Steve Harris joined Dell Federal — the technology maker’s federal government organization — in March 2014 to lead that business as vice president and general manager.
Harris previously led Dell’s state and local government and education business as area vice president for nearly five years and has held other sales leadership roles at the company for 16 years.
ExecutiveBiz recently caught up with Harris for this in-depth conversation on topics such as information technology spending at agencies, industry’s role in the government’s cyber defense efforts and Dell’s work to cultivate its network of channel partners for federal customers.
ExecutiveBiz: What have been your main items of focus since you started at Dell Federal?
Steve Harris: I’ve been in the role for 18 months now and have had the opportunity to bring a lot of change to the organization. We brought all components of the federal ecosystem into one team that is about 2,000 channel partners, the entire community of federal systems integrators and an army of people assigned directly to the end-user customer.
We all work together to harness Dell’s end-to-end solutions portfolio to create maximum value for the customer and partner community. We’ve known over the last couple months that Dell would be the market’s last end-to-end technology solutions company. With the coming split of HP, it’ll be incumbent upon us to differentiate that value to the marketplace.
That value includes client solutions, data center solutions and enterprise products including a full suite of software that helps the implementation, management and monitoring, data protection, cyber security, data analytics components of the solution based on infrastructure.
It also includes a full portfolio of necessary services that help our customers in the design, implementation or sustainment phases. As the only company left in the market with all these capabilities, we find ourselves in an extremely differentiated position to create value as a member of an industry team with a federal systems integrator.
We are in the position to create a tremendous amount of value for our end-user customers as we work hard to understand our mission and to design and implement technology solutions that optimally support that vision.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you apply your state and local market experience to Dell Federal?
Steve Harris: I’ve been in executive leadership for every aspect of the regulated sales space from state and local government, K-12 higher education, ladder-top research institutions and federally-funded research-and-development centers. I’ve learned that ethics and compliance are consistent across these institutions and these are absolutely integral to running a successful compliant business when working with government.
It is important to harness the most scalable, available and secure solutions when providing the most cost-effective solutions to deliver government service on as a platform. A very consistent theme throughout every area of the public sector I have had the privilege to serve is the concept of using technology to lower the cost of government services while increasing the effectiveness of those services at the same time.
The cybersecurity concerns and negative regulations are common throughout the regulated space. Many partners, whether they are federal systems integrator or small integrators, are also trying to serve the broader government market. My experience lent itself to help the team develop and provide optimal value to the differentiated spaces.
The federal government has services in its ecosystem like healthcare, research or transportation and a lot of these functions have peer functions in a smaller scale in any given state or city. I’ve learned from helping all these entities provide technology-enabled services.
ExecutiveBiz: Describe two federal IT trends you see as the most prominent right now.
Steve Harris: IT modernization is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I read comments from U.S. CIO Tony Scott that 80 percent of budgets are spent on support of legacy technology and 20 percent on innovation. There is a need to flip that ratio to favor modernization of technology so that it is more secure, scalable, available and more cost-effective.
This is at the forefront of our mind clearly across our portfolio from IT modernization services to a full suite of identity, access management or software products. We are in a very good position with this primary challenge from the infrastructure and services perspective.
Another prevalent trend across government remains the prevention and handling of data breaches through better IT practices, putting appropriate tools in place, IT modernization, managing the use of contractors and vehicles to bridge the gaps and to make rapid progress.
ExecutiveBiz: Where can industry and government collaborate more in enterprise IT?
Steve Harris: IT leaders in the government who have a holistic view and comprehensive understanding of what agencies need to do from an IT perspective also need to have a seat at the table for budget discussions. CIOs and other senior leaders in agencies must share responsibility in a people-process-and-technology discussion on decisions, practices and policies across every person in the enterprise in order to become a truly secure agency.
There should be a path to allow agencies to become more effective as they work through procurements and other things to enable their strategies in achieving a secure state.
In working for one of the largest companies ever to go private and given the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives at Dell under Michael Dell’s leadership, the ability to understand the challenge and make the right decisions for the right reasons in real-time is one of our advantages in terms of going to market doing business in any place globally.
Enabling people to take some risks in government and make decisions in order to make progress is a page that government needs to take out of the book of other leading technology companies. Agencies should have someone with a holistic view not only from an acquisition perspective but also from a mission-based perspective of how you deploy IT.
That’s where you will be able to dig in and as a technology partner help them piece together the most effective solutions to help them accomplish their missions. It is aligning IT investments to the priorities of the customer mission and making sure that these investments successfully enable mission outcomes. It gives the tools for the public sector to have those discussions and partner with the private sector to make that happen.
It is necessary to have the freedom and ability to move faster than the bad guys in order to be successful today and tomorrow from a cyber-security perspective. If you don’t enable government agency IT leadership to make decisions that get them in front then they are put in a difficult position to optimally use IT to support and enable the mission.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see Dell Federal’s partnerships evolving in the year ahead?
Steve Harris: We deeply value our channel and integrator partners and we have invested to make sure that our team supporting these partners is extremely well-staffed. We are working with veteran-owned minority business enterprises and other small disadvantaged businesses. We are consistently implementing practices and putting in place resources that help us scale better to partner with small businesses of that nature.
An example is our recent relationship with Ingram Micro and Synnex and availability to partner with many small companies out there striving to serve the federal customer. We are extremely focused and we know that the system integrator community is delivering solutions that are absolutely critical to the success of the missions of DoD and other agencies.
By working closely early and often with the integrators, we can help them create end-to-end solutions that are very optimal as a technology platform for their overarching solution, whether it has to do with a ship, plane, weapons system or analytical system.
We have the unique ability to provide them with Dell solutions that include enterprise infrastructure software, client systems and end services that will help them have a more cost-effective, highly advantaged, supportable platform to deploy their mission-oriented solutions on. We want to empower the partners. There is an amazing amount of talent in the channel focused on serving the federal government customer and mission.
We take a great deal of pride in our relationship with these folks, the support that we are able to provide them and in return the value that we see them create for the government customer. We see many partners that deeply value the fact that they are able to have a relationship with a company that offers the end-to-end portfolio capability.
They know the customers not only want to buy infrastructure. They also need to effectively deploy, manage, monitor and secure infrastructure, back up the data and produce analytics. We are the only manufacturer that can help them produce high value solutions from end-to-end basis for their customers. We are proud to support them as they do that.