Government Procurement Challenges

Government Procurement Challenges

Best of Breed versus lower cost, proprietary solutions

People familiar with selling to governments and the purchasing methodologies associated with it are no doubt familiar with a competitive selling environment that typically awards the lowest cost vendor or proposed solution. The process typically starts with a request for proposals (RFP).

More than likely, you have witnessed an RFP that includes dated product specifications and, in some cases, multiple product specifications that are more “wish-list” than reality.

The unfortunate outcomes from these types of procurements are often that solution providers are forced to offer exceptions or exclusions in areas where they can’t support the system requirements as defined. As a result, the awarded systems frequently deliver dated technologies and services, suffer from a lack of features and are often destined for a short life-span and could even become obsolete.

The Many Problems with One Vendor/Proprietary Solutions

The biggest perceived benefit of proprietary or one vendor solutions has always been cost. The end user is often sold on the concept that a solution provider can more easily manage margin flexibility and pass those savings on. Or, that the vendor has inherent means to control the product development, end to end, which is in turn sold as a way to control costs.

However, despite the initial low-cost appeal, proprietary solutions often lead to more pain points, which eventually can be tied to higher costs and fewer features. Here are a few things to consider:

Higher total cost of ownership. A large enterprise may procure several low-cost solutions over time from multiple vendors only to later discover that the technologies don’t actually work together, and the cost for integration becomes unsustainable. This is common in the physical security world where many legacy systems are now being turned over to IT departments. CIOs or program managers inherit large inventories of disparate systems with little or limited means to integrate the equipment and applications. The huge costs of continued ownership and management, previously overlooked, now become a stark reality.

Dead-end tech. Contemporary benefits and features found in open architecture and integrated solutions cannot be ported into their legacy systems. As a result, end users then face poor or degraded system performance.

No sustainment and/or high maintenance costs. Costs can often pop up from either system maintenance requirements or the constant need to provide “care and feeding,” also known as sustainment costs.

By nature, the number of vendors who can actually support proprietary solutions is limited, which can drive up costs associated with higher maintenance schedules or even force owners to issue time and materials contracts. Maintenance-heavy systems ultimately become a burden on productivity, adding other hidden costs to an organization’s overall efficiency.

System obsolescence; end-of-life technologies. Technology is always evolving and changing, so perhaps the worst outcome is the procurement of technology that is now obsolete. Unfortunately, the fate of most proprietary purchases is just that. End users who have placed the full weight of their procurement on a closed solution from a short list of providers are destined for an end state requiring a fork lift, or best case scenario, a system that limps along with only the prospect of full replacement when budgets allow.

Physical Security Gets an Upgrade with IP Video

In the not so distant past, many, if not most, solutions were purposely built around proprietary technologies. There were no common standards for communications protocols, software development was not mature enough to consider integration and the network was not yet viewed as a convergence pathway. As a result, many legacy systems were used and deployed independently or in “silos.”

With the maturity of the network, IP standards and the development of more common and shared software development practices, though, the opportunity for integration has become a reality. The changes have been monumental in some regards and have created many open and complementary technologies, such as in software, hardware accessories and enhanced video analytics.

Migrating from analog to IP video, there has been a windfall of features and benefits for legacy analog end users in improved image light optimized color capture, corridor formatted fields of view, automated

P-Iris focal views and enhanced infrared and thermal video formats. Many of these features are enabled by powerful processing capabilities that are moving to the “edge” of the camera, also referred to as a “sensing device” in the field. These exciting changes allow for innovation that includes the storage of data, the capture and use of metadata and even the evolution of video analytic applications which now reside and run on the device independent of a host or server infrastructure.

Many technologies that derived as a result of convergence on the network have given rise to a new set of challenges faced by the government around information assurance (IA). Many agencies are now publishing requirements specifically for cyber security and network intrusion performance.

The good news for end users is that the push toward open solutions now allows for collaborative development of best-of-breed solutions that can address these needs more fluidly and in a dynamic fashion required to address many known and unknown threats.

