Snow shakes up financial systems at the Coast Guard
“‘You’re not going to just lie around my house, so you better figure out what you’re going to do and do it.’
“When my father—he was career Army—talks to you like that, you get up and get moving,” said Avie Snow, chief of financial systems at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington.
And since that lazy summer afternoon after graduating from Rutgers University, Snow has not stopped moving.
Even sitting behind her desk in a cramped office overflowing with books, papers, files and a rock that says “Breathe,” she is in motion, fixing you with her gaze while she makes you understand that it is her team that is responsible for her success, throwing back her head and laughing as she tells a self-deprecating story or leaning back in her chair and searching the ceiling for a way to say someone screwed up while also taking personal responsibility for the screw-up.Nine-month build
She, and her team, really had to move after 9/11 when the Coast Guard was reassigned from the Transportation Department to the Homeland Security Department and had to migrate off DOT’s accounting system. In nine months, they built the Core Accounting System (CAS) for about $7 million.
The first pieces of the integrated suite were the core accounting system, Oracle Corp.’s Oracle Federal Financials, Finance and Procurement Desktop (FPD) for simplified acquisition, funds management and field accounting, followed by the Contract Information Management System for contract writing.
The CAS suite is built on a services-oriented architecture, open standards and software including FPD; Oracle Federal Financials for federal accounting and reporting; San Ramon, Calif.-based Sunflower Systems Inc.’s Sunflower Assets for property management; Prism-Procurement from Compusearch Software Systems Inc. of Dulles, Va.; and Markview workflow and invoice imaging software from 170 Systems Inc. of Bedford, Mass.
Rather than proprietary Web brokers or middleware to integrate applications, CAS uses open-standard Web services, which let disparate applications integrate in real time.
“Many in the technology sector still consider a services-oriented architecture and integration using Web services to be a technology vision,” said Ray Muslimani, president of Coast Guard integrator Global Computer Enterprises Inc. of Reston, Va.
Snow shrugs off the praise. “At the time, there was $10 billion invested throughout the industry in SOA,” she said. “And this in the private sector, where profit is the bottom line. I could guess things were going that way.”
The success of the project, she said, was due to her “amazing team,” and “our CFO, who let me do stuff.”
The USCG chief financial officer, Robert Horowitz, said letting Snow “do stuff” was a business decision.
“I provided Ms. Snow this latitude because her proposed course of action would deliver to the Coast Guard a user-friendly and technologically advanced financial-systems solution at lowest possible cost,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with the Homeland Security Department and our development contractor that allowed Ms. Snow to pursue this initiative under constrained timelines. We have been quite pleased with her success.”
The Coast Guard is realizing residual profits from the move, Snow said. The Office of Management and Budget’s introduction, post-CAS implementation, of its Federal Enterprise Architecture program calls for agencies to migrate to SOA.Ahead of the game
“We’re already compliant, ahead of the game,” Snow says.
Beginning in July 2003 and finishing in November 2004, Snow lead the effort to transition the Federal Air Marshals Service and Transportation Security Administration onto CAS.
The CAS structure, building blocks that use small centers of excellence, enabled consolidation of multiple systems and saved the agencies $100 million over two years.
“Nobody thought we could do it,” Snow said. “But we did. I can’t say it enough—you’re only as good as the people around you.”
The latest project for Snow and her team: Roll out FPD-To-Go to Coast Guard cutters. Small-footprint database synchronization technology extends FPD functionality to cutter personnel, who can enter financial transactions as they occur, rather than in a marathon session after months at sea.User-friendly app
The application is so user-friendly, Muslimani says, no systems or database administrator is needed on board.
DHS recently named CAS and the operations center as a shared-services center of excellence, setting the stage for other DHS agencies to migrate to the suite.
But castles in the air hold little interest for Snow.
“Last year I did a defense conference,” she recalled, “and at the end, a guy stood up and said, ‘This is the best presentation in three days.’ And I said, ‘Why? Because of me?’ And he said, ‘Well, no. It’s because you’re the only person who stood up and said this is what you did, not what you’re going to do.’
“Getting it done,” Snow says, sighing in satisfaction. “That’s what it is.”
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