Larry Katzman is responsible for the sales and delivery services of the federal unit at Applied Information Sciences (AIS). He has been with the firm for more than a decade, starting off as serving as a Software Engineer and currently serving as Program Engineer.
Prior to his time at AIS, he served as Software Developer at Eggrock Partners, Accounting Manager at Pixelink Corporation, Sales Representative at Mathsoft Inc. and Staff Accountant at Raphael & Raphael. Katzman recently spoke with WashingtonExec to discuss federal budget cuts, how to maintain growth in a downturn economy, LPTA and more.
WashingtonExec: You are responsible for the sales and delivery of services to federal clients. How have budget cuts and the sequestration earlier this year affected your organization?
Larry Katzman: The biggest challenge is the uncertainty; the uncertainty we’ve had for the past few years with the federal budget process. It’s forced our delivery team managers to spend countless hours answering data calls for “what if” scenarios, for sequestration and shutdowns over continuing resolutions and the debt ceiling debates in Congress and the White House. It’s difficult to run programs with a long term perspective when funding is provided a few months at a time and we are constantly worried about sustained work for our people. The people on the ground serving the federal government as contractors and employees are continually worried about their employment rather than the problems they should be solving for the government. The only positive I can find, with respect to how long this has been going on, is that uncertainty has become the new normal. Everyone is settling in and are no longer reacting to every threat and innuendo put out by our elected leaders and their critics on TV.
There could be some real positive changes in our industry through budget cuts and a more sensible version of sequestration. Non-critical and non-productive programs and services can be eliminated and permanent staff reductions based on merit could save enormous amounts of money. Unfortunately, our elected leaders refuse to make difficult decisions that allow for long term vision and planning by government executives that can lead to long lasting changes that improve operations and citizen services. Instead, government executives are being forced to simply leap from one temporary piece of legislation to another which is having an enormous negative impact on worker productivity and not having any meaningful effect on the deficit or debt.
WashingtonExec: How does your company maintain growth in an economic downturn and federal cut backs?
Larry Katzman: AIS has enjoyed terrific growth during the past five years, despite the great recession and budget pressures on the federal government. I really believe this is because we focus on a less risky and a less costly approach to application development; which is exactly what is sought out when resources are being closely watched. Our approach is to use platforms, software, and technology our clients already own and build new solutions using the investments they’ve already made. For example, we have been leveraging the public cloud providers, such as Microsoft’s Azure services and Amazon Web Services, for our clients to nearly eliminate up front capital investments for new projects. We then use building block platforms and products that are often already owned and deployed as the foundation for our solutions. At AIS, we invest a lot of our time and profits to train our people on emerging technologies before they hit the market. This allows us to be one of the few qualified, experienced firms that can safely use new technology to improve IT services with less risk and cost. Perhaps more importantly, we share project risks with our clients. We’ve gained a reputation for not failing because we have a “never fail” approach to projects. Because we specialize in Microsoft Technology, our reach back within AIS and into Microsoft allows us to crowd around problems and solve them quickly. We’d rather lose money on a project than instead of leaving a client unhappy with our work.
“Virtualization and cloud technology are ubiquitous now in the enterprise, as are mobile devices. These concepts and technologies are interesting, compelling, and valuable on their own, but the convergence of using virtualization and cloud services to improve productivity, security, and convenience for our users in an integrated solution still escapes most enterprise IT”
WashingtonExec: Having earned two IT degrees, what do you predict is the next big innovation to affect the IT world?
Larry Katzman: I wish my IT degrees helped me predict the next big innovation – the classroom really prepares us with background information of what is and what was, but rarely what will be. Valuable classroom time at all levels of education still seem wasted on lectures instead of discussions and workshops.
With respect to the next big innovation, my opinion is of course clouded by my day to day client environments. The tools we use for enterprise IT are improving at breakneck speed and as we shift from on premise products to cloud based services, the pace only seems to be increasing as vendors move towards more frequent releases. I really feel the one area that is lagging and will break through soon is the convergence of all these advancements. For example, there is a lot of talk about consumerization of IT and the need for corporate IT to embrace “bring your own device.” Virtualization and cloud technology are ubiquitous now in the enterprise, as are mobile devices. These concepts and technologies are interesting, compelling, and valuable on their own, but the convergence of using virtualization and cloud services to improve productivity, security, and convenience for our users in an integrated solution still escapes most enterprise IT.
WashingtonExec: What is your opinion of the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) environment?
Larry Katzman: LPTA on the surface seems like a great approach to contracting, but in practice it limits innovation that can reduce long term costs by the government. As an example, we see a lot of O&M RFP’s put out by the government for legacy systems. This results in responses that do not include innovative ideas that could upgrade legacy systems and reduce yearly O&M costs; because there is no room for any additional cost in these proposals if you want your proposal to be read. We do not respond to most LPTA acquisitions because we feel the government needs to read our proposal to understand our value proposition. I think LPTA makes sense for buying bulk commodities from re-sellers, like printer paper and toner, but IT Services are too nuanced to purchase in this manner.
WashingtonExec: Do you think the playing field in the federal contracting arena benefits more or less with so many government programs for small businesses?
Larry Katzman: This is something of a sore spot for me personally. AIS is no longer a “small business”, some will say this is a result of the small business programs by the federal government. This is not the case. AIS grew without taking advantage of small business programs, and so can today’s small businesses. We competed for work we were qualified to do, won it, and delivered stellar results for our clients who in turn entrusted us with more work. Today, we find ourselves subcontracting more than priming because so many acquisitions are small business set asides. This is driving up the government’s costs for AIS’ services by increasing rates paid by the government and creating unnecessary administrative work. Subcontracting for unique, specialized services makes great sense. But today, the constant emphasis on small business and other socio-economic set asides have led the federal contracting arena to become overpopulated with small primes that are building only their proposal writing capabilities instead of their service delivery capability.
WashingtonExec: What is the best professional advice you have ever received?
Larry Katzman: Take care of your people, your teams, clients, and partners, and most of the time things will go well. These are basically standing orders for AIS managers from our CEO and our President. My job is to manage client relationships for AIS and ensure we’re delivering sound technical solutions. I’ve learned over the years that the most critical relationship I manage is not with my clients, but rather with my team. Ultimately, our success delivering for our clients is in their hands, and they are by far the most important people to me in my professional life. It sounds incredibly simple, but I see people get it wrong nearly every day and the consequences are highly evident – teams that are not valued and well respected by leaders rarely reach their peak performance potential.
WashingtonExec: What book did you indulge in this past summer?
Larry Katzman: As I think about the question, I laugh to myself a bit. While I did read Enemies: A History of the FBI (Tim Weiner), I actually “indulged” by reading Slash’s autobiography. On the former, I really believe to serve our clients well, IT professionals must engross ourselves in our clients’ domain as if it were our own business. I’ve had the great honor to call the FBI a client since 2004. While I learn about their business most effectively by talking to Agents, Analysts, and Support Staff, there is plenty of material on this legendary American institution that I believe helps me understand their mission so I can better serve their needs.