INTERVIEW: James F. Taylor Jr., Intergraph's new CEO
Graphics differentiate PCs at high end
James F. Taylor Jr. was employee No. 6 at Intergraph Corp. in 1969 and is considered a founder of the Huntsville, Ala., engineering hardware and software vendor.
James F. Taylor, Jr.
Taylor has held various management and vice presidential positions at Intergraph, culminating in his election as chief executive officer earlier this year.
The era of shrink-wrapped, proprietary software for engineering is over, Taylor said. 'Where we once offered our own products, we offer products from other vendors to meet the customer's needs,' he said. 'We select the best-of-breed tools and integrate them with a heavy emphasis on services.'
To stem losses in hardware sales, Intergraph has sold some of its hardware operations and reorganized into six autonomous companies with separate profit-and-loss responsibilities.
In July, the company announced it was turning over its Zx10 ViZual graphics workstations and servers to its longtime rival, SGI.
Before joining Intergraph, Taylor worked for IBM Corp.'s federal systems division. He and several co-workers formed M&S Computing, a consulting company that specialized in advanced federal systems. His wife, Judy, worked with him at both places. He has a degree in mathematics from the University of Montevallo in Alabama.
GCN chief technology editor Susan M. Menke interviewed Taylor by telephone.GCN:'Intergraph Corp. has held Navy Computer-Aided Design 2 contracts for a number of years. What's their status?
TAYLOR: The Naval Sea Systems Command's CAD-2 contract typically runs about $20 million a year in revenue. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command's CAD-2 contract runs about $22 million a year, and the Naval Air Systems Command's contract was about $15 million last year.
In 2000, we're on track for the third quarter, which is our major buying season for CAD-2 products and services from 25 vendors and 75 subcontractors.GCN:'Is this mostly hardware or mostly software?
TAYLOR: Primarily hardware. We sell Intergraph systems as well as almost any configuration from Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. These are high-end PC systems with large memory and disk size.
The hardware sales are mixed with a considerable amount of services. We usually do the installation, maintenance and configuration of networks.GCN:'How do your federal buyers use CAD-2?
TAYLOR: It varies. Our market is about a third Army customers, a third Navy and the remainder mixed between the civilian side and the Air Force. Services make up about 70 percent of our revenues now. The rest is split between 20 percent products and 10 percent maintenance.
We've recognized the importance of electronic commerce through our home page [at www.intergraph.com
], FedCenter.com, the Transportation Department's E-mall and GSA Advantage.
The Web is more and more the vehicle of choice for all our customers to find out what's available and get up-to-date prices.GCN:'What's the leading software that agencies order?
TAYLOR: I would say it's our mapping and geographic information system software, the Modular Geographic Environment. Also GeoMedia, which works on desktop PCs and is Web-enabled to disseminate map information. A lot of our service work is based on these products.
We've found one of the best ways to enable agencies to use their information is to make it all picture- or map-based. GeoMedia takes information from any source, such as demographics, and pictures it on a map. It's one of our fastest-growing products and has doubled each year in the number of users. But you don't see it being purchased as an end solution for the desktop. It's more for Web applications, where we do services for it. We might sell 20 percent in the product and 80 percent in the services.
There's been a big breakthrough recently with the satellite-based Global Positioning System. The Defense Department has descrambled the errors induced in the GPS data that decreased its value. That has really opened up commercial use of GPS and made it a useful referencing tool to track mobile resources.
We track assets'fleets of trucks or cars or anything else. Our public-safety business segment does 911-type dispatch management for local governments, entire countries and military bases. Bases have their local police, fire and ambulances. Our systems are really command and control systems that keep track of vehicles all the time and communicate with them to get the fastest response.
We're probably the biggest player in the world in terms of ongoing interactive command and control systems.
We have SecureTrack for military installations, where we put up sensors around a facility instead of doing GPS tracking. The detection devices in the command and control environment are useful in hostile areas or for surveillance. We use everything from closed-circuit television to motion detectors. We do that for nuclear research facilities such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.GCN:'Are you working on biometrics security systems?
TAYLOR: Yes, in our public-safety division, for fingerprint and retina identification. We're also looking at devices you can wear such as a bulletproof vest. It can give feedback to the command and control system when, say, an officer is down. There are military applications for it.
We also are working on a military program for surveillance enhancement. When we use digital cameras that are moving, their images need significant enhancement. You can look for items of interest within the surveillance video and have those continue to be enhanced as the video plays. You could identify the hand of a suspect and determine whether there was a gun in it.GCN:'Who is your top hardware competitor: SGI or the vendors whose products you resell?
TAYLOR: They're all competitors. The PC that you buy from a store or from Dell Computer has become such a commodity and so powerful that there's no differentiation. You have to get into high-end graphics before you can talk about the competition.
On CAD-2, most customers buy just PCs. We sell a lot of the HP and Compaq equipment. When you get into graphics, certainly SGI has been our competitor. It has pretty much focused on Unix systems, whereas Intergraph has focused on Intel processors and Microsoft Windows.GCN:'Do you have any plans for Linux, like SGI?
- Age: 55
- Family: Judy, wife of 34 years; son, daughter and three grandchildren
- Last book read: Get Better or Get Beaten: 31 Leadership Secrets from GE's Jack Welch by Robert Slater
- Leisure activities: 'Golf'I own a golf range and teaching facility.'
- Last movie seen: 'Mission: Impossible 2'
TAYLOR: No. We don't have a program to move in that direction. We believe Linux will be an important player in the server area. As our customers require it on the CAD contracts, we will support it. Intergraph is becoming more and more a service organization, and we will implement on the Linux operating system. Our federal services organization of 600 people works in everything from GIS mapping systems to financial systems conversion.
We don't have a particular tie to any one Linux distribution. We don't plan to supply our Intergraph software products on Linux.GCN:'Do many of your CAD buyers order dual processors?
TAYLOR: No. The typical PC is so powerful that, even in the engineering world where you're working with huge amounts of video and engineering data, you don't need multiple processors on a work desk. Certainly you get into symmetric multiprocessing in the server market.
We sell a lot of server configurations with multiprocessors, but they're pretty much nonexistent anymore on a workstation.GCN:'How much RAM do your customers typically order, 128M?
TAYLOR: That's what we recommend. If the applications are database-intensive, they might add more. And 36G drives are standard. The amount of storage is phenomenal.
Buyers don't look for removable storage. The movement is toward read-write CD-ROM drives'they will be pretty much an industry standard before the year's out.
We'll finally see the death of the floppy drive. It's been around so long, it's always been the one thing you expected to keep when going to new technology. But its storage limitation has almost made it useless.
The price has finally come down enough for writable CD-ROM drives that we're going to see the floppy disappear.GCN:'What about the displays you sell, how big are they?
TAYLOR: We sell mostly CRTs. The LCD flat screens are still expensive. Everybody wants them, but no one seems to be able to afford them. The price is coming down some, but it still can't compete with the CRT.
Orders are about half-and-half for 17-inch and 21-inch CRTs. Everybody wants a 21-inch, but again it's whether they can justify the price.