Ken Johnson: Right place, right time

Cordant Inc. president Ken Johnson has been in the integration business for 21 years but he's logged a full career's worth of experience in the last several months.

Johnson kicked off last year as a senior vice president at Cordant responsible for business development activities at the Reston Va. integrator. But soon two unrelated events would unfold that would push Johnson farther to the forefront of the federal information technology market.

In April the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils and its Industry Advisory Council affiliate began to argue publicly over administrative and financial issues. Then in September Tracor Inc. an Austin Texas-based defense contractor purchased Cordant for $65 million.

The FGIPC/IAC feud set the tone for IAC elections in which Johnson's platform of reconciliation won him the chairmanship of the industry/government relations group. Similarly the Tracor acquisition set the stage for the retirement of Cordant president Peter Kusek and Johnson's subsequent promotion as Kusek's successor.

Johnson's time of change however is not yet over. The plain-spoken executive is directing Cordant and IAC at a time when the world of federal procurement has been turned upside down and the terms of engagement between industry and government have changed dramatically.

"The change over the last three years has been an order of magnitude over the previous 18 I've been in the business " Johnson said.

Johnson's work in the integration field began in the mid-1970s when he left the Army to join Planning Research Corp. now Litton/PRC Inc. Johnson worked at PRC for more than a decade in various marketing and management positions held executive positions at Hadron Inc. and CBIS Federal Inc. and finally joined Cordant in 1990.

As president Johnson's objective - he shuns the over-used management term "vision" - is to spearhead Tracor's thrust into the IT products and services sector. Cordant is the largest business unit within Tracor's Tracor Information Systems Co. established in January to house the company's IT holdings. In addition to Cordant TISC includes Quality Systems Inc. and the Software Center of Excellence.

Johnson like most other industry executives is grappling with a vastly different federal integration market. Federal integration contracts once were typically single-award deals that offered products and services as part of a solution - the so-called grand design. Today the government has unbundled product and services contracts in favor of an a la carte contracting approach. Agencies now can purchase products from any of several commodity contracts and services from the plentiful multiple-award indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contracts that have emerged.

"It's harder to find the integrator now " Johnson said of today's market. He noted that the government in some cases has established itself as the integrator while in other cases a systems engineering and technical-assistance contractor has assumed that role. Johnson said the grand-design model has fallen out of favor but he said he believes agencies still need a grand-design plan for maintaining a strategic IT design and architecture. "The grand designs got a bad rap " Johnson said. "But somebody's got to have a pretty good handle on what an organization is going to look like in five years." Johnson said he believes agency chief information officers may emerge as the keepers of the grand design.

Johnson said Cordant is adjusting to the procurement environment. The company holds product and services contracts and hopes to help agencies field solutions through "program selling" as opposed to "commodity selling." He said Cordant is working to introduce its services contracts to its product-contract customers and vice versa. The aim is to build complete systems.

`Tremendous Progress' at IAC

As for IAC Johnson said the organization is "making tremendous progress on a lot of fronts." While the group made headlines last year for bickering today IAC is planning future conferences and advising federal agencies on issues ranging from FTS 2000 to the Year 2000 problem. The group also is contending with such personnel issues as the recruitment and hiring of IT professionals in government agencies Johnson said.

While many of these issues remain unresolved one area of consistent progress has been industry/government communications Johnson said. IAC he said deserves "a great deal of praise" for opening communications channels. And he offered equal praise for IAC's government peers. "I think a lot of people in government have been changing the nature of the relationship " he said. "The relationship is much more open and less adversarial than it's ever been."

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