BearingPoint Consultant Discusses Rebuilding Iraq's IT

Managing partner Tom DeGarmo discusses his firm's plans to rebuild Iraq's IT and communications infrastructure.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

August 1, 2003

5 Min Read

BearingPoint managing partner Tom DeGarmo and about 100 of his colleagues from the consulting firm's International Public Services Group are bound for Iraq to begin work on an economic development contract secured last month from the U.S. Agency for International Development. DeGarmo shared his thoughts on the project and some of his personal concerns with InformationWeek senior editor Paul McDougall.

InformationWeek: What are your priorities, or is the situation over there too fluid to plan things out in detail?

DeGarmo: Our work in Afghanistan gave us some idea of what to expect. We'll be working with their central bank, some commercial banks, their customs agencies, and government ministries. The priority is to get fiscal and financial systems up and running. But it's true that you won't really understand what it's like until you're on the ground.

We've done these a number of times. You know that every government needs an FMIS system to manage the budget. You know eventually you'll be administering some sort of tax. We know the types of systems that need to be put in place.

InformationWeek: What kind of infrastructure is in place in Iraq?

DeGarmo: We're learning that not much IT is in place. There is no telecom environment. People are relying on VSAT for Internet. There is a Cingular cellular GSM provider operating there, and I believe there may be some MCI service.

InformationWeek: What about computer systems?

DeGarmo: Whatever was there was antiquated and possibly destroyed. We're expecting a greenfield environment. First, we'll make sure that power is stable, and we'll build hardware and software from the ground up.

InformationWeek: In what areas will IT be brought to bear?

DeGarmo: Mostly in the fiscal area. We will install FMIS and budgeting systems, payroll systems, tax administration systems to manage revenue collection, and the like.

InformationWeek: How can you plan a deployment in such an unstable environment?

DeGarmo: We'll do rapid assessments in each of the key areas to understand what is there. Twelve years ago [prior to the first Gulf War] this was a robust economy, but things have stagnated. The pictures we see on television paint a pretty chaotic picture. At the central bank or Ministry of Finance, we see all the looting and people carrying off computers. Or maybe they've been bombed out. Well, that's my client now.

InformationWeek: That's got to be disconcerting in some sense.

DeGarmo: It is, but the good thing is there'll be little requirement for legacy-systems integration.

InformationWeek: It seems BearingPoint has a fairly broad mandate here. Not just for IT, but to actually design new governmental institutions.

DeGarmo: We'll look at their central bank operations and build on what's been done by the Treasury Department and the CPA to date. And we'll possibly work with the interim Iraqi local authorities, depending on how much authority they are given. InformationWeek: How are you personally preparing for this?

DeGarmo: It was mandated that we receive a week of training by the Army at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. We got a physical, some shots, and received preparedness training for NBC [nuclear, biological, or chemical] attack. I also received weapons familiarization. I'm checked out on a 9mm, though I don't expect to be carrying a weapon. We stayed in a barracks with other contractors. It was pretty interesting.

InformationWeek: Did you have a nasty drill sergeant?

DeGarmo: The military showed a tremendous level of respect for the civilian contractors. On the last day, the commander read a personal note from one of the service people. It said how privileged he felt to be able to help us on our way as we go to rebuild the country. They know what kind of commitment is required to be over there.

InformationWeek: How will you be traveling to Iraq?

DeGarmo: We will probably take a commercial or charter flight into Kuwait or Jordan and then enter Iraq via convoy.

InformationWeek: There's obviously a significant element of danger here.

DeGarmo: We have secured a security company to identify safe facilities where we can stay, such as hotels that have been secured. But this will be the most intense environment that this team has gone into. And they've been in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Serbia.

InformationWeek: How do you feel about all this, personally?

DeGarmo: This is one you sign up for. You have to be comfortable. You're not forced in any way. After talking with family, my wife summed it up nicely: "You're doing something that makes a difference." We're helping the U.S. government. A sense of patriotism comes up. It gives you a different walk in your step when you can be involved in something like this.

InformationWeek: Have you done anything like this before?

DeGarmo: I was involved in Afghanistan, but strictly from back here. We did a lot of staging of the treasury system here, then shipped it out.

InformationWeek: How much time do you expect to spend in Iraq?

DeGarmo: The contract is for a year, and I will be going over each month for two to three weeks at a time.

InformationWeek: What lessons has your team learned from the Afghanistan engagement?

DeGarmo: You have to be prepared to be self-contained. What dictates success is what is left behind and ensuring knowledge transfer to the citizens. That will be good news in Iraq. The education level and the IT proficiency are relatively high.

Return to main story: BearingPoint Gears Up For Iraq Rebuilding

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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