How one small business embraced the cloud and won
Global Computer Enterprises reached for cloud computing more than six years ago and was one of the first to offer the service to government agencies.
More than 10 years ago, Global Computer Enterprises, a start-up small business, began transitioning federal financial management systems from mainframe computers and client-server environments to web applications.
The idea was the brainchild of GCE’s founder, president and CEO Ray Muslimani, who previously managed large-scale data systems implementations at Computer Sciences Corp.Working with the General Services Administration in the early 2000s, GCE fundamentally altered the way the federal government’s procurement data is collected and reported.
The company replaced the legacy Federal Procurement Data System with a real-time data management system in 2004. The newer Federal Procurement Data Systems - Next Generation collects procurement data from more than 100 agencies throughout the federal government in real time.
“If you wanted to see how much [revenue] Halliburton got from the Iraq war, this is the system you go to and you get that information,” said Marianne Lucas, GCE’s chief marketing officer, who has been with the company for more than seven years.
“This system is now the backbone of this whole [government] transparency movement that we talk about,” she said.
Now the small government contractor is again helping federal agencies make another transition, this time moving their big data into the cloud, having built its first cloud system in 2006.
The GCE cloud provides a modern and simplified financial management toolset that standardizes enterprise-wide financial reporting with multiple levels of controls to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
In 2010 the Labor Department became the first cabinet-level agency to implement GCE’s Financial Management Cloud under an 18-month contract that earned GCE $15 million, Lucas said.
More than 25 years of legacy data was migrated into the system and more than 2,000 users across the country were trained in multiple business processes.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began using GCE’s Financial Management Cloud inn 2011.
“We were being presented with cost budget proposals for operations and maintenance from the National Business Center that exceeded increases of 25 percent per year,” Jeff Smith, EEOC’s chief financial officer, told Government Computer News at the time.
That percentage was simply unsustainable with a budget in which 72 percent goes to payroll, he said. “Preliminary numbers suggest we are going to save 40 percent a year that would have been our operations and maintenance cost in future years,” Smith said.
He acknowledged that Labor’s use of GCE’s Financial Management Cloud was a key factor in EEOC’s choice of the contractor.
“This is not something we would have undertaken without some other agency having done it with this vendor,” he said.
The EEOC expects to save at least 40 percent in the first full year of implementation, according to GCE, which also is providing a full range of project management, data transition, and change management services, as well as transactional processing services.
The contractor also was able to assuage EEOC’s two major areas of concern – security and data ownership. “We are very comfortable that this is our data; we own it,” Smith said.
As for security concerns, Muslimani said agency officials no longer are asking primarily about the risks of cloud computing.
“They’re asking different questions – how cheaply can you give me the service we’re talking about? That’s a fairly recent phenomenon,” he said, citing the current budget crunch as their primary concern.
This past December GCE unveiled its latest feature. It’s an automated process within its Financial Management Cloud that helps agencies comply with the Office of Management and Budget’s Quick Pay initiative.
Under the OMB regulation agencies are required to pay their small business contractors within 15 days of receiving their invoices rather than the standard 30-day payment deadline for mid-size and large vendors.
Existing customers, including EEOC and Labor, were the first to get the service, which Muslimani said can be rolled out quickly.
“It’s another cool thing that your existing customers are able to take advantage of,” he said. “It’s another way to make the case for the cloud.”
GCE’s other financial services clients include the Commerce, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments; also the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
Those clients have fueled the company’s growth to about 200 employees and annual revenues “hovering right around the $25 million mark now,” Lucas said.
Although GCE technically remains a small business, it has never gone after a small-business set-aside contract, Lucas said.
“We’ve always competed full and open with all the other companies that are big players” in financial management services and never as a sub, Lucas said, adding that subbing on some future contract couldn’t be ruled out.
“Our business plan for this year and for the next couple of years is to continue our investment in the cloud and to hopefully serve many more customers,” Muslimani said.
He said he sees great growth potential in helping agencies process and mine the massive amounts of information they have because they cannot afford the large capital investment needed to stand up a cloud for big data.
“Procurement data is an area ripe for big data mining,” he said. “Imagine if you could mine every contract ever issued in the federal government and be able to look for [opportunities] and be able to do analyses in the meantime, which is what these new tools allow you to do for a fraction of the cost.”
Such possibilities have made Muslimani bullish on greater demand for cloud services during the next several years.
“With the budget reality being a major driver I really cannot emphasize this enough. There’s nothing like a budget crunch to help people get over what hesitancy they had in the past” about cloud storage, he said.
To meet that demand Muslimani is looking for technology and finance specialists. “We’re in the midst of a major hiring initiative right now,” he said but he declined to provide target numbers or a growth percentage, preferring to keep those numbers a little cloudy for the time being.