IBM Federal: Big Blue is back

After walking away from government work in 1994, IBM is one of the biggest IT integrators and the US government is IBM's largest single customer.

In 1994 IBM sold off its federal contracting business. A dozen years later IBM Federal is back and its products and services are used in 90 percent of federal agencies. The Washington Post profiles the company and its director, Anne K. Altman.

Altman, who oversaw the divestiture, has been instrumental in building the federal business and moving IBM from federal sales to consulting.

"My point of view was there is so much more we can do and so much more we can bring," Altman said. To that end, she formed an advisory group at headquarters, hoping to get the top people at Armonk more in tune with what was needed in Washington.

"I want you to understand this is not just my obligation, but yours," Altman says she told the board members, who included Donofrio; Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technical strategy and innovation; Steven A. Mills, senior vice president of software; and William M. Zeitler, senior vice president of the Systems and Technology Group. "I didn't just want to be empowered. I needed support."

Today, she says, key officials at IBM headquarters are so attuned to their defense and intelligence clients that they have security clearances.

The first major success was a $1.3 billion contract to change how U.S. Customs handled data involving import and export security. Another huge milestone: develop a way for the 22 agencies that make up the Department of Homeland Security to share information and resources.

Recently the group bought Internet Security Systems Inc. , a technology security company with offices in Herndon. And the Defense Information Systems Agency announced in July that it awarded IBM a $17 million contract to bring instant messaging, text chat, Web conferencing and application sharing to the Defense Department.

Altman's group now employs 4,000 people and services virtually the entire US government. The government is now IBM's largest customer.