by Marc LeGare, CEO of Proactive Communications, Inc.
As a former Army Battalion Commander, Ive had to navigate through my share of complex logistical environments. Now as the CEO of satellite communications provider Proactive Communications, Inc. (PCI), my military experience is being put to the test with our work in Iraq. Holding the distinction as the first US IT company working directly with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior (MOI) doesnt come without its challenges! As with any advanced technology deployment, customization has played a critical role in our success installing and operating the worlds largest secure satellite VoIP network, which connects nearly 6,000 Iraqi police, commandos, customs officials, and command centers across the country.
To be successful doing business in Iraq, PCI had to have a keen understanding of the country, the culture, the Iraqi security forces, and the US militarys role; as well as offering a tremendous value proposition. Not only did we work closely with the US military on its Iraq satellite communications to gain experience on the ground, but we also went the extra mile by stationing permanent personnel in Iraq (including extended duty by our executive team). We hired Iraqis for key posts in our Baghdad office, and started an equipment installation company that is now completely comprised of, and run by, Iraqis. These good business and good faith steps were critical in convincing the Iraqi MOI to sign its first contract with a US IT company.
The term value proposition takes on a new meaning in Iraq. In Western business operations, the value proposition differentiates an offering from competitors. In Iraq, the network operations had to withstand wildly fluctuating power, a wide range of user skill levels, the language barrier, and support complexity. Low price, superior past performance and a sound technology does not assure a foreign IT company of winning a deal with the Iraqi government.
PCI needed years to demonstrate we were partners focused on the success of the Iraqi government, while funded by the US. Once the decision was made to transition contracts and technologies to the Iraqi MOI, a new level of understanding had to be reached.
One of the first steps we took was to ensure we had direct communication with the MOI program manager, a cordial and forthright officer attempting to support the government in a very difficult situation. PCI deployed a video teleconference suite to his office to connect him with the PCI complex in Baghdad and our corporate offices in Texas. Although there have been differences in opinion, language limitations, and political hurdles, video conferencing has enabled us to meet face-to-face and work through these issues by appreciating each others perspective and communicating honestly about whats best for the personnel in the field.
The second step was to understand the MOIs general philosophy of the agreement. The MOI team viewed the contract as a framework of agreement, subject to interpretation. This was in contrast to the US interpretation of a contract as the acceptable standards for an engagement. There has been a dynamic dialogue on what the network requires and what can be performed, based on the agreed upon price.
While customization tends to refer to integration with other technologies in a network and user interfaces targeted for a specific company or industry, PCI has taken the concept to the next level in our Iraqi deployment. We have certainly worked hard to ensure the PCI satellite VoIP solution seamlessly interoperates with hardware from companies such as Cisco and Dell, but thats just the tip of the iceberg (or sand dune, in this case).
True business success in places such as Iraq requires a commitment that starts years before the actual engagement with the local government. In this scenario, PCI provided satellite communications for the US military in Iraq for more than two years. This established trust with US officials and got our foot in the door to build a relationship with the Iraqi MOI.
In order to further enhance the trust of the Iraq government, PCI actually created a separate company in which we have no financial stake. We trained the employees and continue to subcontract work to the company to this day. Also, were proud to say that half of our own employees in Baghdad are Iraqis. This is not only an important good will gesture, but also good business as it gives us Arabic-speaking personnel with insights into local customs and business climates. Based on our success with the US military and our local relationships, the Iraqi MOI was convinced it was in their own interest to do business with PCI to support their critical communications needs.
Then came the task of actually maintaining and operating a satellite VoIP network, in an environment where downtime and security breaches are, quite literally, a matter of life and death. One of the first tasks was to develop a sound training program for our Iraqi co-laborers, which accounted for wide degrees of skill levels and focus on installation of very specific equipment sets. The training was built around a group of discrete tasks resulting in the commissioning of a ground VSAT terminal and the deployment of a computer/VOIP LAN. This program took two months and then proceeded on to a series of supervised installations, culminating with a solo install.
Another aspect of customization dealt with the size of the network. In some cases, the OEM equipment was not designed to handle the scale of our Iraq WAN deployment. In one case, when we approached an OEM regarding their High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor (HAIPE), they were surprised to learn that we had expanded its usage far beyond their large-scale customers. This began a series of productive discussions where the OEM got first-hand accounts and performance metrics from PCI and we received customized firmware and software that vastly increased the amount of meshed tunnels the network could handle. The network can now support a fully meshed, secure voice network of more than 200 nodes, with latency at 650ms, and achieve toll quality voice connections. Additionally, the software can now monitor these tunnels much better as a result of the dialogue between PCI and the OEM.
A third aspect encompassed our equipment deployment processes. As the network grew, the security features increased in complexity. Rather than solving the technical issues that could arise from field environmental conditions (such as poor power), we revised our test and integration procedures. We currently test the security features at a safe and secure location with solid power generation capabilities and multiple layers of supervision that can rapidly solve technical problems. We then ship the equipment and perform a very simple, but important, remote procedure to finalize the security functions. This creates a faster install with less chance of complex troubleshooting in what could be a very dangerous location.
We have encountered a number of unique challenges in setting up and operating a secure satellite VoIP network in Iraq, including security concerns, technological limitations and cultural considerations. PCI has customized its solution and business practices on a number of fronts to operate effectively and respectfully in the country. We take great pride in addressing challenges head-on by working through issues directly with Iraqi officials and going out into the field to personally handle any technical support issues that arise. No amount of technology customization will ever take the place of hands-on customer service in terms of establishing trust, especially in a location such as Iraq.
Mr. Marc LeGare became CEO of Proactive Communications, Inc. (PCI) in 2006, after serving as the companys Chief Operating Officer and Operations Manager since 2003. Prior to joining PCI, Mr. LeGare was Senior Consultant and Operations Manager for Force XXI Battle Command Brigade of TRW/Northrop-Grumman. From 1981 to 1999, Mr. LeGare served various command and staff positions for the US Army worldwide, including Battalion Commander from 1999 to 2001. LeGare earned a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point, a Master of Science from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the School of Advanced Military Studies.
Proactive Communications offers satellite communications, enterprise services, IT consulting and field support services. More information on the company and their services may be obtained by accessing their website,