Robbins-Gioia launches new service

Aims for $2.5 billion market managing large-scale projects for government and business

Robbins Gioia officials see a huge opportunity to grow their program management business in the homeland security arena. Shown are Patricia Davis-Muffett (left), vice president of marketing, and Jim Leto, CEO.

Henrik G. de Gyor

After the Customs Service selected IBM Corp. in 2001 as the prime contractor for a $1.3 billion effort to modernize its trade system, the agency hired Robbins-Gioia LLC to provide independent program management overseeing IBM's work.

This arrangement is becoming increasingly common for large government procurements, because agencies don't have the in-house staff or expertise to adequately oversee the work, said Jim Leto, chief executive officer of the Alexandria, Va., company.

"How often does a major project come around? The CIO organization isn't staffed to manage that kind of an implementation," Leto said. "There is not a hit team of program managers walking around in the government, going from major project to major project."

The program management consulting firm has 40 to 50 employees working on Customs' new trade processing system, called the Automated Commercial Environment, he said. Robbins-Gioia earned $7 million last year providing program management, organization development and other consulting support.

Robbins-Gioia's work on the ACE project is the model for a new program management service the company launched March 24. Historically, the company has been a subcontractor to integrators, helping with program management on large projects. Under the new offering, Robbins-Gioia is uncoupled from the prime contractor and will work directly for the agency, providing independent program management, as it does on Customs' ACE program.

The company will offer such services as selecting the right vendor, creating a management structure for the job, crafting and managing a contract that includes performance standards and managing the outsourcer on an ongoing basis, officials said.

"We were seeing more and more government executives talking about [program management]" and developed the solution in response, said Patricia Davis-Muffett, vice president of marketing for Robbins-Gioia. Program management is usually about 10 percent of the cost of an engagement, according to Robbins-Gioia officials.

The value that a company such as Robbins-Gioia brings is that it has experts who "have done this over and over again, on very high-risk, high-dollar endeavors," she said.

The market for program management services is about $2.5 billion in North America, Davis-Muffett said. Robbins-Gioia officials said they have about 3 percent of that market, and see a huge opportunity to grow their business in the homeland security arena.

About 70 percent of Robbins-Gioia's nearly $100 million in annual revenue comes from public-sector clients. The company has done program management for 22 years.

Anna Danilenko, an analyst with International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., predicted the market for program management services will grow.

"The success of a complex outsourced job largely depends on program management. It is a necessary function, but many IT vendors just don't have this capability. Robbins-Gioia's offering should fill in this gap in the marketplace," Danilenko said.

Under such an arrangement, Robbins-Gioia would not directly manage the people actually performing the work, but would oversee the vendors for the agency. On the ACE project, for example, the vendors include prime IBM, which is responsible for the program requirements; Lockheed Martin Corp., which does software development; and BearingPoint Inc., which handles change management, Leto said.

Charles Armstrong, executive director of the Customs and Border Protection Modernization Office, said he needed Robbins-Gioia's expertise in areas such as program monitoring, communications and technical guidance.

"Robbins-Gioia primarily plays the role of managing some of the day-to-day programmatics within modernization, to include things such as acquisition planning, program control to monitor costs and schedules from the contractor and communications -- all of our material that gets published on the Web site or in print," he said.

Robbins-Gioia's work on ACE dovetails with the duties of contractor Mitre Corp., a nonprofit organization in McLean, Va. Mitre helps Customs with strategic planning and development of its overall modernization strategy, and also provides technical experts to evaluate what the contractor is doing, Armstrong said.

Together, Robbins-Gioia and Mitre provide Customs with independent validation and verification of performance on the contract, Leto said. A March 3 General Accounting Office report found fault with Customs' IV&V on the project, however, saying that Customs relied too heavily on IBM's capabilities and reputation and on Customs and contractor staff to oversee IBM's performance.

But "Customs would argue the function we are performing is IV&V," Leto said. "The two parties on contract are us and Mitre. Mitre is providing IV&V for technical aspects and we are providing IV&V for program management. To bring in anther party would be redundant."

Brenda Smith, acting director of Customs' Office of Planning, noted in a memo responding to the GAO study that while Customs has implemented elements of IV&V, it would engage Mitre to review, document and strengthen the process.

Armstrong said hiring Robbins-Gioia and Mitre wasn't just a matter of getting bodies to supplement his staff.

"It was bringing in proven processes and procedures so that we weren't developing all that on our own," he said. "It may be a niche expertise we need for a limited period of time. It wouldn't make sense for us to hire a full-time staff member."

Many systems integrators have expertise in program management, but they don't often pursue contracts for just program management because it is a small, albeit important, part of each engagement, company officials and analysts said.

For example, Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, like Robbins-Gioia, is known for its program management expertise, but generally does not offer it as a standalone service.

"We consider this fundamental to our success, which is why we tie this so heavily to our existing offerings. It gives us a competitive advantage as we sell other services," said Joan Cox, EDS president of global program management.

Kevin Durkin, vice president of sales and marketing for EDS U.S. Government Services, said offering program management as a separate service could prevent systems integrators from bidding on other, higher-dollar pieces of the same job.

"Robbins-Gioia, for example, acted as [an] adviser on source selection" on the Customs contract, Durkin said. "If EDS did that, we would not be able to do follow on-work."

"On a large-scale implementation, you want a real focus on program management," Durkin said. "EDS can also provide that internally, but sometimes from client perspective, it benefits you to have [another firm] do that. I think [agencies] appreciate the credentials a company like Robbins-Gioia would bring. Quite frankly, on a large program you want every advantage you would get." *

Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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