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Managing

Greig Coleman Fields is HP's federal expert

"Being comfortable with change is the most important thing," he says. "The real skill is the ability to learn and continue to learn"

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Greig Coleman

Greig Coleman Fields: "finding new technology areas so we can be there."

Greig Coleman Fields directs the federal solutions architects team for Hewlett-Packard Co (HP, Palo Alto, CA). His job has a broad charter: keeping his ear to the ground to hear about trends that HP should be preparing for now.

That might include the latest ID management initiatives, like smart cards with biometrics and RFID, coming up soon for every government employee and contractor. Or Real-ID, a state requirement for new biometric identification credentials.

"I'm a sort of pseudo-CTO," Fields declares. "We're trying to find new technology areas that the government is going to need, so we can be right there with our customers and our partners."

The partners include systems integrators Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. "We also ask people from HP labs to work with Mitre, NIST and other customers on technologies closer to production that HP partners will be ready to offer for sale or use.

"We focus on closing our short-term business and keeping the lights on, but we also bring innovative solutions to our customers and the market. We have 'Invent' in our logo and in our DNA," he says.

Supporting the sales team
Fields manages the people who support the federal sales team. The solutions architects, technical consultants and systems engineers on his large team work with customers and partners throughout the U.S. and various sites in Europe and Asia. They put together solutions, write whitepapers, talk to customers, attend events and give presentations and product demos about HP solution sets. They also research and write requests for proposals (RFPs) and scout around for new business ventures.

Until last November, Fields was director of solutions architects for the HP Americas public sector organization, where he worked with state and local accounts. But the company moved the state and local sector into another unit to make its federal business a more efficient stand-alone entity.

"Company business units have different targets," Fields says. "We're trying to focus our selling efforts to increase the efficiency of our sales force."

Offering advice
Fields says his management style has changed over time. Today he's letting his line managers run things and offering advice rather than micromanaging.

"We want to give our employees as much leeway to be as creative as they can. No matter what happens, I want them to feel that I'm going to be in their corner."

With HP since DEC
Fields has been with some part of Hewlett-Packard since 1984, when it was Digital Equipment Corp (DEC). "I came to Digital to learn about the strategic programs that are big opportunities in the Federal government," he says.

The technology drew him in, and the company's early and continued support of diversity convinced him to stay. "Certainly walking in and seeing an African American guy as a manager was a very positive thing back then," he says.

Government programs
Fields grew up in suburban Maryland, near Washington, DC. His father was a clerk for the U.S. Navy, and his mother was the first black woman to achieve high GS7 status in the U.S. Department of Labor.

Fields worked part time at the National Library of Medicine of the NIH in high school and college. After earning a two-year degree from Prince George's Community College in 1979 he got a job working at the Naval Research Lab.

"They had big, high-performance computers that ran Cobol, Fortran and other programming languages. They put me on a nationwide project using minicomputers as front-end systems to link the computers at the Navy labs to the ARPAnet," Fields remembers. He was the only person of color on the team.

"Eventually that network became the Internet. The front-end system was running on the Unix platform, which really took off in the early 1980s. The technology was new then and changing rapidly.

"The real skill, then and now, is the ability to learn and continue to learn," he says.

He moved to the Naval Surface Weapons Center (White Oak, MD), working with a consortium of Navy labs on computer networking research projects. "But because I only had a two-year degree, I wasn't able to move up as I wanted. I was in the position of training people who were coming in with four-year degrees, and watching them being promoted past me."

Private industry
Advanced Computer Consulting (ACC, San Jose, CA) offered him a new job and a hefty raise, and he took it. "My parents were uneasy that I was leaving that 'good government job,' but I was banking the raise."

ACC connected computers to the ARPAnet and created front-end devices, and Fields wrote a system emulator for them that made programming tasks more efficient. With his company's consent, he worked for government agencies and corporations as a private consultant on the side.

"Later I left ACC and worked fulltime for my own firm, GCF Consulting. I had more jobs than I could handle, but there was always the uncertainty about what I would be doing six months from now."

Program management at DEC
In '84 he moved to DEC as a software developer. He worked on classified programs and wrote device drivers and operating system modules. "Back then you had to work so hard just to do basic things. Think about all the stuff we can do now. It's amazing, and it's because it's all on a single platform."

He moved to technology lead and then tech program manager. "I would plan and oversee the architecture and make sure the team was on-task with the proposal. All the pieces had to come together in a well-presented winning bid."

Opening up contacts
Fields earned his BSCS from the University of Maryland in 1999 and his MSIT from UM University College in 2001. In 2004 he completed intensive executive business programs at MIT's Sloan and UVA's Darden Schools. And he's certified as a CIO by the GSA.

The degrees, he says, "make me feel a lot more comfortable when I'm meeting with customers. The executive programs gave me links to a lot of professional industry groups, and that opens up a lot of new contacts. In this business, contacts are really the main means of going forward."

Progressing at DEC
When DEC management created the federal technical organization Fields was put in charge. Along with managing the technical teams he focused on developing DEC's strategic programs capability. He also reconstituted the Federal pre-sales organization.

In 1998, when DEC merged into Compaq, he had a large staff of sales and technical people. With the merger, that group was trimmed by almost 50 percent. He was not happy, but "I could understand the strategy of where we were going."

After HP and Compaq merged in 2001, Fields reestablished the technical program management office he had set up at DEC so technical program managers could work together. "We shared resources and people across programs. It made us a lot more efficient, and that gave me a lot of visibility."

Diversity initiatives
"At Digital, Compaq and now HP, whenever I bring up something about diversity initiatives it always gets wholehearted support," Fields declares. "I'm positive that the more diversity-friendly the environment, the more effective we'll be as a company. Our government customer environment has always been diverse and is getting more so."

For two years now Fields has been president of the HP African American Leadership Forum. "We discuss what's going on in the company and how we can leverage ideas and share best practices in our organization," he says. HP CEO Mark Hurd attended a meeting last year at Fields' invitation. After that, "We saw very quickly that things we had talked about were starting to happen."

Fields has recently gotten involved with the NSBE and BDPA, providing technical, financial and mentoring support. He's also a member of the IT Senior Management Forum and other groups. Those organizations provide even more networking opportunities: "Always a good thing," he says.

Looking back
Fields sometimes thinks he should have pushed himself harder and faster up the corporate ladder. But he was unwilling to sacrifice time with his family, and he doesn't regret his choice at all.

He married in 1982 and has three daughters. All three are in college. Kimberly is studying computer programming, Kari is working on a degree in computer engineering and Kandice, who was recruited by MIT, decided to stay closer to home and will start the aerospace engineering program at U Maryland this fall.

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