AT&T claws back in federal game
- By Thomas R. Temin
- Feb 20, 2003
Chris Rooney, AT&T's federal quarterback
Christopher Rooney, president of AT&T Corp.'s government solutions group in McLean, Va., and a 20-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, heads sales to federal, state and local governments.
Before joining AT&T, Rooney was chief executive officer of Priority Telecom, a publicly traded competitive local exchange carrier in Europe, and president of Global One, which is jointly owned by Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom and Sprint Corp.
Rooney spent more than 10 years at Sprint, including a stint in its federal division during the early days of FTS 2001, when he oversaw the company's strategy for capturing part of the massive telecommunications contract.
Rooney served in the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel. A native of Chicago, he received a bachelor's degree in history and business administration from St. Bernard College in Cullman, Ala., and a master's in computer science from the American University in Washington.
GCN executive editor Thomas R. Temin interviewed Rooney at his McLean office.GCN: You've seen a lot of changes in the last few years in the telecommunications industry. How do you define AT&T Corp.'s federal approach today?
ROONEY: We call it AT&T government solutions, and we just recently put that name in place. I see, now that I've joined, a solid company with a solid position in the market, high integrity and high quality.
Things that they've stood for for years are now very, very important'even more important than they might have been three or four years ago.
This year, we will assume responsibility for the state sector.GCN: When we used to think of AT&T, we thought of switched telephone service.
ROONEY: We're bidding on work today and winning work that people wouldn't have imagined years ago: the firstgov.gov contract, the e-commerce and e-business environment. Those are things you wouldn't have thought about in our space.
Another thing that's in adjudication right now is called USA Jobs. It's a hiring site sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management, and it will help the government recruit high-quality candidates.
Today you have to do everything from putting together an end-to-end solution to supporting an agency on an ongoing basis in a wide range of things from portal implementation to Web hosting. This is a market that we're now in.
We've got about 3,800 people in our federal business. We've added about 400 over the last nine months. About 150 jobs are open right now, so that gives you a sense of our growth.
Another capability of AT&T that I see as important in the federal space is R&D.
We have about 7,000 scientists who work in the AT&T labs. That team is especially helpful in the government sector, where organizations like the Defense Information Systems Agency, for instance, have a real need to look at the latest technology. DISA needs the full gamut of situations that AT&T has worked in, experimented with and implemented over the past 100 years.GCN: Can you give me an example?
ROONEY: Well, for example, we have a massive fraud detection system within AT&T.
We have tens of millions of consumer customers, and one of our charges is to protect them from fraud when using their telephone numbers, their credit card numbers and so forth.
We've developed a strong capability around data warehousing and data management. We are taking those techniques and technologies developed for fraud management and bringing them to our clients in the federal sector.
Another thing we're working hard at is developing our relationships with small businesses. In some situations you'll see us in the lead, in others you'll see us as a subcontractor, and in still others we'll be teaming with small businesses.GCN: After the scandals at WorldCom Inc., have you noticed any increase in customer interest in AT&T as an alternative?
ROONEY: I think the problems WorldCom has experienced have been deleterious across the industry and certainly in the federal sector. I think they've done a good job'and I'm giving them credit'protecting their customers in the federal sector.
I do see in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, and in the wake of WorldCom's problems, that all of our customers are evaluating having multiple suppliers, having security backups, having business continuity plans.GCN: Looking back on your stints in the federal market, how has it changed?
ROONEY: I think one of the challenges facing the government is the aging work force. As I look at the work force now, after having come back into the market 10 years later, there are a lot of the same folks. I'm not sure what the statistic is, but around 45 percent of those folks are going to retire within five years.
Just as we have a program to recruit college graduates into the telecom business, the government is facing a similar challenge on a much larger scale.
I guess another thing I've noticed is what the Office of Management and Budget is trying to bring to the procurement process, in terms of looking at the return on investment and the business models. Those are good things that are going to drive the future.
The Sept. 11 crisis seems to have awakened some portions of government. There's a positive rethinking and refocusing by many agencies. That's probably been the biggest change I've seen.GCN: On the technology or product front, what are some of the things agencies are going to buy more of?
ROONEY: Certainly they'll buy the whole IP family of products and services. Clearly there's an integration of technologies'through AT&T's labs we have the ability to demonstrate things like voice over IP and things like voice recognition. AT&T has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in that area.
I see voice recognition technology being adapted to customer care, cost reduction and improved productivity.GCN: How about voice recognition for authentication?
ROONEY: We think voice printing is there. The products are changing or evolving into services. But in many cases they are still underpinned by basic telephony technology.
At the end of the day, we are talking about glass [fiber] in the ground. It's what you do at the end of that glass that is critical, how you integrate the IT work and the telecommunications work with brainpower.
We used to go out and sell just raw capability. Ten or 12 years ago it was, 'Send me phone lines, send me phone calls.' Now people are looking for much, much more sophistication.
Also, the CIO community has developed over the last 10 years. Now you have a portfolio of people who are truly CIOs. They're bringing forth all that knowledge and saying, 'Here's a requirement. I don't want to buy 155 lines from you; I want something that's going to help me resolve this business issue.'
They're thinking about enterprise architectures. We have a practice we've put in place to support the development of enterprise architectures. Ten years ago you wouldn't have seen any of the traditional long-distance carriers in that business.GCN: Any programs in particular you're aiming for?
ROONEY: Of the major procurements out there right now that come to mind, there is the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Entry Exit Program. We're really talking about securing our borders.
That's a situation we've been working on for about a year. It's one we feel is uniquely in our space'together with our partners in the telecommunications network, for sure'but just as importantly, an IT solution that will allow the rapid screening of every person crossing the borders.
At the same time, the screening must improve rather than impede commerce.
DISA is involved in a large undertaking with its Gigabit Ethernet program. We hope to play a role assisting the Defense Department to build out that capability.
All these procurements are large and significant in terms of their impact on the nation.