Bull Grabs Gov't Market by the Horns

Bull Grabs Gov't Market by the Horns

Jack Ginsburg

Bull Americas has used a market analysis and strategic planning study to help spark a four-year growth spurt in the public-sector market and establish itself as a respected data integrator.

After Bull's analysis revealed the majority of potential competitors were focused on helping government agencies process applications, permits and other transactions, the company concentrated its efforts instead on information access, said Jack Ginsburg, vice president of Bull's public-sector business unit. Bull is based in Billerica, Mass.

"We looked at what was the most important and where we could play the most significant role," Ginsburg said about the three-month analysis completed in 1997.

In essence, Bull chose to find ways to help governments take the large quantities of data they had residing on mainframes and use them to help make decisions about internal operations and constituent services. Information access turned out to be "the right play for us," Ginsburg said.

Bull's annual revenue in the public sector is growing at a rate of 15 percent and reached $57 million for fiscal 2000, company officials said. The company also has signed more than $100 million in new government contracts in the past two years, building a substantial backlog of work.

Bull Americas is owned by Bull Worldwide Information Systems Inc. of Paris. The parent company had revenue of $3.7 billion in fiscal 1999.

Tom Davies, who as senior vice president with Current Analysis Inc. of Sterling, Va., follows the government market, said that Bull's public-sector unit provides proven data warehousing solutions and has become "a desirable partner for companies assembling teams to bid on jobs that have a data warehousing requirement."

Davies cited four factors that have contributed to Bull's success in the state and local IT market:

  • It is able to show its customers how technology can add value;

  • It has been willing to serve as either a prime or subcontractor;

  • It has demonstrated continuity in market presence and leadership;

  • It has hired senior executives who have a good understanding of the state and local IT market.

Before 1997, Bull's experience in the public sector was limited to work as a mainframe vendor, Ginsburg said. For the most part, data warehousing is a new business line for the company, he said.

In the past four years, the company has grown its business by acting as an integrator, blending its data warehousing products with services, project management and integration into a solution that meets a large need in the public-sector market, analysts and company officials said. Bull's solutions provide access to large quantities of data that is needed to make decisions about internal operations and constituent services.

Bull is targeting four government markets: criminal justice and public safety, education, health and human services, and tax and treasury. The company has won customers with state governments in Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Utah, and with the county governments of Fulton County, Ga., Genesee County, Mich., Clark County, Nev., and Davidson County, Tenn.

On all but a couple of these projects, Bull is the prime contractor, Ginsburg said.

A data warehouse is a repository for data created by extracting information from operating and production databases. In a government setting, data warehousing allows managers, front-line employees and citizens to easily retrieve information for decision-making, services and transactions.

Among Bull's chief competitors in the data warehousing business is SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C. SAS has contracts in all 50 states and pulls down about $22 million annually from its data warehousing business in the public sector, said Rich Bishop, SAS Institute's public-sector technical program manager.

The data warehousing revenue is divided evenly between traditional data warehousing and data warehousing "exploitation," such as data mining and Web-enabling data warehouses, Bishop said. Traditional work includes extraction, loading, definitions and storing data.

The company prides itself on its ability to show fast results through pilot programs. It can provide a working prototype in less than a week, said Bishop.

"We unconditionally guarantee that we can do that; and if we can't, then we recommend other vendors who can," he said.

Other competitors Bull faces include Accenture of Chicago, IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, and Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa.

Bull's most recent data warehousing win was a $2 million project awarded in January to build an enterprise data warehouse for the state of Iowa. Bull's highest paying project is a $69 million deal with the New York Department of Health, where it is a subcontractor to Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, Calif.

Bull brings subject matter expertise to bear on these kinds of projects in two ways: by hiring employees with a public-sector background and by hiring consultants. This gives the company expertise in a lot of sectors, said Ginsburg.

"What [state officials] are looking for is not only access to information, but also a company that understands what is happening in these sectors," he said.

Bull's experience implementing Medicaid data warehouses in Michigan and Minnesota had a direct influence on its winning a $28 million project with the Illinois Department of Public Aid, said Bill Engle, the DPA's project coordinator for the data warehousing project.

To expand its business, Bull wants to begin providing customer relationship management software applications to its state and local clients. CRM allows a government to manage its relationship with citizens in a personal manner.

A project Bull is doing for the Michigan Department of Education helps parents decide to which school to send their children; Michigan allows parents to send their children to any school in the state if they can provide transportation. So Bull is helping the state provide data on factors such as class size, subject matter expertise and teacher education levels.

Electronic government initiatives and CRM are a "natural expansion of our data warehouse strategy," Ginsburg said.

This could be a very significant move [for Bull], but time will tell," said Davies. "The back end of CRM and portals is likely to contain a need for data warehousing, and this is where Bull wants to play."

For its part, SAS Institute also is looking to grow through CRM, as well as supplier relationship management and enterprise performance management, said Bishop.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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