Intergraph CEO aims to make most of fed market
- By Dan Verton
- Nov 15, 1998
Not many people can remember where they were and what they were doing at precisely 7:51 a.m. Dec. 27, 1968— the launch time of Apollo 8 and the beginning of America's first manned lunar-orbital mission. But Jim Meadlock can.
At the time, Meadlock, now chief executive officer of Intergraph Corp., and four other software engineers worked for IBM Corp.'s Federal Systems Division designing the guidance and control software that helped get the Apollo 8 astronauts to the moon and back safely.
Shortly after the Apollo 8 success, the team of five engineers left IBM to form M&S Consulting Inc.— which changed its name to Intergraph in 1980— where today Meadlock leads a massive effort to transition the company's commercial computer graphics solutions to the federal government.
The company first concentrated on developing interactive graphics software that was used in support of mapping applications. Intergraph later moved on to develop graphics systems tailored to the workflow of other computer automated design disciplines, and today the company also develops its own line of workstations.
Intergraph takes a different approach to the federal market than most companies, according to Meadlock. Other vendors are in the market simply to get business from the federal government, he said. "The charter of Intergraph Federal is to try to take things we [develop] commercially and expand them into the federal market to help the government do whatever it is it needs to do [and do it] better."
But the government finds it difficult at best to do information technology procurement better than the commercial sector, he said. "The semiconductor industry back in the 1950s was fueled by this country's desire to put something in orbit [and] was funded by the government," Meadlock said. However, "if you look at today's world, you can't even get a semiconductor company to even listen to a department of the government because you get caught up in so much red tape that you can't stay competitive."
Meadlock said the health of the federal procurement apparatus is failing, and the current system, despite reforms, bars "specialists" with the right skills from treating the "patients."
"Everything [the government does] makes it worse," he said. "We have to let people in responsible positions make a decision and live with it."
From Meadlock's perspective, the front-end costs of selling to the government are "astronomical"— a situation made even worse by industry's penchant for protesting contract awards. "It's become standard practice to protest," he said. "The process goes on forever...so the built-in costs of doing business with the government makes it imperative that you [provide] systems integration [services] to support your standard products."
But when it comes to hardware products and systems, Meadlock said he does not see much differentiation in the market today, particularly because Intel Corp. is driving the processor market and provides hardware vendors with the same capability at the same time.
"With hardware, it's hard for us to do anything very different," Meadlock said. "It's really a microprocessor war, so the only real way of differentiating [yourself] in the workstation [market] is in the graphics system."
Meadlock said he thinks hardware can continue on its breakneck pace of development for at least another five years before the natural properties of materials prevent electrons from moving any faster.
"The problem is that hardware moves so fast," Meadlock said. "Somewhere you hit a wall.... They just keep moving the wall."