graduates can only help as Booz Allen looks to fill positions in its rapidly expanding local staff. (In total, it employs about 180 people in Greater Boston, including at offices in Lexington and Westborough and the Epidemico operation.)

And it’s not just the density of data-analytics talent in Boston that Booz Allen finds attractive. It’s the attitude.

“The culture in Boston is to care about the public good, to solve tough problems, and not just create the next billion-dollar company [or] turn a quick buck,” Cosmas said.