Firing Up Your Federal Government Business

Navigating through the bureaucratic, regulatory and funding-challenged federal government marketplace can be daunting to say the least. However, agencies’ needs for security solutions are great and integrators willing to play this game can score big.

As the seasons shift from summer to fall, so does the landscape of the federal government. Hope springs eternal even as a stalemate has dominated this year’s budget and spending talks.

The year has been filled with concerns over the daunting “fiscal cliff” and references to the culmination of a rapidly approaching “debt ceiling.” The Bush tax cuts are imminent, as is the end of Obama stimulus spending, and, of course, the dreaded “Sequestration” has been upon us. The effects of these reductions in spending are beginning to show themselves as plans for furloughs are developed, contractors are sporadically released from projects and some future spending is shelved until the full consequences can be determined.

While you might not have been touched by the cuts in spending just yet, odds are you will. These spending cuts are on track for escalation during the next few years and at some point will cross your path if you work in the federal market space.

A question for many security integrators is how this will affect them and what does the future hold? The answer to both depends on a multitude of factors. For those on contract vehicles that become part of the chopping block, your ability to determine your company’s fate might be limited. However, what your future holds is something you can have a direct influence on.

Know Your Audience

You might feel as though you knew your customers well before the sequestration, but now is a good time to reset the baseline and understand exactly what is happening in their world. What challenges are they currently facing? What do they see on the horizon? How can you help them manage their future? They probably are not in a position different than most; they have titles that call out their main roles, but wear multiple hats within their organizations.

Even if your customers are security experts, they also have to address additional responsibilities such as reporting requirements, training, budget management and supporting the needs of other divisions. All of these compete for the same limited time resources that you are also looking to capture.

Sidebar: How to Help Government Clients Manage Identities

The primary challenge is deciding what you are going to do about it. When the game changes, or things are not going your way, getting back to the basics is always a good plan. While budgets for spending have been reduced and will continue to drop, there are still people, property and information that need to be protected. Being able to quickly and effectively deliver your value proposition and provide assistance is not just a door-opener, but keeps it from closing on you.

Lessons can be learned from an IT industry event hosted by a federal civilian agency and attended by several hundred contractors earlier this year. It is wise for physical security professionals to better understand IT’s direction as it will ultimately impact the security market. A couple of overarching themes are worth noting:

1. The agency CIO wanted to make it clear to all in the room that they were unequivocally moving toward “cloud-based solutions” to improve operating performance and to reduce costs.

2. They voiced a desire for industry partners to make “marketing calls” to help educate them on advancements in technology and to not only show up during the end of the month to make a sale.

3. The final point was the most impactful as it resonates with almost every customer today: the need to reduce “total cost of ownership,” or TCO.

All three of these messages are transferrable to the security integrator. In the end, an agency’s security division exists to support its overall mission. Excessively dominating personnel resources, budget dollars and, most importantly, time is generally not seen to be in support of that mission. In the end, these divisions are looking for trusted partners to help support their needs with the best value to their agency.

Internal & External Policy Influencers

Since the issuance of  HSPD-12 in 2004, many security integrators have been working feverishly to develop products and solutions sets to help meet this government requirement. There has been a steady maturing of the information and definitions to support this directive. Starting with the rapid release of Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 201 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), consistent progress has brought us to version two, currently in final draft and ready for release. The NIST 800 Series of Special Publications, established to support FIPS 201, will also undergo revision once FIPS 201-2 is published.

As either a manufacturer or security integrator, trying to explain each of these mandates to those not as well-versed with the numerous documents can be challenging. The level of difficulty increases when the person you are speaking with requires a technical understanding of how this relates to your products and that of others. The level of difficulty goes off the charts when you try to provide an executive brief in minutes to influence a decision that might require executive support, time for additional product testing, funding for software development and fees for third-party validation.

Integrators need to first educate themselves, and then understand how this will affect their go-to-market solution set. There are numerous companies claiming FIPS 201 compliancy. Being able to separate fact from fiction is not simple when pulling together the products to deliver a compliant system. Even if settled on the end-to-end solution, being able to educate sales representatives, engineering personnel, field workforce and, finally, the customer is challenging.

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