Special Report | Channel leaders: Trust is a foundation you can't do without

William Smithson, vice president, SI International Inc.

The leaders

» Mark Blevins

Perot Government Systems

Vice president of civilian services

» Jerold Clark Jr.

Anteon International Corp.

Senior group manager of operational intelligence

» Douglas Gilbert

Verizon Federal Network Systems

Director, Energy Dept. operations

» Bhaskaran Jayaraman

Avineon Inc.

IT director

» Kevin Lee

Health Management Systems Inc.

Vice president and senior program director

» Eric Olson

InfoReliance Corp.

Director of Marine programs

» Greg Pellegrino

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

Public sector global managing director

» Tim Schilbach

Apogen Technologies Inc.

Project manager

» William Smithson

SI International Inc

Vice president of financial systems applications development

» Heinz Wimmer

Analex Corp.

Vice president of central operations

How we found our leaders

The Washington Technology Channel Leaders were picked from nominations submitted by our readers. The editorial staff read the nominations and judged them on the following:

» How the person helped a federal, state or local government agency fulfill its mission

» How the person helped his or her company meet growth, positioning and profitability goals

» How the person showed creativity, leadership and good partnership in the delivery of products or services to a government customer.

Nominations of chief executive officers, division presidents and executive vice presidents were not accepted. Instead, we wanted to recognize the people in the trenches: program and project managers and sales and business development executives. These are the people who touch and interact with government customers daily.

William Smithson, vice president, SI International Inc.

Rick Steele

For William Smithson, a successful project starts with trust.

When building a team to work on projects with the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan, Smithson, vice president of financial systems applications development at SI International Inc., brings in experienced people he can trust.
"I let them hire their own staffs, so they have people under them that they trust," he said.

The results speak for themselves. The original project was for Web development and needed about 20 people. Today, more than 300 SI and subcontractor employees are working under Smithson.

In 2000, he won the first contract with Matcom International Corp. SI acquired Matcom at the end of 2003, and Smithson continued to run the Thrift projects.
"I was tickled pink when Bill's team was brought under me at SI," said Tom Pettit, SI's senior vice president of applications development.

Projects at the Thrift include building a new application to manage the retirement plans, moving a data center and building a call center to serve members of the plan. The Thrift Savings Plan manages about $186 billion in assets and has 3.6 million participants in the plan, which is open to government employees and is similar to 401(k) plans in the private sector.

"I'm not much of a babysitter as a supervisor," Smithson said. "My basic style is to hire good people and get out of their way."

The team-building approach also extends to subcontractors. Teammates on the projects include Computer Access LLC, Computer Sciences Corp., Keane Federal Systems Inc., Integrated Benefits Solutions Inc., Jacob and Sundstrom Inc., Savantage Solutions Inc. and SunGard Data Systems Inc.

Having good teammates is critical, Smithson said. Often, they'll have knowledge and expertise that SI might not have inhouse, he said.

Before the SI acquisition, Smithson's team took on a troubled project that had failed under American Management Systems Inc. Without commenting on the AMS situation, Smithson said that "what happens on many large efforts is they get bid conservatively and then staffed with inexperienced people. When problems arise, they have not run into the situation before."

Smithson said he tries to bring in experienced people and let them work, but he supplements that strategy with a trust-but-verify approach that includes regular meetings with his staff and progress reports.

In June 2005, SI won an $18 million Thrift contract to replace a call center in New Orleans with one in Virginia. Two days before the center was to open, Hurricane Katrina struck. Smithson's team opened the new center early and supported the New Orleans center until all of its operations could be moved.

Smithson is quick to praise the Thrift for its role in the success Matcom, and now SI, have had.

"I like having a close working relationship with them," he said of Thrift staff. "We have conference calls; they are invited to watch my developers; they have access to everything."

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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