Government Procurement Challenges
Best of Breed versus lower cost, proprietary solutions
- By John Merlino
- Apr 01, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
John Merlino is the segment development manager, Critical Government at Axis Communications.