Change demands new partnerships
- By William Jackson
- Sep 24, 2003
Todd S. Ramsey, IBM's Global Government Chief
Todd S. Ramsey began directing federal business for IBM Corp. in 1991, when he was named vice president and general manager of the former IBM Federal Systems Co.
Today, as general manager of IBM's global government industry unit in Bethesda, Md., he is responsible for the company's business with all governments, from state and local to foreign.
Ramsey joined IBM in 1972 as a hardware systems designer and later worked as an engineer for both the Air Force and IBM, specializing in communications systems and space projects. He joined the company's marketing and sales organization in 1979. Before his current job, he was vice president and general manager of IBM government industry for the Asia-Pacific region and lived for two years in Singapore.
Ramsey holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Akron and a master's in business administration from Auburn University.
Senior editor William Jackson interviewed Ramsey by telephone. GCN: Talk about the government contracts you're working on.
RAMSEY: We are doing a lot of modernization in the federal space. One of the higher-profile jobs is the Customs Modernization Prime Integration Contract'transforming the way business is done and putting an IT infrastructure in place to support it. $1.3 billion is the published value. It's a 15-year deal with options.
We have some large contracts with the Transportation Security Administration that have similar attributes. They start with business process transformation and flow down to the infrastructure needed.
We are doing a number of enterprise integrations with transformational elements. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service is trying to bring together all financial systems. Today, if you want to know how much it costs to do a sortie, you have to go to probably 57 different systems to get tidbits. DFAS wants to create a more integrated financial system across the Defense Department.
We have a number of pinpointed applications'managing the Forest Service's information network, helping the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service with some inspections. And we do a fair amount of infrastructure optimization.GCN: What about homeland security projects?
RAMSEY: That extends out into the local space, bringing together all of the emergency responders. We have a project with 30 local response agencies across Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, called the Capital Area Wireless Integrated Network. It integrates incident management, messaging and file checking across jurisdictions. We're working with a lot of local governments to pull together the funding streams that flow from the states.GCN: There has been some recent criticism of the work of IBM and other contractors in modernization programs at the IRS and DOD. How do you respond?
RAMSEY: I think government procurements in general are challenged to deal with the complexity of what needs to be accomplished. You need a good partnership between a business owner and a contractor to see what is required and the best way to go about it.
The traditional government approach of writing a document that lays out specific requirements really limits the ability to communicate and make changes that are almost always going to be required as you go forward.
Auditors like to see specific dates and milestones. They like it in black and white. It's not focused on the business results, it's focused on the process. Only the business owner is focused on getting the right results.
When you look at most so-called failed programs, you tend to find the business goal changed during the process, and the mechanism for that change was made difficult by the contractual negotiations.
There needs to be a more interactive process in defining where to go and how you're going to get there. The IRS modernization project was designed with a little more flexibility, so my impression is that it is going better than the IRS approach of 10 years ago, which was an abject failure. But when you have a huge program, you're going to find problems.GCN: What trends do you see in IT acquisition?
RAMSEY: We're seeing a high frustration at agencies about their inability to get the results they want. So they are looking for creative alternatives.
Some of the things TSA is doing have gone to contract very quickly. They're looking at the selection of a contractor with the idea they are going to do a lot more detailed design together, rather than trying to write it all in the request for proposals. There also are more multiple-contract vehicles that let the user choose among existing contractors.GCN: What impact has outsourcing had on government acquisition?
RAMSEY: The trend has been spotty. The United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia went for outsourcing eight to 10 years ago in a big way, primarily driven financially.
There has been inherent reluctance to outsource in the United States. The Navy-Marine Corps Intranet is the largest outsourcing program happening in the U.S. federal government, and it has run into some problems. I think it's given people pause about how much they want to move forward into outsourcing.GCN: SCO Group of Linden, Utah, is alleging that IBM improperly copied proprietary code into its Linux software, and SCO has cancelled several IBM licenses. Is this a concern for federal customers?
RAMSEY: Because there are lawsuits involved, they don't want me independently commenting. I could only parrot whatever the IBM position is.
GCN: Under the Federal Information Security Management Act, agencies now have to include security plans in their IT programs. Have you seen a change?
RAMSEY: Security is obviously a big concern, but it is very difficult to add as an afterthought. So building security into a design is the way people want to go.
Customers see that you need to embed security as a basic building block, and as you transform processes you need to think about it as a part of that, so it isn't just in the infrastructure.GCN: IBM promotes its vision of an 'on-demand world.' How does that fit into e-government initiatives?
RAMSEY: On-demand has three elements. First is business transformation to drive processes across government rather than staying within an agency. Second is cultural change to train people to operate these new processes. The third element is IT optimization.
The Office of Management and Budget has been driving those three elements perfectly. Where we see the most activity is in getting the IT infrastructure piece optimized. You can realize some early savings, so there is a lot of focus on that.
The business process transformation is much harder. The government has some good structures in place using the President's Management Council to drive it. We're seeing the beginnings of movement.GCN: Moving services to the Web requires re-engineering. Is this cost-effective when the old paper processes have to be maintained for the foreseeable future?
RAMSEY: In the first stage where you put your current processes online, you don't have to change the process. Building a portal makes it easier to combine multiple transactions, but it tends to mask complexity and doesn't really force change in the process.
It's true that you have to invest in doing things a new way while you're still doing them the old way, so you don't get the savings of eliminating the manual system for months or even years.GCN: What could make it easier to move services online?
RAMSEY: We need strong senior leadership. Most governments are at a crisis point'fiscal problems, security issues, and the baby boomers nearing retirement and taking their institutional knowledge and know-how.
The change needs to be led by chief elected officials and senior executives. CIOs and others can help them implement it, but unless they get together and say, 'We've got to change the process and the way we operate,' it will not get done.