Winkler's inside view of IT helps lead Army's strategies
Early years in systems development shaped his approach to PEO-EIS
- By Richard W. Walker
- Oct 15, 2010
To say that Gary Winkler, head of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS), looks at a full plate when he arrives at the office every day would be an understatement.
Managing an organization with more than 7,500 IT professionals and an annual budget of $3.3 billion, Winkler has a portfolio of programs that is staggering in scope. His organization supports systems development efforts in the areas of finance, logistics, human resources, civilian and contractor personnel, and communications infrastructure.
“His holistic understanding of the IT system is unmatched,” said Peter Cuviello, a director at Deloitte Consulting and former Army CIO. “Gary's business of the warfighter support includes all the major functions of the Army ... so his client base is very large and demanding.”
Winkler acquired a keen grasp of systems development by toiling for years in the trenches of the government and military contractor sectors — and getting an early start on it. During summer breaks as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics, he worked for the Army’s Night Vision Laboratory.
Gary Winkler, Defense Agency Executive of the Year
After receiving a master’s degree in business administration at the College of William and Mary, Winkler went to work for several large defense manufacturers with major Army contracts, and he also worked for smaller contractors that provided technical services to Army programs.
He started his federal civilian career in 1989, working with the PEO for Command and Control Systems' Joint Tactical Fusion Program Management Office before being promoted to division chief of that office’s Intelligence Fusion program three years later. He also worked as an acquisition specialist at Army headquarters.
Winkler joined PEO-EIS in 1997, first serving as a product and program manager in information systems. Before becoming program executive officer for EIS in October 2007, he was appointed to the Senior Executive Service and became the Army’s first chief knowledge officer, responsible for IT policies, programs and systems that support the Army’s warfighting and business missions.
“My experience both on the industry side and the government side of IT has helped me develop win-win strategies that have resulted in optimal programs, cost, schedule and performance,” Winkler said. “I understand what industry has to go through, not only to win contracts but to deliver, and then I understand the government side of the business. So just having that understanding of both sides is really beneficial.”
In knowing systems development, Winkler also knows the limitations of IT — what’s possible and what’s not.
“Probably the most important thing that I preach to our program managers is that you’re never going to be perfect, and there is never going to be a perfect system,” he said. “The best thing that people working in systems development can do is provide an effective capability at an affordable cost and on schedule. And that capability has to support the users before the technology gets obsolete.”
Information systems are best delivered in increments, he said, comparing the process to baseball strategy. “Try to hit singles,” he said. “Don’t try to swing for a home run or a grand slam. Hit a single, move things around the bases, get the capability out there and keep making it better.”
During the past year, PEO-EIS has successfully deployed the Lean Six Sigma approach to project management, resulting in cumulative savings of about $50 million, Winkler said.
“Our Lean Six Sigma maturity has evolved quite nicely,” he said. “Every project office has done at least one [Lean Six Sigma] project. ... The part that I like about it is that it brings our people together as a team to think about the organization and our processes. I’m very proud of that.”
Cuviello summed up Winkler’s leadership style: “His can-do and get-it-done attitude has been infectious with his team, as he manages things and leads people without compromise.”
See more of the 2010 GCN Awards winners.