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GCN : October 2012
30 GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM Don't tell Bob Woods it can't be done. "I tend to run toward fires," he said. "I tend to want a tougher challenge, not the ordinary. And it isn't just the technology piece I like. It's creativity in both the busi- ness and technology side." Woods's appetite for action has been primed throughout a four-decades-long career that has taken him from roles as a Navy engineering specialist to executive IT appointments at the departments of Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the General Services Administration. Along the way, a lot of his work in- volved getting people to understand tech- nology well enough to support funding IT programs. It wasn't easy. Early in his career, people were just learning the ba- sics of IT. "People couldn't decide whether to call it EDP---electronic data processing--- or ADP---automatic data processing," Woods recalled. "Almost no one called it IT." At the FAA, where Woods began working in 1972 on air traffic control, technology was being acquired only in bits and pieces. "It was almost like going to a junk yard," Woods said. "You built it with whatever you found. Literally, we had engineers go to Radio Shack to buy parts." Yet he had a knack for getting people to collaborate on complex projects. "I think his major contribution has been in bring- ing people together and getting to work toward a common vision," said Kenneth Allen, executive director of the American Council for Technology-Industry Advi- sory Council, who noted Woods brings to the government IT market, "a commit- ment to public service, a reputation for integrity, an affection for people, a thick skin and a kinship with Aesop." The "Aesop" reference underscores "the fact that Bob can tell entertaining stories, often with a moral, without criticizing or making fun of anyone," Allen said. Those traits have come in handy in several IT management high-wire roles Woods has held. In 1984 he became head of the FAA's IT programs, and led a Her- culean effort to closely integrate IT into FAA's mission. In 1987 Woods left FAA for the Trans- portation Department, where he turned around an IT shop that he said had "melt- ed down." He then moved to the Veterans Affairs Department as deputy assistant secretary for information resources man- agement. In the mid-1990s, he was named commissioner of the General Service Ad- ministration's Federal Technology Service. In 1997, Woods founded the Topside Consulting Group. Currently he is also chairman of the ACT/IAC Executive Advi- sory Committee. Over the years, Woods learned that change in government can't be driven with a sledgehammer. "The biggest issue overall has been to gently challenge a bureaucracy to go beyond its boundaries and force it to think in a different way without burning the house down," Woods said. While many executives espouse such ideals, it is more than just a theory to Woods. "Bob's commitment to collabo- ration and leadership has been a driving force in the public-private partnerships that are so vital today," Allen said. • --- Richard W. Walker In a 40-year career, Woods has earned a reputation for integrity, a commitment to public service -- and thick skin The collaboration artist GCN AWARDS GCN GALA 25TH ANNIVERSARY AWARD ROBERT J. WOODS PRESIDENT TOPSIDE CONSULTING GROUP/ CHAIRMAN ACT-IAC EXECUTIVE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ZAID HAMID