Why Best of Breed is Your Best Move

The shift from closed, proprietary systems to open, IP-based solutions has provided end users and the industry with newfound opportunity. Customers now have far more choices for delivery and seemingly no limit to the creative innovation offered by a robust and rejuvenated high-tech industry. Best-of-breed technology is not just about choice, but also about providing innovative, total solutions with the following benefits:

Lower TCO. The total cost of ownership of any solution is impacted by many factors in the life span of a deployment. Procurement of open systems from multiple solution providers with best-of-breed solutions significantly increases the chances of lowering the initial and on-going cost of ownership.

Future proofing. New benefits and features can be easily ported into the solution by one or multiple vendors. More importantly, emerging trends, such as cyber security, may be readily addressed since collaboration among multiple vendors is a requirement resulting in more nimble development and deployment. This includes greater system expansion flexibility when the initial solution requirement may be only small or mid-size, but eventually has to scale to enterprise capability.

Sustainable systems. End users will reap the rewards of lower system maintenance and sustainment costs. The availability of multiple vendors providing services or development eliminates single points of failure, ensuring cooperative development and further reducing the odds that the entire system fails or that its development will stop.

Choosing Best of Breed Solutions for Physical Security

How do you find vendors that can operate in this environment and assist in putting together a best-of-breed solution? When selecting vendors, consider the following:

Companies with partner programs. Many vendors publish and promote cooperative development or partner programs. These types of solution providers are forward leaning by nature and actively encourage the kind of symbiotic development necessary to provide best-of-breed solutions. When researching solution providers, vendors with these kinds of programs should be a requirement.

Development philosophy. It might be wise to ask:

  • What kind of development environment does the vendor convey in their messaging?
  • Does the vendor openly publish their application programming interface (API) and enable cooperative development paths with tools such as software development kits (SDKs)?
  • Can the vendor discuss their software development structure and knowledge of such progressive concepts like coding with a services oriented architecture (SOA)?

Vision and culture. Companies who promote best of breed should have an externally promoted and focused development path that fosters and encourages collaboration with complementary technologies. A visit to a manufacturer’s headquarters (if possible) can often give you a feel for the culture of the organization and allow you to experience the technologies first hand in labs, demos and real world scenarios.

A New Way of Buying

In addition to the common RFP that often results in proprietary systems, other procurement behaviors born from the private sector are gaining momentum among government buyers. Better procurement practices produce more competitive pricing in the short and long term, but are often an overlooked benefit of best-of-breed tenders. Competition among multiple vendors versus one solution provider benefits purchasers and tax payers alike, allowing greater transparency in procurement and allowing multiple vendors and integrators to provide design-build (D-B) and performance-specified solutions.

The first D-B is a method of project delivery in which the design and deployment phases of a project are combined into one contract and awarded on either a low-bid or best-value basis. This is a welcome trend and continues to gain traction.

Another welcome change that bodes well for vendors and tax payers is performance specification contracts. These types of awards between an agency and private partner define only the end product or performance for the project, not the methods required to achieve results. These contracts significantly increase the opportunities for cost savings because they capitalize on a vendor’s experience, technology and procedural innovations, promoting open-architecture solutions that can be better achieved through a best-of-breed design.

From Second Best to Top Choice

In the past, “second best—meets spec” used to be the norm and still is today in many cases. Government procurement officials were often the victims of physical security’s technology vacuum, and the outcome was costly in both dollars and performance.

The technology revolution illustrated by the birth and acceptance of IP video has provided the physical security industry with a unique opportunity to mirror the innovation of many other fast paced, hightech industries. It has created new business opportunities in complementary software and hardware solutions, and fostered cooperative development.

Though still evolving and maturing, IP video is bringing disparate technologies together. Now that the technology is here, it is up to savvy integrators and end users to demand more than a closed solution and utilize a best-of-breed approach to public procurements.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Security Today.


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