Digital appoints federal managers (Part 1)

When Digital Equipment Corp. last month officially named Jim White as vice president and general manager of its federal government region it brought his 17-year career at Digital full circle.

White joined the company in 1980 as its first federal contracts manager primarily working on its General Services Administration schedule. Five years later after a detour in the commercial contracts business White created Digital's first government program office "dedicated to putting programs and program discipline into Digital's infrastructure " White said.

White who has been running the civilian line of business since last July now inherits the task of refining that strategy for the federal market taking into account the changes in the company's technology offering and changes in the federal market as a whole.

The task is made somewhat easier because Digital's federal business is one of the few bright spots for a company that has struggled to remain profitable.

Robert Palmer Digital's chief executive officer "has gotten the federal bug " taking a personal interest in federal customers White said. "We are getting everything we ask for because we perform." Digital is now staffing up its federal offices in services sales and technical support.

However Digital is not just adding bodies. White also is looking at the best way to use the company's resources particularly in light of changes in government procurement. During the last year the company has pretty much abandoned the idea of large proposal-production teams in favor of a "quick-reaction proposal team " chartered to respond to blanket purchase agreements and other vehicles agencies are using to get quick turnarounds on product or services buys.

Digital also has changed its approach to managing its contracts. "We have created what we are calling a program implementation office. Instead of replicating offices for every vehicle we are creating a common infrastructure to manage and keep current those vehicles " White said.

Changes in procurement practices also have an impact on whether Digital chooses to go after contracts as a prime or subcontractor.

During the last several years Digital in many cases chose to partner with systems integrators on large contracts rather than pursue them as a prime and that strategy still makes sense to some degree the company believes. "We are not the same company we were back in the mid- to late 1980s where we tried to do everything ourselves " including hardware software and systems integration White said.

However "if we keep the current flexible quick-reaction procurement environment...we really have a government that wants to get direct access to products " White said. In that case "I would like to see our business a 50/50 [prime/sub] mix " he said. "If we go back to a more structured procurement approach I would prefer it to be more indirect."

Digital also is watching the market for services BPAs. "We have a very healthy services business from an integration perspective " White said. However rather than return to the old do-everything approach "one of my key objectives is to grow the services business we do with partners " he said. White undertook a similar mission when he spent several years in Digital's European region working closely with such vendors as Microsoft Corp. and SAP AG.

Digital has made some headway in this area. For example the company now has 300 Microsoft engineers in the federal space. The company also works very closely with Oracle Corp. to develop data warehousing solutions. "I think our customers want Digital to have those capabilities we just want to attack that broader market with complementary service providers " White said.

The partnership with Microsoft is paying off handsomely for Digital. The company continues to offer Unix and OpenVMS in addition to Windows NT. But Windows NT certainly figures large in Digital's business with federal agencies.

"They are adopting NT faster than any other customer anywhere in the world " White said. Digital's Windows NT business in the federal market for its recently completed 1997 fiscal year was 15 times larger that what it was in fiscal 1996 according to White and Unix business doubled.

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