Systems Integrator Emerges From Its Shell

Despite Pentagon budget and personnel reductions during the last five years, New Jersey-based SEMCOR has watched its revenues increase 260 percent

For more than 25 years, systems integrator SEMCOR Inc. has gone about its business rather quietly, shying away from the media spotlight.

"We never sought the public eye because that's not how you get government business," said Vince Vidas, company chairman and CEO.

But times have changed and so has SEMCOR, an acronym for Systems Engineering and Management Corp. The Mt. Laurel, N.J., company has come out of its shell, pointing out successes in the federal market as it builds a commercial business base. Because of the company's growth and the diversity it now wants, Vidas said the time has come to talk publicly about SEMCOR's capabilities.

So where has the company been hiding all these years? Mostly behind its Defense Department customers -- although even that has changed. Non-Defense Department revenues increased from $200,000 to $3 million during the last two years. Much of the new business came from information systems and services such as document imaging, business process reengineering, environmental compliance audits and technology transfer initiatives.

Despite the downward trend in defense budgets, SEMCOR has continued to grow in program management, engineering and technical support work for tactical aircraft, reconnaissance, surveillance and communications systems. In fact, during the last five years, which mark the height of the Pentagon's budget and personnel reductions, the company continued to grow. Since 1990, revenues have risen 260 percent and Vidas hopes to do about $75 million worth of business this year and $100 million next year.

The estimates, Vidas believes, are achievable. "Being an engineer, you like to be conservative in terms of budgeting and spending -- but not in terms of the business you're going after."

Yet, SEMCOR has no plans of walking away from the Defense Department any time soon. "Our mainstay is the Defense [Department] business," Vidas said. "We've doubled in the last three years. It's the core business that has built this company, and that's still where we're expecting our business to come from in the future," he said.

But like any defense contractor knows, diversity ensures a better chance at survival. Thus far, SEMCOR has done well at that.

It created a modern law enforcement system for the Baltimore, Md., police department by building a document imaging system and integrating it with optical storage systems, local area networks and mobile radio data communications systems. The company also installed Novell Inc.'s NetWare as the new standard operating system for General Electric's Capital Mortgage Corp. personnel.

SEMCOR's Information Systems and Services Division, the heart of the company's infotech business, has partnerships with Lotus Development Corp., Novell, Banyan Systems Inc., Eastman Kodak and the Environmental Research Systems Institute. On the hardware side, SEMCOR has agreements with Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Since its founding, the company has focused on serving the government market, which now constitutes 95 percent of

SEMCOR's business. The information systems division concentrates on local and wide area computer network integration, document imaging, database management systems, geographic information systems and environmental, health and safety systems.

SEMCOR has worked with the U. S. Postal Service in developing applications, such as an online help desk, for the agency's use of Lotus Notes software. For the Naval Air Warfare Center, the company developed a document imaging system with optical character recognition software, image-file indexing and manipulation and compression software.

With more than five years of geographic information systems experience, the company came up with its own GIS Planner software designed specifically for municipal governments. The Microsoft Windows-based product allows small and mid-sized communities to manage their growth by keeping track of zoning information, demographic data and locations of key subsurface systems such as sewer, gas and water lines.

SEMCOR also has found a new niche in environment, health and safety, and its

CompQuest Pro product has taken the market by storm. Only in its second year, the product won top ratings from the Environmental Audit Roundtable, a group of Fortune 500 companies interested in the environmental field. The software performs environmental audits based on federal and state regulations, pollution prevention planning and environmental assessments.

In addition to its infotech business, the company also does ship system design and has experience in materials science, specifically metallics, ceramics, organic resins and advanced composites.

Despite the company's efforts to diversify its customer base and product and service offerings, Vidas said he wants to keep the small-business feel and responsiveness SEMCOR has made its trademark. "Personally, I don't need to grow, but the people we're bringing in are looking for opportunities," he said.

Vidas envisions internal growth for the company although he doesn't rule out an acquisition. "We have looked at other companies, and we continue evaluating them. But the most we've ever done has been acquiring contracts, not buying companies," he joked.

For Vidas, SEMCOR's future certainly looks brighter today than when the former Air Force radar mechanic first went into business in 1967. That Christmas, he lost the first contract he ever bid. "That was a very bleak day," he recalled. "That was about as bad as it could get."

These days, Vidas spends a lot more time smiling even though, he said, "every year I've been in business, people have said it's a bad time to go into business."

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