INTERVIEW: Retired Col. Verle B. Hammond, master logistician

Logistics moves from paper to the Net

Col. Verle B. Hammond

As president and chief executive officer of Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc. of McLean, Va., retired Col. Verle B. Hammond has charted Innolog's growth from eight employees and $250,000 in contracts in 1989 to 500 employees and $50 million annual revenues today.

And, this happens to be the talented logistician's second career.

Hammond retired in 1984 as an Army colonel after 28 years of service in logistics and weapons systems acquisition.

He has been the recipient of numerous community honors for his entrepreneurial and technical skills and accomplishments.

Hammond has spent 44 years in the logistics business.

He has a master's degree in business administration from Florida State University and a bachelor's in mathematics and physics from Florida A&M University.

GCN chief technology editor Susan M. Menke interviewed Hammond by telephone.

GCN:'What does Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc. do for government agencies?

HAMMOND: We do logistics systems engineering with what I refer to as a one-two punch. We have in-depth functional knowledge of supply chain logistics. We have always focused on how to apply appropriate technology to improve logistics processes.

We have about 60 contracts, mostly with the Defense Department. By far our largest customer has been the Army, primarily the Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, Va. We also work for the Communications'Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Ala., and the Chemical and Biological Defense Command in the Boston area.

Our mix of functional experts and information technology professionals'logisticians, systems analysts, process specialists and programmers'tries to improve procurement, purchasing or distribution processes.

We also have a growing presence within the Air Force. We recently won a contract to work at the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

We're currently working for the Naval Research Laboratory, the Naval Air Systems Command, the Naval Supply Systems Command, and the Space and Warfare Systems Center.

Among civilian agencies, we're doing work for the State Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Census Bureau and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

GCN:'All those contracts are for logistics?

HAMMOND: In most cases. Some of them are what you might call derivatives.

For example, the Air Force might not talk about logistics but about acquisition support. We support the folks who are trying to develop new fighter aircraft and so forth, but it's still logistics.

GCN:'What sort of tools does a logistician use?

HAMMOND: If you happen to have a cup of coffee on your desk'as I do'it took logistics to get that coffee to where you can drink it. Logisticians are responsible for working the entire chain of events, and there have been some significant changes over the last several years.

When I started in the business, we were concerned primarily with moving that coffee cup'or moving ammunition for the Army. Nowadays, with communications and Web technology, the emphasis has shifted to being proactive in moving the information about the things as opposed to moving the actual things.

GCN:'Are logistics systems off-the-shelf or custom-designed?

HAMMOND: Many are custom, but there are a number of commercial tools on the market. Our first approach is to understand what the customer needs, and if there's the right commercial package on the market, we do that. We also develop specific software. In many cases we combine various commercial packages to work together.

One of the things that's used on a routine basis is the Internet. The emphasis now in logistics is having the right information at the right time on the right person's computer'being able to extract information from legacy systems or communicate with other parts of an organization.

Many times, when I first started this business, I got requests from the Pentagon to solve a certain kind of problem. The first tool I used back in those days was simply a pad of paper and a pencil. Nowadays, my folks would take a laptop computer with company data and access other resources through the Internet.

GCN:'You've said that citizens have certain expectations for electronic government. What are they?

HAMMOND: Citizens expect government to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. As taxpayers, we expect a good return for our dollars. We expect online services to be accessible. There are a lot of opportunities with Web technology to serve citizens better.

GCN:'How do you expect the new digital signature law to affect the way agencies do business and how people interact with government?

HAMMOND: That remains to be seen. I think there are going to be issues to resolve, but my overall view is that we've got to get used to this technology. There will be some resistance, but I think we'll get over it.

We anticipate implementing digital signature technology as our customers enhance their supply chains with Internet applications. Right now, digital certificates are the best alternative for ensuring the source and protecting the privacy of e-mail, and they are a viable method for ensuring that you know exactly who is using your systems.

GCN:'How hard is it for a company such as yours to find IT workers compared with, say, the Army? Many vendors and agencies say it's their No. 1 problem.

HAMMOND: It is. We probably have a little better luck than perhaps the Army does because there's sort of an unfounded stigma about working for the government.

It's not only finding the right people with the right skills, it's keeping them.

I recently lost a bright young fellow who'd been with the company four years and was in charge of internal information systems. He got an offer he couldn't refuse and told me he'd been getting calls from headhunters every week for a year or so. It's quite a problem for all of us.

GCN:'What's the answer for the military services?

HAMMOND: I don't know. I worry about that because I feel in some ways I'm still in uniform. They've got to make sure the pay is competitive, but that's not the only thing.

One of my assignments was heading a Reserve Officers Training Corps department. My responsibility was to recruit and train college students to become lieutenants and stay in the Army.

What's more

' Family: Wife, three children, seven grandchildren, and many cousins, nephews and nieces

' Car currently driven:'Infiniti Q45

' Last books read:'Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball and The Last Full Measure by Jeff M. Shaara

' Leisure activities:'Golf, racquetball and reading

' Motto:''If you work hard, treat others with dignity and respect, and always take care of business, success and happiness will come.'

People want an opportunity to be competitive, to be heard, to be listened to. Sometimes you don't get that in the military environment.

High-tech people tend to like freedom to dress a certain way and to work hours other than 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.'say, midnight to seven in the morning.

Many a day I've walked in to find one of our brightest techies stretched out on a couch in the lobby after having worked all night.

Being flexible like that, I think, is one answer. I'm not sure the military services can be quite that flexible, but in my opinion that's one of the solutions.

GCN:'I understand there's a war story about your very first contract.

HAMMOND: I had a background in military logistics and a reputation for knowing a bit about systems development. Shortly after I started the company, I was approached by a senior person at the Pentagon and asked whether I would be interested in working on a problem the Army was trying to solve. It had to do with shortening the time it took to get parts moved to a repair center. It was taking up to a month to get, say, a carburetor to repair a tank.

If you have a problem with your lawnmower carburetor, you can go to Sears, Roebuck and get a part within two days if they don't have it on the shelf. So I was challenged: Why can't the Army do equally well? I was asked if I could solve the problem within 60 days using computer technology.

I was then told I had a week to come back and tell how I would do it. The guidance was on the back of an envelope, sketched out in pencil. I took that sketch and my two or three analysts, and we went back a week later with a concept that led to our being given an opportunity at Fort Hood, Texas, to prove we could do it.

We used a lot of chewing gum and Scotch tape and some big computers, and at the end of 60 days, we'd proved we could solve the problem. The Army put out a request for proposals to have that system developed in Europe.

I thought I was going to get a sole-source contract. I wasn't that lucky. But when the RFP came out, we bid on it as an upstart company that had been in business a few months, and we won against some pretty stiff competition.

Long story short: It's now part of the Army's standard systems.


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