Even in a time of federal, state and local belt-tightening, there is a lot of business for security integrators to reap from government agencies. But as anyone who has dealt with the government knows, it is an animal of a different breed.
What one needs to do to get government business, what the government wants for its solutions and the challenges of working with the government are all different than selling in the commercial market. With that said and understood, where then are the best opportunities for sales in the government market?
To learn about this market in more depth, we talked to security professionals in access control readers, credentials and locking systems, perimeter control/vehicle control, video surveillance, and biometrics that deal with the government daily in their businesses.
What to Do to Get Into This Market
An integrator can greatly increase government sales opportunities by tapping into the General Services Administration (GSA). By getting on the GSA schedule, an integrator can minimize competition and save time. For example, Schedule 84 lets state and local governments buy off GSA pricing and only those on the schedule are allowed to bid, removing competition from other integrators not on the schedule. In addition, pricing is already covered by the schedule, which eliminates having to negotiate the end deal.
According to David Ilardi, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies director for the government vertical market, being on the GSA schedule also shows manufacturers that the integrator is truly serious about handling government projects.
"To get on the schedule, there are fees involved and, once listed, an integrator must maintain a minimal level of business with the government," he says. "Therefore, when we get a lead on a government project, one of the first things we look for is whether or not the integrator is listed and has invested not only money, but people and time, in ensuring they can properly service the government as a customer."
When bidding on such jobs, the government agency defines the project, for instance a daycare center for a military base, and gives an overall view of what it should entail (e.g. cover all rooms with a minimum of two cameras) at a defined budget. The integrator then needs to design the solution and, working with its contractors, detail how the project will be completed.
"We do a lot of public works bids. We find the business in the various bid lists the agencies put out," says Steve Randall, RCDD, technical operations manager for San Diego-based integrator Communications Wiring Specialists. "Many of the projects are design-build where competing bidders come up with both the design and construction under a single contract. So we put together the entire solution."
Mark Wilson of Infinova, a surveillance equipment supplier that works closely with Communications Wiring Specialists, has some tips for how security contractors can keep abreast of government market leads.
"Integrators should sign up with one of the bidding services, such as Reed Construction Data or governmentbid.com, so they can learn about the bids as soon as they are published and which A&E consultant is in charge," says Wilson, vice president, marketing. "Better yet is developing a relationship with one or more of the A&E consultants to get in on the ground floor. Beware that bids are put out to everyone, which can tend to reward the integrator with the lowest price. To avoid this, emphasize company expertise or highlight features and advantages of the product solution."
Forging tight relationships with manufacturers with products and systems suited to government applications can be advantageous for integrators. It is not uncommon for the manufacturer — especially those with GSA approval — to be approached directly or otherwise learn of a project opportunity within the sector. When that happens, they need to enlist an integrator they know and trust to get the job done right.
"Most integrators are familiar with how the bid and proposal cycle works," says Phil Scarfo, vice president, worldwide sales and marketing for biometrics technology supplier Lumidigm. "It starts with prequalification and the collecting of information from vendors to produce a RFQ or RFP. When we catch wind of such projects, we alert an integrator we feel will provide the best technology solution. This could include a variety of relevant proposal components, such as prior experience and program management expertise, that can be packaged together to win the bid for them and us."
What Government Customers Want
Like end users in other markets, more and more government customers are looking for turnkey solutions. This is something integrators can do to separate themselves from traditional dealers and distributors of equipment. Understanding and helping these clients meet compliance requirements is another key element.
"One thing that the government definitely seeks is solutions that integrate both physical and logical access control," Illardi says. "And FIPS [Federal Information Processing Standards] compliance is extremely important."
In August 2004, the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12) was issued to standardize federal security measures. FIPS-201 was later issued in 2006, defining the Personal Identity Verification (PIV) standards for federal employees and contractors. For access control providers, this means ensuring the products brought to the market, like smartcards and readers, must comply with the FIPS 201 requirements.