Winkler reflects on his tenure at Army PEO-EIS

Future plans include establishing SETA company to help address defense IT challenges

In late March, Gary Winkler announced his departure from the Army after more than four years as program executive officer for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS). Defense Systems requested an outbrief, and Winkler agreed to respond to e-mail questions from Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg regarding his tenure at PEO-EIS, his ambitions for the future, the decision to move Army e-mail to DISA and the succession plan at PEO-EIS.

DS. What do you have planned for the near future? Who are you going to work for?

Winkler: My motivation for moving on now is based upon the opportunity to add more value to government agencies by applying my capabilities in a broader way. I really felt that I had to move on in order to contribute more. Even the Army's Executive Talent and Succession Management Board told me that I am “ready for a career-broadening assignment.’”

So my emerging plans are based upon using my abilities to do more in the national security space, and that's not as simple as going to work for a new employer. I'm going to take a two-pronged approach: first, consulting with industry to help ensure government requirements are understood and win-win relationships are established; and second, standing up a government support systems engineering/technical assistance company (SETA) to address IT, cyber and DOD challenges.

On the consulting side, I am going to support Rob Guerra and Phil Kiviat's clients, while also taking on a few clients of my own. Rob and Phil are experts in this area, and Rob is being awarded with a lifetime achievement award by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and Business Development. It will be good to learn from a legend.

On the SETA company side, my goal is to establish a company of government experts, who for one reason or another leave government service, but want to stay engaged in the mission on the government side. There is a paradigm shift about to happen with civilian employees that I don't think many leaders have yet recognized.

In the next year or two, most civilians will be on the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) that replaced the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) in the mid-1980s. Under CSRS, civilians had to stay in service until a certain age, typically 55, with at least 20 years of service, or else they lose all of their retirement benefits, which were quite generous compared to the FERS system. The government essentially had these employees by the “golden handcuffs.” In contrast, FERS was set up to facilitate people moving in and out of government service, and they don't lose retirement benefits when leaving service at any age. I'm afraid that the government is going to start losing a lot of good talent. If I can capture that talent and make it rewarding for them to stay engaged in the mission, as support contractors, our country will be better off. I, myself, am a FERS employee.

DS. What do you feel were your main accomplishments at PEO-EIS?

Winkler: I really need to give the PEO-EIS workforce and our industry partners all of the credit for the accomplishments during my tenure as PEO. My role as their leader was to focus, develop and unleash the talent and collective power of the workforce. We did that through developing PEO and PM Balanced Scorecards and measuring monthly performance, holding monthly PEO/PM collaboration meetings, tweaking our organizational structure from time-to-time as missions and personnel evolved, voluntarily reassigning almost 10 percent of the workforce each year, promoting internally and selecting upcoming leaders for new challenges and key positions (to include Terry Watson as our first SES Deputy PEO), aggressively implementing Lean Six Sigma for not only efficiencies but for professional development, and hiring college students and interns to ensure a good pipeline of talent for the future.

On the program side, I think we managed to optimize our big enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs for the present and future. We moved Army Knowledge Online/Defense Knowledge Online forward to where 2.3 million users can access their data, applications and network services via secure PDAs (iPhone, iPad, Android). We postured the biometrics program to become a formal program of record, while also supporting all overseas conflicts. We took on the Human Resource Solutions Service Contracting mission and helped formulate the Army's approach for oversight of service contracting with the new deputy assistant secretary for the Army (DASA) Services position and organization.

And most importantly, all of our programs kept pumping out new capabilities to over 500 locations worldwide, reaching over 2 million joint users, delivering on-time and on-budget. In fact, we actually increased our output from $3 billion/year to $4 billion/year based upon our ability to execute programs, and we produced an annual 20 percent return on investment, or $800 million annual cost avoidance. I simply tried to foster teamwork, provide focus, resources, organization, policy and procedural guidance, and developmental opportunities, and then I let them run. What a great team.

DS: What would you say is the state of Army IT/ERP today as far as the path it's taking from where it was to where it's going?

Winkler: I think the ERPs are on very solid ground now, as I said earlier. (Winkler was the subject of our March interview, prior to the announcement of his departure.) The Army's chief management officer, Joseph Westphal, and his Office of Business Transformation have been instrumental in working the governance structure and Army ERP strategy to ensure functionality and business processes are appropriately allocated between our ERP systems.

As far as Army IT, I think Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, as the Army's new CIO/G-6, and Lt. Gen. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, as the new Army Cyber commander, will do great things to move Army IT forward. We have many challenges associated with the existing enterprise efforts such as enterprise email, enterprise service desk, active directory consolidation, data center consolidation and NETOPs tools. I would expect some adjustments to these efforts as declining budgets loom and pressure mounts to provide more capability at lower costs, without additional investment.

DS: DISA will be responsible for Army e-mail in the future. What are your thoughts on that responsibility leaving PEO-EIS?

Winkler: Well, Army e-mail responsibility was never vested in any PEO, it was run by local activities and organizations (post, camp, station), and that is why it was inefficient and more costly than necessary. Mine was a dissenting opinion in going to DISA for enterprise e-mail, as I simply believe there are more cost-effective, efficient and faster ways to meet the Army's email/calendar/desktop requirements.

I do admit that, having been in IT acquisition for a long time, I am still concerned about the on-time, on-cost delivery of the required capabilities with the current DISA approach. I am also concerned that this major effort is not being led and managed by a PM organization under Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, because as you know, it's not the technology that trips up programs and major efforts, but rather the other "ilities", and professional program managers are experienced in ensuring those "ilities" are addressed. But for the Army's sake, I hope my concerns are unfounded.

DS. What would you consider unfinished business at PEO EIS?

Winkler: The length of assignments over my career have rarely exceeded 4 years, and it's hard moving on to the next assignment because there is always more you want to do, and there is always more to do. All one can hope to do is to move on after making significant contributions, leaving the organization better off than when you came in, and ensuring the organization is set up to succeed after you leave.

It reminds me of an old Merle Haggard song, "Someday When Things are Good." When things are good, it's time to leave, I could never leave if things were bad. Unfinished business? Our programs are in great shape, so nothing more to do there.

There is always more to do to develop our future leaders, coaching and mentoring them as they work through challenges, and ensuring they acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities via lessons learned that will make them successful leaders as they move up. But, hopefully I have "trained the trainers," so our other PEO and PM leaders will continue to mentor and coach our upcoming leaders.

DS: What's the succession plan at PEO EIS?

Winkler: I have really enjoyed working for Malcolm Ross O'Neill, the Army's Acquisition Executive. He is simply awesome. PEO positions are critical and key positions, and careful thought is given to filling any of them. I am sure O'Neill will consider all options before making a selection to fill the position.

I always preached to my folks that they should not have any single points of failure on the personnel side of our business, and I don't view myself as a single point of failure. Our deputy PEO, Watson, knows the PEO EIS programs, environment, stakeholders and landscape better than anyone else in the Army. Whether or not she moves up, or someone else comes in, she will provide steady leadership during and after the transition. You can rest assured that whatever decision O'Neill makes on how to fill the PEO EIS position, it will be the right decision for the overall benefit of the Army, all things considered.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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