SI Outlook: CExec makes it big in government

IDG News Service

For more than 20 years the small Dulles, Va.-based systems integrator CExec Inc. has quietly maintained a steady stream of federal business, including contracts to produce passports and build networks for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This year, largely thanks to renewed federal business, CExec's revenue - 95 percent of which comes from government contracts - will reach $32 million, a 30 percent increase over last year, company officials said.

Founded as an 8(a) vendor in 1976, CExec graduated from the program in 1993 and has maintained revenue growth and profit ever since, said Douglas Rhodes, the company's president and chief executive officer.

But Rhodes said surviving the transition required a lot of careful planning. And when he looks back, he sometimes thinks it is a miracle that CExec made it.

He noted that some 8(a) companies go into completely new areas after graduating from the program because they no longer can compete for the business they bid on as an 8(a) firm. Others graduate with a lack of capital and "bleed and die a slow death," he said.

But CExec (pronounced "see-exec"), which this year moved its headquarters to a new building, stuck to its philosophy of making no commitments it could not keep, never overspending its resources and staying on top of its problems, Rhodes said.

Now Rhodes, a former Air Force missile systems engineer and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, heads one of the nation's largest American Indian-owned high-technology companies.

CExec's premier contract is the Travel Document Issuance System (tdIS) for the State Department's Passport Agency. CExec's participation in tdIS dates back 14 years to the agency's conversion from minicomputers to a client/server system. CExec is coordinating the process of upgrading the system to include photo digitization capabilities. People who renew their passports at agency offices that already have integrated the latest technology will notice a difference in the way their picture appears on their passport information page.

Photos submitted by the applicants are digitized, printed onto the page and covered by lamination that includes holograms to make the documents difficult to forge. CExec photo digitization technology replaces a method in which applicants' photos were glued into the passports and laminated, which left passports susceptible to counterfeiters.

State considers the new production method the most important improvement in passport technology in 17 years, said Rich Martin, director of systems in the Passport Agency's Office of Technology Development.CExec is overseeing the conversion to the new technology, which involves companies including Thermal Digital Technologies, which will provide printers, and Scan-Optics Inc., which will provide scanners, Martin said. CExec developed the software using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT running on Unix PCs, and Informix Software Inc. is providing the databases.

The technology is in use at the two largest passport agencies, which produce 50 percent of the estimated 6.3 million passports produced annually. So far, State has not discovered a single forged passport among those created using the new technology, Martin said.

The technology, however, is only the latest of four major upgrades to tdIS. CExec developed the software and the network architecture to replicate the agencies' business processes. CExec also supports the networks at the nation's 15 passport agencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In addition, CExec sometimes becomes involved in the early stages of the design and planning of a passport facility. In 1994, CExec assisted in the construction of the National Passport Center, Portsmouth, N.H., including all the telecommunications infrastructure and computing capabilities. When the facility was finished, CExec also trained the employees on tdIS.

"We assist in every aspect that relates to the continuity of operations," Rhodes said.CExec's association with the NRC began in 1990 when the company designed and installed local- and wide-area networks, connecting about 4,000 people at nuclear power plants and at NRC headquarters, regional offices and training facilities, said Barry Murphy, vice president of operations.

CExec has done several upgrades and a major redesign of the network, including a conversion to Asynchronous Transfer Mode and an implementation of Novell Inc.'s Groupwise, both completed in 1997, Murphy said. Installation of video teleconferencing software is expected to be the next upgrade.Rhodes said CExec has maintained the passport and NRC federal contracts, among the largest of the many federal contracts it holds, by careful planning and by keeping pace with the government's technology needs.

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