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Building IT In A New Iraq

In addition to democracy, the United States is bringing business technology to Iraq. As the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority prepares to hand power next week to a newly constituted Iraqi government, technologists within the authority are huddling with Iraqi officials to complete information systems to ensure the country can operate and maintain the power plants, refineries, hospitals, and thousands of other infrastructure elements under construction.

It won't do any good to build facilities if they can't be managed, says Dennis Plockmeyer, director of IT for the Coalition Provisional Authority's Program Management Office.

It won't do any good to build facilities if they can't be managed, says Dennis Plockmeyer.

At the heart of the plan is an effort to introduce an asset-management system to public officials who, in many cases, have never used anything more than pencil and paper to manage vital national assets. "It doesn't do any good if you build all of these facilities and then walk off without giving the recipients the tools and the wherewithal to manage them," says Dennis Plockmeyer, director of IT for the Coalition Provisional Authority's Program Management Office, which oversees logistics for all coalition initiatives.

Plockmeyer, a 53-year-old military veteran who served as CIO for the Navy's Facilities Engineering Command, has been in Iraq since September and will spend most of this year sharing a two bedroom, 12-by-60-foot trailer in Baghdad's Green Zone, a fortified section of the city from which the coalition is managing its major reconstruction efforts. He was in Alexandria, Va., last week and is scheduled to return to Iraq Saturday, flying on a commercial airliner to Kuwait City before boarding a military C-130 transport plane for the journey from Kuwait to Baghdad. "It's the five minutes before you land that you're most worried about," he says, referring to the sporadic sniper fire drawn by coalition aircraft.

Plockmeyer's team could have built an IT system to run just the coalition's reconstruction effort. That would have been cheaper and easier, since it would function entirely in English and run on off-the-shelf software. Instead, they opted for the complexity of writing additional code that lets the system run in parallel in Arabic and Kurdish. Plockmeyer needs to ensure that the investment in technology and processes to manage the reconstruction has ongoing value that can be transferred to the Iraqis. It's a central part of a vision held by Ret. Rear Adm. David Nash, the Program Management Office director and Plockmeyer's longtime friend from his years in Naval service. "He's focused on what happens the day after the contractors leave," Plockmeyer says. "If the lights go out and the water turns dirty, we're right back where we started from."

To ensure that doesn't happen, staffers in the Program Management Office have begun training Iraqi officials in how to deploy and use the asset-management system that the office employs to track ongoing reconstruction efforts by contractors such as Halliburton Co. and Lucent Technologies. In the months following the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi government, Plockmeyer hopes to have about 150 Iraqi technologists working side by side with Program Management Office staffers.

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