The undoable made doable

Perhaps one of the reasons there hasn't been much integration of information technology systems in government so far is that it's been a hard thing to do.

Agencies have had to either write their own software code or shell out a lot of money to pay someone else to write it -- and even then, success was not guaranteed.

WebMethods Inc. officials beg to differ. Don Upson, senior vice president of operations at the company, likes to tell the story of one agency that webMethods visited.

"They'd been working for around 10 months to connect some applications, and eventually they called us in as an adviser and asked us why it was so difficult," he said. "We said it wasn't and we showed them it wasn't by integrating the applications in two weeks."

The agency said that the example was too easy and gave the company some advanced applications to work with. WebMethods completed the tasks in a week and a half.

Using its integration platform, webMethods builds an integration backbone across the enterprise, linking legacy systems and applications, allowing a free flow of information among business processes and matching up different workflows.

It can also enable Web services and integrate those applications with what it claims is just a three-mouse-click operation.

In fact, Web services might prove an initial hurdle for webMethods in the integration market, said Bob Parker, general manager of AMR Research Inc.'s strategic infrastructure group. The perception that Web services are easy to use might make organizations feel they can do their own integration without the help of a company like webMethods.

"In fact, webMethods brings a level of abstraction with it that helps agencies and organizations if they are at all resource-constrained," Parker said. "It focuses on the right ways to integrate, on the fact that most organizations have a business process challenge in integrating applications rather than a data challenge."

In the federal market at least, webMethods officials feel they took the right approach in putting together a dream team of well-known, respected government IT figures.

It started with the March appointment of Len Pomata, who built Litton PRC Inc. into a government contracting force before Northrop Grumman Corp. acquired it, as president of the newly created webMethods government unit. It was followed with another coup several months later when Don Upson, who previously worked with Pomata at Litton and served as Virginia's secretary of technology, joined the company.

The heavy-hitting team was completed at the beginning of August when Russell Goodrich was hired as webMethods' vice president of government sales. He had been a senior sales executive for the likes of SAP America Inc. and Sterling Commerce Inc.

Observers felt the moves sent a strong message to government about webMethods' commitment to the federal market. It also guaranteed that webMethods would at least be able to get a foot in the door at agencies, because most government procurement is still based more on whom you know rather than on what you know.

What that approach didn't guarantee was sales. Even with the backing of the Office of Management and Budget's Mark Forman, who has avidly pushed the use of Web services to integrate billions of dollars of existing agency IT infrastructures, Upson said that, overall, government is still too inward-looking. The mind-set that will allow for a faster integration of legacy systems is still not pervasive, he said, particularly among agency executives.

But he said that for the first time there is an awareness in government of the kind of interdependencies that exist among agencies.

"I think we are where we need to be right now," Upson said. "A year from now we'll have more people on board and we'll have more involvement politically. If we were any bigger, I'd say we were growing too fast."

Eventually, webMethods officials want to see federal sales making up 25 percent of the company's total revenue. It will probably post about $200 million for the current year, according to AMR Research's Parker, which will put it in the same league as the integration efforts of far bigger companies such as BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp.

It's an interesting time for the company, however, because webMethods is one of the few that sells on a two-year license basis. Many of those licenses will be coming up for renewal soon, Parker said, "so I guess we'll see how satisfied their current customers are."

He also said that he wouldn't bet against webMethods and its chief executive officer, Phillip Merrick.

"They have the track record," Parker said. "When they say they will do something, they've generally turned around and done it."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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