But Robbins didn’t go that route. Raised by a
mother who spent her entire career in public service, Robbins felt a
strong affinity for the mission and concerns of government.
“I never felt prompted to go into the gold
rush because the work we do is so essential,” he reflected. “We were
filling a real responsibility to our customers.”
Those customers included members of the US
intelligence community, and over a 15-year career at Silicon Graphics
Inc. (SGI), Robbins built that business into a major revenue producer
for the company. In 2003, his organization provided around 70 percent
of the company’s revenues and $515 million in sales. Last year, the
company had revenue of $842 million, and government sales accounted for
40 percent of that revenue.
The SGI story
SGI, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif.,
is well known as one of the country’s premier innovators in
high-performance computing, visualization and storage. It focuses
exclusively on technical and government markets.
Built initially on a grant from the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency, SGI went on to essentially create
the field of computer three-dimensional visualization.
Today, SGI is moving into the homeland
security market in force, providing software solutions that cover the
entire range of homeland security response, from intelligence and
warning, to analysis, to response and then to the aftermath. SGI’s
visualization capabilities are especially useful for training,
planning, simulation and mission rehearsal. All the solutions are
modular, so they can be used in any combination or sequence.
Among SGI’s products are the Nuclear,
Biological, and Chemical Threat Operation and Training Center, a tool
that combines computing, graphics and displays to give decisionmakers
the information they need to respond to a weapon of mass destruction
event. Another is the Port Security Command Center, which combines data
from radar, sonar, video, traffic and weather to provide a
three-dimensional model of a port that can be used by decisionmakers in
a crisis. In Quebec, SGI products helped the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police create a three-dimensional database in preparation for a Summit
of the Americas. And SGI products have analyzed blast patterns in
terrorist incidents and helped architects and engineers to design
stronger and more secure buildings. Indeed, the Pentagon area hit on
Sept. 11, 2001, had beenretrofitted using SGI recommendations, which
minimized the damage that was done.
The homeland marketplace
Intense and enthusiastic, Robbins admits that
there are challenges in marketing to the homeland security community.
“We’ve been aggressive in trying to understand where we can add value
but we’ve also tried to be patient” as requirements and programs
Nonetheless, SGI has been actively providing
the platforms and tools to develop such homeland security tools as
operations centers. Robbins is especially proud of the Air Marine
Operations Center in Riverside, Calif., in which SGI participated as a
subcontractor to Titan Corp. of Reston, Va. SGI helped set up an
operations center in New York City. At Fort Huachuca, Ariz., SGI
products are being evaluated as part of experiments seeking to fuse
numerous data inputs into a clear, comprehensive battlefield overview.
The same thing, Robbins pointed out, can be done for homeland security.
“DHS has massive amounts of data, some of
which they are going to get from these new initiatives [like US-VISIT
and other data collection programs],” Robbins observed. “How they
handle that data in the collection process, how they store it, analyze,
visualize or distribute it, are elements of the data food chain that we
can add value to.”
When SGI does add that value to the products
and services it provides to the government it will do so with its
traditional thoroughness and commitment, according to Robbins. “We here
feel a real sense of responsibility to our government customers, and I
think it shows up in how we deliver on program business.”
He continued: “Silicon Graphics is not a
company that wants to drop systems off on somebody’s loading dock.
We’re a small company, a little less than a billion. We try to take our
technology to someplace where it fits, and we try to back up our
technology with people who have expertise and then we combine them to
solve real problems. We care significantly about that, and we have a
good track record with the US government.” HST