Mission DiPentima:

Grow SRA's Civilian Share

By Nick Wakeman

Staff Writer

Renato A. "Renny" DiPentima

It is not who he knows but what he knows that Renato A. "Renny" DiPentima brings to his new job as president of federal systems for SRA International Inc. of Arlington, Va.

Everyone knows that chief information officers in the federal government must do more with less and show that resources allocated for information technology is money well-spent.

But DiPentima experienced those pressures firsthand, spending more than 30 years inside the Social Security Administration. His last stint before joining SRA in 1995 was as deputy commissioner for systems, the agency's top IT position. While there, he also served as chairman of the IT Acquisition Improvement Team for President Clinton's National Performance Review initiative. Among the team's recommendations was the creation of the CIO position at all agencies.

"I don't think that gives me any special entrée or relationships," he said in an interview June 3. But, it does give him a keen understanding of the myriad challenges facing the civil and defense agencies.

That knowledge should boost DiPentima's efforts to make agency officials think of SRA when it comes to business process re-engineering - a hallmark of the systems integrator.

Processes are especially important in the current budget environment, said DiPentima, former chief information officer at SRA. Agencies need to look closely at how they plan projects, manage them and conduct risk assessments. "We have always been steeped in those types of things," he said.

DiPentima also wants to keep the privately held SRA on the track it has followed for 19 years - a historical growth rate of 20 percent annually and a reputation for high-quality systems integration work. SRA had revenues of about $157 million in its last fiscal year, an increase of 17 percent from the previous year. The company's 1997 fiscal year ends June 30.

For 1997, DiPentima expects revenues to be more than $180 million. The federal government accounts for about 85 percent of SRA revenues; two-thirds of that business is with defense and intelligence agencies.

While the company's core business has been with the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, SRA has pursued and won several indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts with civilian agencies in the last two years. Wins such as the National Institutes of Health's Chief Information Officers Solutions and Partners contract will help SRA expand its civilian business, DiPentima said.

The government's downsizing is creating additional opportun-ities for SRA. "This is real downsizing," DiPentima said of the government's plan to reduce its work force by 272,900 people over five years.

What's more, the demand for government services continues to grow, DiPentima said. "The only way to do that is to automate and make the people who are still there more productive," he said.

But agencies cannot simply throw IT dollars at their problems in the current budget environment, he said. As a result, agencies are wrestling with questions about what kind of investments they should make, what kind of projects to pursue and how to choose among the wide variety of options available, he said.

"CIOs have to focus on strategic planning, business process re-engineering, investment analysis and capital planning and performance measures," DiPentima said.

To do this, the agencies have to look at how they do their jobs, an area in which SRA is particularly strong, he said.

"They are a market leader in business process re-engineering," said William Loomis, an analyst with Ferris, Baker Watts, a Baltimore market research firm. The market for these types of services is growing because agencies must be able to justify how their IT spending addresses their needs. "You have to be able to show your underlying business processes aren't flawed," Loomis said.

SRA is a "superb, high-end IT company," said Tom Hewitt, chief executive of the market research firm Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va. "You'll have a hard time finding flaws in that company."

While the pressure is on the agencies to make wise of their IT dollars and find new ways of doing their jobs, there also is pressure on firms like SRA to deliver the services and products the agencies need, DiPentima said.

One way SRA is doing this is through its Rapid Enterprise Solutions service, a process for expedited development of applications and systems, he said.

"Government IT managers can't wait three or four years for some big bang to occur and all of a sudden they get a system," he said. Agencies need tangible results more quickly.

"We will take big projects that might be four years in the making and break them into six- to nine-month increments," he said. Each increment builds on the preceding one, and IT managers have real results to show for the money they are spending.

DiPentima's promotion is a wise move, Hewitt said. Many of the procurement reforms aimed at getting the federal market to adapt more commercial practices were ideas DiPentima was promoting five years ago. "He is a real visionary," Hewitt said.

At the time, however, the ideas were considered radical. "He put his job on the line for what he thought was right," Hewitt said.

"With the government becoming smaller in size, IT and automation have enormous roles to play and that means that the IT folks have to be nimble and have to have the authority to move quickly," DiPentima said.

"It is important for CIOs to show they are successful," he said. "That is where we come in. Someone puts their faith and funds in us, so it is important that we deliver."

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