Information Technology Solutions

Information Technology Solutions

Hampton, Va.

Contracts: $47.703

It's no accident that Information Technology Solutions is based in Hampton, Va., a military haven that serves as a neighbor to Norfolk and other defense-rooted Tidewater cities in Virginia.

It's also by design that many of the employees from the company are plucked from military ranks. Most notably, President and Chief Executive Officer Hank Ellison is a retired Army colonel with 30 years of defense experience in infantry, combat and automation.

Defense serves as Information Technology Solutions' bread and butter, as the company provides life-cycle management for automated data processing and communications systems, as well as integration work. Specializing in the service end of information technology, the company ranks seventh on Washington Technology's 1997 list of top 8(a) contractors serving federal agencies. It's scheduled to graduate from 8(a) status in November 1997.

Discussing his company's philosophy of hiring ex-military talent, Ellison conceded that it helps somewhat to bridge gaps when company employees with that background try to land defense customers.

"They understand the environment the customer works in,'' said Ellison. "Quite a lot of our company's work is done aboard a ship. Those who get on there who don't understand the complexities of the architecture of a ship will be at a disadvantage. A ship is somewhat of a city in itself. You don't want people on the team who don't have a good understanding and knowledge of the ship.''

But, more importantly, Ellison stressed that military experience helps shape the kind of executives that the company seeks.

"It's fair to say that most officers who retire - and quite a few enlisted personnel - have a good background in resource management,'' Ellison said. "That's managing time, money, personnel - the whole spectrum. You get a good perspective of what it takes to make a business work.''

Founded on July 6, 1987, Information Technology Systems' first federal business was landed later that year with the Office of Personnel Management. Today, its sales are generally equally divided between the Army and the Navy, with some Air Force work tossed into the mix.

Today, the company is striking a niche with the Navy's "Smart Ship'' program. Through Smart Ship, Information Technology Solutions works to ensure that all processes of a ship that are nontactical and noncommand control are automated. This includes navigational functions and weapon-readiness preparations.

The prototype for Smart Ship was the USS Yorktown, which the company worked on in Norfolk in early 1996. It has since completed Smart Ship work for about a dozen other ships, although it has provided the technology in "bits and pieces,'' as opposed to the complete overhaul of the Yorktown. The Smart Ship work has been worth more than $9 million to date, with more work expected in the next several years.

As the Navy explores outsourcing initiatives in what it now calls "IT-21'' and government looks to outsource in general, company officials say the future appears good. The U.S. General Services Administration schedule sales program, for example, is hoped to generate a considerable amount of outsourced defense business, including integration work and computer servicing for Defense, the Department of Transportation, Drug Enforcement Agency and other government customers.

Ellison said the company is well-prepared for its November graduation from 8(a) status.

"We're looking forward to it,'' he said. "We've spent the last nine years preparing for it. You have to make a determination to say 'What am I in this environment for?' If you enter the marketplace to stay in the place and make an impression, then your hiring practices and strategy have to reflect that.''

Ray Henry, senior vice president of systems services for Reston, Va.-based DynCorp, which mentored Information Technology Solutions for two years, said the company is well on its way to becoming a player in the federal market.

- Dennis McCafferty

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