The World's Integration Market Owes a Debt to Government

It should come as little surprise that the architect of the world's largest integration services company cut his teeth on one of the most demanding of all government contracts.

Dennie Welsh had been helping NASA manage its sprawling computer network less than a year when the three astronauts of Apollo 1 died in a fire. The failure of the early Apollo project and its severe cost would leave an indelible mark on the 23-year-old IBM Corp. engineer, who received news of the tragedy as he sat at the Apollo command network.

Systems integrators have long leveraged their experience with government customers when tackling the mission-critical demands of their commercial accounts. Nowhere is this more visible today than at IBM, where the one-time systems engineer is now acting as the quarterback for IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner's vision of network-centric computing.

Computer Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. have long used their federal market experience to advance their commercial ambitions. And so it was at IBM in 1990 when Welsh was asked to give up his post as general manager of IBM's federal systems division to become the computer maker's top services executive. Today, Welsh is responsible for the strategy and investment direction of IBM's integration services business in more than 130 countries.

Besides the obvious success story it reveals, Welsh's career path is worth noting because it reminds us of the government market's awesome influence and its intimate role in shaping today's systems integration industry. Today, the government market remains home to an army of high-tech executives who know better than anyone the costs and processes involved in complex systems integration.

The recent groundswell of commercial systems integration contracts has done little to diminish the government market's influence. In fact, the market appears poised to renew its high-tech leadership role as the cost advantages of electronic commerce begin to resonate with state and local CIOs.

Beneath the slogans of "service to the citizen" and "24-hour government," industry integrators will soon be pursuing contracting opportunities many times larger in scale than those first created by NASA and the Department of Defense in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, this new flurry of systems integration activity is largely tied to that other significant government market contribution, otherwise known as the Internet.

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