Interview: Chris Steel, Chief Solutions Architect at Software AG Government Solutions, Inc.
Chris Steel is the Chief Solutions Architect at Software AG Government Solutions, Inc., a leading software provider for the US federal government. The company helps integrate and dramatically enhance the speed and scalability of government IT systems. Steel has more than 20 years of experience in IT, successfully directing, developing, and delivering mission-critical systems, products, and services for financial, telecommunications, defense, healthcare, and software companies. Interesting, helpful & engaging, from in-memory computing to government cyber-security to data consolidation to IT portfolio.
1. Over the course of any given day, what are your work duties as chief solutions architect at Software AG Government Solutions?
As Chief Solutions Architect at Software AG Government Solutions I wear many hats and perform many duties day to day. My primary focus is to understand the current problems facing government agencies today and architect solutions to address those problems, optimizing a customer’s current IT environment while leveraging the Software AG product suite where possible. In addition to architecting big picture solutions, I spend a lot of time educating our government customers and internal sales resources as to the benefits and capabilities of our wide variety of products. I do a quite a bit of evangelizing of our solutions, including authoring articles, speaking at conferences, and leading customer face-to-face meetings. Perhaps my favorite activity is working closely with our customers’ technical resources to find innovative solutions that they can put to use to directly benefit their agencies.
2. In order to do your job effectively, what specific hard and soft skills are required?
To be effective in the Chief Solutions Architect position, you need a broad background that spans many industries and technologies. Our government customers have a wide varying assortment of IT systems that span many commercial industry sectors such as finance, telecommunications, and health care, to name a few. The range of technologies is even greater. To be effective, you must have at least some experience across as many technologies and industries as possible. It is no different with soft skills. You need a wide range of soft skills that are accumulated over years of onsite consulting and sales engineering. You need to be able to interact at a business level with C-level execs and then carry those messages down the line and be able to get in the weeds with the developers, all the while keeping in mind the political landscape of the customer.
3. What do you like most about your job, and what is the greatest cause of frustration?
The one aspect of the Chief Solutions Architect role that I enjoy the most is the ability to see an agency need, in the form of a need statement or RFI where it’s depicted as an initial description and to be able to transform that description into a functioning architected solution with a Proof of Value (POV) that the customer can see first-hand in just a few short weeks. Time and again, agencies we speak to share with us that they have made large investments in technologies that
failed to achieve their objectives. It’s rewarding to be able to identify the biggest unknowns and greatest risks in a solution architecture and then create a POV that addresses those risks and demonstrates those pieces so that the customer can walk away feeling confident in their IT purchase.
The greatest cause of frustration in my role that is often shared by our customers as well stems from the bureaucracy involved in the government procurement process. That is why I am such an avid supporter of IT portfolio management tools. Agencies could be much more cost effective and efficient if they had the tools in place to provide the proper visibility to all the different stakeholders involved in the procurement process.
4. What extra challenges, if any, does Software AG Government Solutions face in providing applications to federal entities as opposed to traditional companies?
Some of the unique challenges that Software AG Government Solutions faces in providing solutions to federal agencies as opposed to commercial companies center around regulations, pricing structures, and an extended sales cycle. There are a multitude of additional regulations that our products must adhere to that don’t exist in the commercial world. We also need to be very careful with our pricing structures to ensure we are in compliance with federal law. Lastly, the government sales cycle is typically much longer than with traditional commercial companies which means we need to have every detail in order the first time through.
5. Are there specific trends in the industry that have changed the way Software AG Government Solutions does business? If so, please explain.
Cloud Computing is one of the industry trends that has changed the ways Software AG Government Solutions does business. Across the government, agencies are all looking at ways to leverage cloud computing as a means to reduce cost and speed time to market. For a product development company, this means looking at new licensing models and ways to run our products in the various cloud models, from public clouds, to private and hybrid clouds. In many cases, we need to adhere to particular cloud security standards, such as FedRAMP. It has forced us to look at how we do business and how our customers are doing business.
6. Are your customers generally aware of the need for the sorts of solutions Software AG Government Solutions provides or do you have to explain the benefits to them?
Software AG has a multitude of different products, and knowledge of those products varies from agency to agency. Overall, we find that our customers aren’t as savvy about the overall solutions we offer, in comparison with the details of some of the products. Therefore we are making a constant effort to better educate them through our sales and marketing teams. We hosts several conferences, write articles and make appearances in multiple federal media channels such as Federal News Radio, in order to make our solutions known and to share the ways in which federal agencies can benefit from our solutions.
7. Why is your company better suited to meet customer needs than can rivals?
Software AG Government Solutions is better suited to meet federal customer needs in comparison to our rivals because we offer a wider range of products that scale to the dynamic needs of government agencies. Relied on for mission critical applications every day, our products are regarded as world class, consistently ranked as leading and visionary according to research analysts, such as Gartner and Forrester. We also offer a unique special forces approach to software delivery. We are focused on delivering value to our government customers in short order. We encourage organizations to put us and our software to the test. Through free proof of concepts, agencies can prove out our solutions within their own IT environments.
8. How concerned are your clients about cyber security issues, and what solutions does your company provide to help them to alleviate their concerns?
Cyber security issues are a top concern of all of our federal customers. The DoD and Intelligence Communities are particularly cyber vigilant, but every federal agency makes it a priority. Software AG Government Solutions provides several products and solutions that aid in addressing cyber security. Our solution approach is to help agencies integrate all of their existing security tools, from network intrusion detection sensors to their risk and compliance systems, to provide an integrated view of their overall security posture. We believe in an ‘extend and enhance’ approach, vs. ‘rip and replace’ and have found that it resonates well with our customers. We also bring a streaming analytics platform to the table to help move agencies from being reactive to being proactive to cyber attacks.
9. What steps can a company take to develop a corporate culture that places a high premium on cyber security, and who should spearhead the effort?
In general, our government agency customers already have a culture that places a premium on cyber security. What they may lack is the education and tools to properly support that culture. A lot of the manual security processes are still in place today at some agencies which could be automated and streamlined to reduce their impact on productivity. Security is not beneficial when it completely inhibits an agency’s ability to fulfil its mission. There should be more initiatives from the executive and legislative branches to modernize security government wide. Only they have the true authority to effectively spearhead such measures.
10. What advice would you give a college or university student interested in entering the IT space post-graduation?
Without a doubt, I would point students interested in pursuing a career in IT towards cyber security. That field is woefully understaffed and the needs are growing exponentially each year. It is a great time to get into the IT field, and cyber security is one area that can guarantee high pay, job security, and most of all, job satisfaction.