CRACK open your future
The path to riches is wireless, mobile and secure
Mobility will be just one of the sought-after capabilities in 2005 and beyond.
Just a few years ago, the vast majority of computers GovConnection Inc. sold to federal agencies were desktop PCs.
"Now it's about half desktops and half laptops," said Jeff Trent, the Rockville, Md., company's senior sales manager, at a recent conference for IT resellers.
Like their private sector counterparts, government agencies are recognizing the flexibility and productivity benefits that notebook computers offer, Trent said.
Mobility, however, will be just one of the sought-after capabilities in 2005 and beyond.
Trent and other executives with major suppliers and resellers also identified IT security and physical security as areas primed for growth in the government market. They also said to look for defense and civilian agencies to invest in wireless technology more than ever before. And 2005 is expected to be the biggest year yet for adoption of voice over IP technology.
Many of these trends are related. Wireless technology, for example, is spurring innovative solutions in physical security while helping to drive demand for better IT security solutions.
Whether it's day-to-day business or a disaster situation, mobile access to data and communications is essential to government agencies, said Jim Shanks, president of CDW Government Inc., Herndon, Va.
"It really provides a discipline within government that gives them the flexibility to react in situations that may come around the corner," Shanks said.
The demand for wireless and mobile solutions, already strong, will grow even stronger in the coming years, Shanks said.
The government's Telework initiative, for example, is receiving a lot of attention from federal agencies as increasing numbers of workers begin to work occasionally or weekly from home or telework centers. And for road warriors, technologies that keep workers connected to the home office will also be sought by federal agencies.
"IP telephony is something that's been out there for awhile, but it's really catching on now," Shanks said. "I use it myself when I travel around the country. As long as I have access to the Internet, if someone at my organization calls my extension, it rings right to my notebook computer, no matter where I am."
Companies such as 3Com Corp., Marlborough, Mass.; Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif; and Nortel Networks Ltd, Brampton, Ontario, offer products that bring voice and data together in applications that make sense, Shanks said.
Barb Miller, director of government and technical services at Clearwater, Fla.-based Tech Data Corp., also said that 2005 will be a big year for VOIP.
"Most PBXs now have an IP-enabled capability so you can add a card to it and it becomes a voice over IP PBX," said Miller during an interview last month at Tech Data's TechEDG conference, which brought together government resellers and vendors.
A forecast from Reston, Va., market research firm Input Inc. also points toward increased spending for telecommunications. In 2004 the federal government spent $15.2 billion on telecommunications and that's expected to rise to nearly $20.5 billion in 2009, according to Input.
Part of the increase is attributed to wireless services and equipment, and increased adoption of IP-based communications, the market research company said.
VOIP products from vendors including Cisco, Nortel and Avaya Inc. are proving to be popular, Miller said.
"We're selling the same kinds of things you would have with an analog phone system, only it's now a network-based phone system," Miller said.
Vendors can tout VOIP systems' enhanced conferencing and statistics gathering abilities, and the ease with which they can be reconfigured and expanded, he said.
Shanks also expects traditional uses for wireless to grow, especially as agencies find new uses for the technology in disaster operations and at forward military locations.
"In Iraq, for example, we designed a very sophisticated implementation that connected three buildings to satellite connections," Shanks said. "And from those buildings [the connection was] extended out to 27 other buildings with wireless technology."
The need for products to build similar ad hoc systems will continue to grow, he said.
Wireless allows for a fast deployment, and it can be part of a complete system when the infrastructure -- landlines and fiber -- is restored.
"It's very easy to just integrate that into your wireless solution, and now you have a very robust fault tolerant solution deployed and ready to go," Shanks said.
Jim Biggs, a practice leader with GTSI Corp., also sees potential for wireless products in remote areas. Officials at Chantilly, Va.-based GTSI plan to launch a wireless solution this summer that addresses the requirements and concerns of Defense Department customers, he said.
"This is really using 802.11 as a means to put in a network infrastructure where a wired line does not exist," Biggs said. "And have the network as secure as a wired line infrastructure."
Any application would be able to be run on the wireless infrastructure, he said.
At the state and local level, there is increased interest in building wireless access points for first responders, Tech Data's Miller said.
"Cities are finding it essential to enable everyone to simultaneously have access to information," he said. "There's a big push to have access points throughout cities so EMTs and police can instantly log into a network."
Although wireless WANs exist today, their speed of transmission does not yet meet the needs of first responders, Input said. However, faster wireless networks are emerging, which is driving spending in the area.
Spending on wireless is expected to rise from $1.4 billion in 2004 to $2.5 billion in 2009, Input said.
Tech Data officials are seeing increases in adoption of wireless at both civilian and military agencies, Miller said.
"Along with that, the contracts for airport security, port security and perimeter security have major wireless components," he said.
Wireless network components, such as routers, wireless cards and access points, will all likely be big sellers this year, he said.
With all this data being accessed wirelessly, security remains a top concern for government customers. That concern can spur an opportunity for system integrators and service providers, said Joel Davis, Tech Data vice president East and government sales.
"Offer to do a security assessment for your customers; a thorough assessment you charge for," Davis said. "That's your chance to shine and expose security risks."
The federal government spent $5.6 billion on information security products and services in 2004, and spending is forecasted to grow to $7.1 billion in 2009, according to Input.
CDW-G's Shanks said that the continued emphasis on security can be a boon for integrators and service providers.
"When people start going to remote access, it puts a spotlight on the vulnerabilities that have been sitting there for a very long time," he said. "That's good because you want to put a spotlight on it before a hacker or someone with bad intentions identifies it."
Related to IT security is physical security protection, one of the highest growth areas in the government IT sector, according to Arpad Toth, GTSI's senior technologist. Officials at GTSI are seeing a wave of innovation around physical security, Toth said.
Surveillance cameras, for example, once were "dumb" pieces of equipment that simply fed video back to a command center. Now customers require cameras that can tie into complex systems, Toth said.
The new Super Dynamic III camera from Panasonic Corp., Secaucus, N.J., demonstrates the capability of surveillance equipment. It works in both analog and digital networking environments and has sophisticated auto-focus and image stabilization.
"And it has auto tracking," Toth said. "So if the camera picks up an object in a hallway and that object moves, the camera is going to follow it."
He sees excellent business opportunities in physical security. A typical building could require hundreds of cameras, a monitoring and command center, and a database management system for storing, comparing and analyzing information.
The rapid technological advances in physical security, network security, wireless and other areas make it difficult for systems integrators to stay abreast of new developments and sustain their expertise.
Tech Data's Davis advises systems integrators to focus on their strengths, and use them as a selling point to attract partners with needed technologies and skills.
"If something is not a big systems integrator's core competency, that could be an excellent opportunity" for vendors to step up as valued partners, he said.
Staff Writer Doug Beizer can be reached at email@example.com.