Grabbing a Slice of Government Pie
Who is being funded, what they are looking for and what goes into building a proper solution
- By John Merlino
- Apr 01, 2013
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
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
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
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Security Today.