Tom Hewitt: The IT market master
For Federal Computer Week's 25th anniversary issue, we highlight some of the people, policies and technologies that have influenced federal IT. Although it is not possible to include all the dynamic and dedicated people who have been or still are a part of this marketplace, we start with some who have left their mark.
If you want to sell to federal agencies, you need to know their specific and nuanced IT needs, which means you must have detailed research on who is buying what.
Today, that kind of information is used by anyone with a serious interest in doing business with the government. But it wasn’t readily available back in the early 1980s, and Tom Hewitt decided to fill that unmet need by creating Federal Sources Inc.
FSI went beyond providing information on individual opportunities to host an annual budget conference in which the firm educated the technology industry about the tremendous opportunities in federal IT, a market whose potential was not well understood at the time, said Austin Yerks, who was one of FSI’s first customers as an executive at various Washington, D.C., area contractors.
Before FSI, contracts were viewed in isolation, but afterward, the government could be seen as a true marketplace because companies had insight into agency budgets and how IT was linked to those numbers, he said. That helped increase competition and enabled companies to present solutions that better fit agency needs, thereby benefiting buyers and sellers.
“FSI sold information that was readily available, but companies would have had to put together a staff of their own to gather the same data,” Yerks said. “It ended up being cheaper for them to get it by paying FSI.”
Hewitt said the idea for the company grew out of his experience at Computer Sciences Corp., where he tried to build a sales organization that needed the kind of data FSI would later provide.
“The need for better information became obvious at the [contractor] bid/no-bid meetings I used to attend where people discussed such things as what does government want,” he said. “There really were no good answers.”
What set FSI apart was the computerized database — first distributed on floppy disks and then online — that Hewitt built with his senior vice president, Bob Dornan. The firm’s other services included custom consulting and networking breakfasts for industry and government leaders.
Hewitt sold his company in 1998 and joined the board of Input, an FSI competitor that grew into the market leader. Both companies are now owned by Deltek and marketed under the name GovWin.
A large part of FSI’s success came down to Hewitt himself. “He is a very personable guy,” said Dan Young, former CEO of Federal Data Corp. “He developed a personal relationship with just about everyone of significance, and he played things strictly aboveboard, which is why FSI became such a trusted third party.”
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.