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Software Giant Has Unique Information Technology Role

October 2008
By Michael A. Robinson

Intelligence sales grow faster than those to defense and civilian agencies.

When he is not selling software to federal agencies and major corporations, Curt Kolcun likes to unwind on his 26-acre “farm” near the historic town of Leesburg, Virginia, about 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. The capital commute sometimes can seem like capital punishment, but Kolcun doesn’t seem to mind.

In fact, he likes to tool around on what he says is his “other automobile,” a tractor he uses to clear brush and mow his fields. He also enjoys splitting firewood and tending to his apple trees and blueberry plants. The spread is a perfect antidote to the rigors of life in Washington and the challenges of running a more than $1 billion enterprise.

“It’s not a real working farm, but we do live out in the country,” Kolcun says. “Taking walks and working on the property is where you are going to find me most weekends. My wife and I moved out here in the 1990s to get some space. We love the outdoors. It’s where I get my solace.”

Associates say that is also where he gets a lot of the ideas that help him in his role as vice president of Microsoft Federal, a division of Microsoft Corporation. The world’s leading software company is known for its ubiquitous operating system, essential computer applications and powerful servers used by many of the largest organizations in the United States.

Indeed, the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy represent three of Microsoft’s five biggest enterprise customers. Reflecting Microsoft’s status as a software titan, Kolcun says his unit sells products to every U.S. civilian and defense agency.

Each of those two sectors in turn represents a little less than half of Microsoft Federal’s revenues, with the remainder coming from the intelligence community. Though he declines to provide specific figures, Kolcun says sales to intelligence agencies currently are the fastest growing segment of the business. He expects double-digit growth this year after achieving the same benchmark in 2007.

For its part, Microsoft Federal remains a markedly different operation than the other major information technology players in the federal arena. The information technology units of companies such as Computer Sciences Corporation, SAIC, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman tend to focus on providing services—such as establishing data centers or critical infrastructure, consulting and computer security—rather than on such proprietary products as e-mail, word processors and operating systems. By contrast, products remain the heart of the Microsoft franchise, with services accounting for about 10 percent of federal sales.

“We will always be a product company,” Kolcun observes. “That is our heritage and will continue to be our heritage. We’re delivering great values with what I would describe as commercial off-the-shelf technology. But I think there’s also recognition by the company that we’re willing to step forward in providing leading-edge capabilities and actually lead those efforts in areas where I would consider it groundbreaking or areas where we demonstrate the value of our technology.

“It won’t be that we design the overall architecture and then deploy the product, but we look for those target opportunities that demonstrate the value of our product and sort of put the flag in the ground to demonstrate what’s possible, and then work with partners to expand that broadly across the customer base,” he elaborates.

“And I think the opportunity for us and the opportunity in this marketplace, especially given the financial constraints we see on the horizon, is that our customers will continue to realize significant value with commercial off-the-shelf technology. The real discussion is, how does software really enable an agency to achieve its mission in a way that reduces costs across the board?”

“The real discussion is, how does software really enable an agency to achieve its mission in a way that reduces costs across the board?”
                —Curt Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft Federal

Meanwhile, Kolcun must manage what he describes as a delicate partner “ecosystem.” That is because Microsoft sometimes competes directly with large information technology service vendors while simultaneously supplying products that these companies will deploy under major federal contracts.

Microsoft also supplies products to the vendor community that these companies use internally for their own operations. Although those sales occur through Microsoft’s federal unit, those unspecified sales are not included in the $1 billion U.S. government sales figures.

The company’s top products for government agencies are Microsoft Office, a bundle of desktop applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint; the Windows operating system, which remains the de facto standard for most desktops despite the renewed popularity of the Macintosh and other operating systems such as Unix; Windows server, a cornerstone of business server products used to run computer networks that can include hundreds or even thousands of desktops; SharePoint server, a collaboration server that provides a single, integrated location for employee team work, finding organizational resources and searching for experts and corporate information; and Outlook, which is an e-mail application that runs on the Exchange server. These products form one overall communications package.

Appointed to head the federal unit in August 2003, Kolcun has guided Microsoft Federal through a particularly active period for federal purchases of technology products and services. He is responsible for sales, contracting, pre-sales technical support and product marketing for the company’s U.S. federal government business worldwide.

“I highlight in my first year a significant agreement with the U.S. Air Force that I think is transformational just based on our partnership with them,” Kolcun says. “It led to an overall focus, relative to security and a services engagement with our consulting organization, that has allowed us to work with the Air Force to define a standard configuration that has subsequently become the foundation for all Windows systems within the federal government, as mandated by the Office of Management and Budget.”

When he joined Microsoft nearly 19 years ago, Kolcun was the company’s first systems engineer assigned to work on the U.S. Defense Department account. He worked closely with product groups to lead Microsoft’s initial field efforts on security, encryption and standards initiatives.

Similar to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Kolcun has become a technology leader without the benefit of a college degree. He says he started his information technology career almost by accident. Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, he joined the Air Force right out of high school. As an airman at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, he found he had a native talent for technology when he became involved in automating the Aerial Port Squadron.

Upon leaving the Air Force in 1983, he took a job in the federal division of NBI Incorporated. He later moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he helped the company establish its worldwide personal computer support center.

Earlier this year, Kolcun received a Federal 100 Award, which recognizes 100 individuals from government, industry and academia who in the previous year significantly have influenced how the federal government buys, uses or manages information technology. Sponsored by Federal Computer Week, the 2008 awards focused on “Agents of Change.”

The award cited Kolcun’s support of the USO of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., a nonprofit troop morale-boosting group. His work included distributing portable music players to troops and upgrading the software and hardware in a USO-run computer room at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Kolcun also spearheaded “Salute to Our Troops,” a private performance of the New York City Rockettes staged for U.S. troops. Microsoft purchased an entire Rockettes performance on November 12, 2007, on behalf of the USO, the award noted.

“This whole event spiraled, and this was Curt personally doing it,” Elaine Rogers, USO Metro president, said at the time of the award. “It was his idea, totally.”

“I’ve been working with the Defense Department since I joined this company and really getting to know the military members and their families and seeing the sacrifices that they make,” Kolcun says. “So, it was an area for me that I’m passionate about.

“Citizenship is an integral element. It’s part of the fabric of our company that I really enjoy. Part of the reason I’ve been here for 19 years is that people are passionate about the customers. We respect what they do. While we compete with—you name the company—both we and our competitors share in the respect of the end customer. We’ll do the right thing to make sure they achieve their mission.

“We may not agree in the way to do that, but at the end of the day, there’s the joint respect that we’re going to work together with that customer to achieve that mission. And I do think that it is unique. That’s part of what I would describe as the pleasure of working in this particular marketplace.”