Web services extend system functions
- By Joab Jackson
- Aug 18, 2004
Raymond B. Wells, IBM's federal tech chief
Raymond B. Wells had plenty of experience implementing large-scale government systems before he became chief technology officer for the federal unit of IBM Corp.
In 1981 and 1982, Wells was chief financial officer of Alabama, responsible for overhauling the state's financial management systems. Then, as chief technology officer between 1988 and 1992, he shepherded completion of the statewide Financial Resources Management System, which some other states have taken as a model for their own endeavors.
Wells joined IBM in 1993. Besides his CTO duties, he is on assignment to a classified federal agency. He also is vice president of strategic transformation for the IBM Software Group's application integration and middleware division.
He has been a member of the academic and research faculty at Auburn University in Alabama, and has headed a consulting company. Wells received undergraduate and master's degrees in political science from Mississippi State University as well as a doctorate from Texas Tech University.
GCN associate editor Joab Jackson interviewed Wells at his Bethesda, Md., office.GCN: Did you start your career in financial management or IT?
WELLS: Both. I was chief financial officer for the state of Alabama before I had the lead technical role. In fact, the chief financial officer at Alabama really was the role of chief operating officer. It had both of those missions.
The systems management division and telecommunications division were under my charge. In a later administration, I came back as the chief technology officer for the state.
The first administration I worked for was under Gov. [Forrest] 'Fob' James. In the second administration I served, Guy Hunt was governor. George Wallace's fourth term came in between those two.GCN: NASA has been having difficulty getting its financial system up to speed, and the Homeland Security Department is hurrying to get its systems running. Why are agency finance systems so difficult?
WELLS: Government has two sets of requirements for the accounting process. The Government Accounting Standards Board has evolved one set of standards. And for commercial practices, we have the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
If you look at large government organizations, they spend both governmental funds and enterprise funds, which are managed by two different sets of rules.
If Congress appropriated the money, it will most likely be managed around governmental accounting standards.
If it is a service fund'an internal enterprise fund such as a motor pool'it will collect money from users of the motor vehicle fleet for their use of those vehicles.
The cost won't be just the cost of gasoline. The cost will be some amortized amount for use of the vehicles, perhaps charged by the mile.
The fund will accumulate money to replace the vehicles at some rate and will pay for gasoline while charging [government offices] 28 cents a mile for use of the vehicles. That becomes an enterprise service fund.
They could charge for computer usage in the same way, or telephone usage in the same way.
Instead of requiring each individual to buy a telephone from the telephone company, they would buy a big switch and put in the phone lines and phones and charge so much per desk for the use of those phones in a monthly period. Those funds are managed according to the rules set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
So you have to manage those funds in two different ways, but you can manage them with a common set of systems. You just have to keep track of which funds are which, and which rules apply. It is necessary to follow the rules because otherwise you have Enron Corp. accounting.
In Homeland Security's case, it has 22 agencies and probably 22 accounting systems along with them. You don't need 22 systems, you need just one. So the task is to put a financial management model in place for all of DHS. They can manage for each individual agency, but they also need to manage for the department as a whole.
I had the same challenge in Alabama. I had 130 different agencies with 130 different accounting systems, or accounting processes. Sometimes they weren't even systems.
I was chief financial officer in 1981 when the recession hit. Our systems were fragmented. The only way we could manage effectively was just to throw human capital at the problems. We managed from payroll to payroll, because that was all the data we held.
We fixed that by the time a much smaller recession hit in 1991, and we changed to an accounting system that was completely automated.
I put all of the financial management departments onto a common departmental accounting system. I had a state accounting system, a common human resources system, a common purchasing system. I aggregated everything at the corporate level.GCN: What problems did you encounter during the recessions?
WELLS: In state governments, the largest sources of revenue typically are income tax and sales tax. If your unemployment rate goes to 16 percent, which is what Alabama's did, the money stops coming in. And so you need to be able to make decisions about where you will spend or not spend.
If you don't have accurate data or enough data, if you can't manage your cash flow, then things just get chaotic. You completely lose track.
In order to keep on track, we had to devote huge amounts of human resources to watch all the data and its flows. It's much easier to keep track of that with highly automated, highly integrated systems. Then you can make reasonable decisions about where to cut. You can achieve a much higher level of efficiency and a much better government in the process.
I typically approach technology issues from the business perspective. It's not about the technology, it's about the business and how to handle the business processes with the technology. What you need to do first is understand what the business model is, and then understand how you substantiate the business processes required to support that business model with technology.
By and large, numbers of different things are going to be happening in any modernization project. The way you should start a modernization is to look at the desired outcomes and understand what you are trying to accomplish. Look at the business processes necessary to achieve that outcome. And then look at the current system's ability to contribute to those outcomes.
For example, say we have 16 systems that contribute and 24 that don't contribute to the current process. So we decommission the 24, keep the 16 and find that we need seven other new systems. We know what we can use from the perspective of the business processes. The desired outcome is where to start.GCN: Can you give an example of how that might work?
WELLS: Suppose I am architecting a next-generation aerospace operations center, which has 81 different systems or what we would call applications. Let's suppose I just call them services.
Now I want to aggregate a number of things. I want to take the ground movement indicator, the global command and control system, and a logistics application. I want to be able to assemble from that a complete set of business processes.GCN: By business processes you mean ....
WELLS: Any additional functions beyond the functions of those 81 discrete systems. So I need to do horizontal integration. I need a certain number of those services to perform a particular function. Rather than integrating each of those 81 services tightly, I make each of the 81 available as a Web service. Then I can combine them in any desired way.
In the Air Force, chief of staff Gen. John Jumper has articulated a business model of being able to service any opportunity within a five-minute window. He wants to find that opportunity, fix on it, track it, engage it and assess whether or not the actions were effective within that five-minute window.GCN: When you say opportunity, do you mean a target?
WELLS: It could be a target. But it could also mean supplying [meals ready-to-eat] to a remote group. It could be a resupply somewhere. So now that he has articulated that, what we have to do is look at all the Air Force systems that could cooperate or contribute to that.