Reinvention as a way of life

In 1990, the technology purchasing cycle was measured in months, if not years. Centralized computing was the norm, even with the advent of the PC a decade earlier. The Internet was the quiet networking backwater of academics and researchers. And most people were thinking of the Year 2000 as a major party opportunity, not a computing problem.

A few things have changed since the inaugural Federal 100 awards in March 1990. In the past 15 years, they have reflected seismic shifts in technology, its acquisition and its impact on society. The Federal 100 awards serve to document the evolution of government technology in a period of great innovation and tumult.

Federal Computer Week reporters recently interviewed previous award winners to gather their varying recollections. The result is a chronicle of transformation, which begins with the first moves to distribute processing via client/server setups and ends with the arrival of e-government.

Although the awards are a testament to change, they also reveal enduring patterns. Interoperability was a concern 15 years ago and remains one today, and the desire to reinvent, re-engineer and transform — the terminology depends on the time period in question — is another persistent theme. The awards illuminate trends, shedding light on where federal information technology has been and where it is going.

Beyond the glass house

The 1990s ushered in the era of data center outsourcing, which flourished in the commercial sector and attracted government interest as well. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, outsourced its data processing and telecommunications activities to Martin Marietta Corp. — later Lockheed Martin Corp. — under the HUD Integrated Information Processing Service contract.

But even as the ink dried on such deals, the emphasis was shifting toward distributed processing. Client/server computing became a buzz phrase as officials at numerous organizations began to consider moving key applications off the mainframe.

"At the time, everyone was looking at a distributed system," said Renato DiPentima, who helped create the blueprint for the Social Security Administration's Intelligent Workstation/Local Area Network (IWS/

LAN) program. DiPentima, who was deputy commissioner for systems at SSA, is now president of SRA International Inc.

"When my team and I looked at [client/server computing], the thing that bothered us was

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