Andras Szakal is vice president and chief technology officer for IBM’s federal division, which provides leadership, expertise and reachback into company’s research and product development organizations.
The federal CTO team also manages a high tech lab environment to support partner IRAD’s and technology integration activities necessary to address complex customer initiatives. The team supports the company’s civilian and defense related technology business units.
IBM provides multifaceted software, hardware, cloud and integration services to the federal government and Szakal’s team plays a strategic role in IBM’s federal business expansion and success.
He recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about IBM’s recent acquisitions and how he leverages IBM’s skills and offerings to provide federal customers cloud computing, healthcare and analytics solutions to build a smarter government.
ExecutiveBiz: What strategies do you employ as IBM’s federal business CTO to grow IBM’s government business and effectively serve its client base?
Andras Szakal: The federal CTO provides deep technical expertise and leadership and reach back to IBM research and development organizations and our various lab environments in order to support new acquisitions, solution acceleration, delivery of integrated solutions and technical accelerators.
I am responsible for helping customers realize IBM technology solutions and envision the integration and assembly of complex solutions to address key federal customer challenges and opportunities for IBM.
ExecutiveBiz: What technologies does your business focus on and where does it aim to provide these services?
Andras Szakal: My team focuses on IBM’s entire software portfolio, and we try to be a good citizen when it comes to the system side of the business. Of course the lines blur when it comes to offerings like PureSystems, our new integrated system, which is both. We find that a software solution ultimately determines the platform requirements, so we are often in the middle of both the software and hardware solution design.
In addition, my team manages the Federal Industry Solutions Center, a state of the art computer laboratory in which we have every IBM system component set up and supporting our software infrastructure – of course with the federal customer in mind.
I also work directly with IBM research in bringing new technologies that to bear on federal challenges, as well as work with the services teams and the integrators in the federal community to address agency opportunities.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you expect IBM’s federal business will see growth in the coming months and years? Are these growth areas similar to growth areas of the market as a whole?
Andras Szakal: One of the things that I personally tell my team to focus on are federal initiatives. We have internal federal strategic initiatives, as well as industry initiatives. The areas where we’ll see significant growth are in the cloud computing solutions that we’re offering in the federal government space, in healthcare, in analytics and in our new integrated platforms, like the defense operations platform and the intelligent operations center.
We will also see growth with the entire realm of smarter city solutions. This includes the newly acquired I2 and Curam solutions. My team is working to integrate these newly acquired solutions into our overall portfolio and customer environments.
ExecutiveBiz: IBM talks about building a smarter government. What elements comprise a smarter government and how will technology enable the U.S. government’s effort to operate more effectively?
Andras Szakal: A smarter government is more agile, more able to effectively respond to changing government needs and citizen dynamics. We’re seeing many of the closed loop systems become open loop and netcentric. One of the ways that’s being realized in the federal government space is through shared services, semantic interoperability and sharing of information in general.
In general, we’re working to make the environment more intelligent, more automated and integrated. If you were to take an example of what I mean, we’ve invested heavily in the next generation IBM technologies that help to integrate and automate systems that were once monolithic and closed. Take facilities management and environmental controls, for example. In the past these systems were not manufactured to be open and netcentric, or share information at all for that matter.
Today, smart bases and government buildings have to be able to effectively manage the environment of those facilities, from managing the energy they consume to managing information technology, all while taking a unified approach. And this is just a single facet of a smarter building, base or city
You obviously have other elements too – smarter traffic, smarter healthcare, and don’t forget smarter intelligence and smarter defense. IBM offers a truly amazing set of offerings to address these challenges. The federal CTO team supports the deployment of these IBM offerings.
As an example, I mentioned that we’ve recently acquired Curam Software. We’re very much looking forward to taking Curam software to the next level, potentially putting it in the cloud, and helping to provide state, local and federal government with a smarter healthcare solution.
ExecutiveBiz: In addition to Curam, the company recently acquired several companies such as Green Hat and Emptoris that specialize in cloud and software. How do these acquisitions expand IBM’s federal business’ capabilities?
Andras Szakal: In the case of Emptoris and Green Hat, these are companies that fit well into our portfolio and overarching strategy. Green Hat facilitates development of cloud solutions by making cloud computing easier to test and deploy. Debugging a complex cloud-based value chain can be, in and of itself, challenging for customers.
Emptoris provides cloud-based supply chain provisioning solutions. I’m personally interested in extending our Emptoris solution to support federal agencies’ supply chain risk management and acquisition needs. I think that Emptoris could help agencies mitigate the risk of dealing with commercial suppliers.
What differentiates IBM from our cloud competitors is our breadth of offerings and experience with developing and implementing highly scalable and virtualized operations environments. IBM can provide the development, management, deployment and analytical tools necessary to implement shared services. Not to mention our security offerings. My team spends much of their time thinking about how to solve some of the most complex federal customer problems using these capabilities. It’s tremendously fun and rewarding.
It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a private cloud, public cloud or a shared service – ultimately cloud offerings require an underlying service development and operations environment. Our team is responsible for helping provide strategic insight into the federal customer cloud requirements. We’re essentially acquiring the companies that add value to the cloud-operating platform that the corporation continues to evolve.
ExecutiveBiz: What challenges and trends is the government space facing and what are the best ways a contractor, like IBM, can aid the government to navigate its way to success in today’s market?
Andras Szakal: I think agencies are struggling to make the shift to a whole new set of computing paradigms, but the industry tends to lump all of these together under the cloud umbrella. There are multiple paradigm shifts that are occurring at the same time and multiple mixed messages out there.
Some of the considerable challenges we will face are how to establish a shared service environment, how to realize deep insight into vast amounts of information, how to leverage cloud and software-as-a-service capabilities while still maintaining control of the data, how to define more agile business processes, all while trying to integrate mobile environments and sensor based technologies.
Cost reduction is also paramount in the current fiscal environment. Budgets are always in the forefront of the mind of the CIO or program manager. However, cost savings alone are not a means to an end. Often you build a solution, and the next phase is consolidation and transformation, thereby achieving cost takeout. We often forget that optimization occurs after the first release of a solution.
The first priority is solving the business problem then you focus on optimizing the solution to be more cost effective. IT optimization is often the most neglected phase of IT deployment. But it has the most impact on the budget over time. Companies like IBM can help agencies optimize their existing IT solution, thereby freeing capital for future IT investment.