grabbing a slice of government pie

Grabbing a Slice of Government Pie

Who is being funded, what they are looking for and what goes into building a proper solution

grabbing a slice of government pie
Despite the economic uncertainty in our nation’s capital, there is still plenty of upside to government security spending in fiscal 2013 with opportunities to be awarded significant contracts. The keys to opening the doors that lead to those projects come in three phases: understanding who has the funding, what hot buttons need pushing and who needs to be part of the discussion when brokering a deal.

Who Owns the Pie?

Even with aggressive spending cuts across the board, a growing number of projects earmarked for homeland security will be given the green light this year. The hefty increase in funding isn’t exclusive to the Department of Homeland Security, but flows through dozens of federal agencies including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.

Cyber threat is today’s number one concern among governmental agencies. New threats and vulnerabilities seem to emerge on a daily basis.

In fact, since fiscal 2001, the combined allocations for homeland security projects have risen from $16 billion to $71.6 billion in fiscal 2012, with expectations that 2013 will see even more of an increase.

What’s Keeping the Spenders Awake at Night?

Cyber threat is today’s number one concern among governmental agencies. At ASIS 2012, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano called cyber-attacks the “most dynamic and threatening” of risks. New threats and vulnerabilities seem to emerge on a daily basis—from malicious attacks on firewalls to insidious disruptions of service. It’s the reason all agencies require vendors to provide high levels of assurance before granting them permission to operate their products on government networks.

In addition, many government agencies may limit these components to a pre-published, approved product list that meets their stringent information assurance requirements. Proposals need to demonstrate that any physical security system running on a government-owned network won’t introduce any potential points of intrusion.

Who are the Key Decision Makers and Influencers?

Given the growing number of cyber threats and the convergence of security solutions running on the network, it’s not surprising that IT is starting to play a pivotal role in the decision-making process. Nowhere is the shift more evident than in the DoD where budget control has moved from the functional user—the physical security department—to the application owner—the IT department. This isn’t to suggest that physical security is left out of the loop by any means, but for the purchase order to be signed off, the ultimate controller of the purse strings (IT) must be at the negotiating table as well.

Once IT is involved, it actually might be easier to justify spending. Traditional physical security departments found it challenging to quantify return on investments from systems based on analog technology. But the increased efficiencies and overall lower total cost of network-based technology ownership will resonate with IT departments. They have been quantifying these types of benefits for years to justify their own hardware, software and infrastructure investments.

Working through the IT department also provides the opportunity to tap into an often overlooked source of funding for technologyrelated purchases: the GSA Schedule 70. Most security integrators are familiar with GSA Schedule 84 which governs security and law enforcement purchases, but Schedule 70 is specifically geared towards IT products and services purchases.

Lastly, information assurance staff are another vital voice in the conversation. These certified professionals reside in most government agency IT departments. Integrators and contractors must understand the important role these people play in the purchasing process. They’re the key conduit to issue the Authority to Operate (ATO) certificates for the exact same network infrastructure needed for an IP-based security system to be deployed.

What are They Looking to Buy?

With IT departments playing such a pivotal role in purchasing decisions, it should come as no surprise that the attraction to networkbased technology is heating up. With an estimated 70 to 80 percent of government video systems today that are currently analog, IT can be a strong ally in selling the move to IP, thanks to recent innovations that will appeal to their penchant for digital technology:

Transitional tools. At the most basic level, you can offer agencies video encoder technology that will enable their legacy analogy technology to communicate on the network. IT departments typically hate dealing with anything analog because it’s considered cumbersome and low quality. This is a way to start them down the migration path from analog to a full IP-based solution.

Hosted solutions. To combat the growing cost of software and licensing, data centers and energy costs, many government agencies are looking to reduce their overall IT footprint. A hosted video solution falls in line with these goals and affords the opportunity, with government-approved partners to house surveillance applications in a secure government data center.

Advanced camera technology. Cameras with HDTV-quality resolution, wide dynamic range and enhanced color technology will deliver the video clarity IT expects—after all, this is what they’re enjoying at home. H.264 compression allows users to view, store and retrieve relevant video while consuming far less of IT’s network bandwidth and storage.

Intelligence and storage at the edge. If they’re concerned that a distributed surveillance network and its associated video traffic could tax network bandwidth and adversely impact other network traffic, there are ways to leverage edge storage—in-camera SD cards or network attached storage devices—and detection analytics to reduce processing costs and increase overall network performance.

Portfolio of customization tools. Because agencies often have unique security agendas, it’s important to offer a portfolio of tools that can help customize the security system for their own applications. It might be advantageous if a proposed solution includes open application programming interfaces and software development kits because they will promote solution longevity, which in turn reduces the total cost of ownership.

Partnering a Successful Deal

It’s important to choose technology and service partners wisely. Aligning with companies who are fluent in the government arena and can supply a portfolio of products and programs will make the IP transition much smoother. Technical aptitude, industry knowledge and top-tier support teams will help overcome any technical hurdles that arise. Here are some key considerations when vetting a potential partner.

Financial stability. A Dun & Bradstreet credit report can verify their annual revenue growth and how much they invest in research and development. Any company that wants to do business with the government should have a “DUNS Number” to exhibit financial stability and credit worthiness.

Long-range viability. A partner should support the product through its entire lifecycle. Check the cost and frequency of their software and firmware updates.

Open philosophy. A partner should use a standards-based approach and have a résumé of cooperative and compatible providers. Users don’t want to be locked into someone who only offers closed proprietary solutions. Check if they’re a member of councils and organizations such as Open Network Video Interface.

COTS bundling. Government procurement staff view open compatibility with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components favorably because it helps to keep the overall system costs low while affording the opportunity to leverage existing IT product servicelevel agreements.

Government certifications. Compliance and certification requirements for doing business with different agencies and their associated Information Assurance and procurement staff are paramount. A technology partner’s development team needs to keep current with existing and changing requirements as set forth by the government and its agencies. The focus on transparency, interoperability and cyber threats are driving key initiatives and influencing buying decisions relative to our industry. It’s also extremely important that all parties involved understand GSA purchasing schedules. Lastly, proposed products in the solution have to be listed on the various government approved products lists and need to comply with procurement requirements like “Buy America.”

Training programs. Product certification and training programs that help government customers, and their contractors, ease the migration to an IP solution are valuable. Ideally, a vendor partner should share the cost and responsibility of on-going training, distance learning programs and aptitude testing to ensure everyone on the team has the requisite skills to ensure a successful deployment.

Success in the government security arena requires serious due diligence. The first step is to identify and target the agencies at the local, state and federal levels who will actually continue to be funded. Take time to investigate and understand the current threats they’re facing and how to assemble a solution that can help address those issues without raising more problems. Be ready to clearly demonstrate the proposed system’s return on investment—couched in terms already familiar to the IT department who holds the purse strings. Align yourself with leading vendor partners who have the strategic capabilities, programs and alliances to help secure a slice of the government security pie.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Security Today.

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