The power of 3

Sales, engineering and consulting converge to drive Cisco's government business

"We're adding intelligence to the network. We're putting more services into the network to take care of security issues, to add collaboration tools." ? Bruce Klein, Cisco Systems Inc.

Rick Steele

That the network is the platform for communications and information technology services is widely considered a given.

The good news for companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. is that there is plenty of work to be done building that platform. "That's the role we're going to play," said Bruce Klein, vice president of Cisco's federal sales organization.

Cisco believes its IP networking solutions make government operate faster and more effectively by replacing outdated information silos with linked voice, video and data communications that encompass everything from battlefield communications to first-responder management and citizen-based online services.

"We see IP networking as the foundation" of that transformation, said Brad Boston, senior vice president of Cisco's Global Government Solutions Group. "Everywhere we go ? whether it's the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines ? they're all driving toward IP and commercial off-the-shelf technology as much as possible."

Nevertheless, a great deal of work needs to be done to complete that transformation, said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, outgoing Army chief information officer and a longtime supporter of IP networking in the military.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Army has spent almost $4 billion to convert its 30-year-old infrastructure of mobile subscriber equipment to commercial IP networks, he said.

"We've done that around the world ? and very successfully ? with the help of industry," he said. "There's a caveat on success: We still have a huge amount of networks that operate in what's called the circuit-based world. That's not IP." Most of it is outdated telecommunications systems, he said.

"There are huge gains in return on investment to be made by identifying those systems and converting them to the IP world ? today's technology ? which is cheaper, more efficient, more bandwidth, more effective," Boutelle said. "There's a lot to be gained there."

Diverse portfolio

Government demand for IP networks has made the federal sector a hot market for Cisco and its IP competitors, which include Juniper Networks Inc., Avaya Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp.

IP networking is no longer a tough sell to the government, Boston said. "It's really about helping them achieve that vision now."

To that end, the San Jose, Calif., company once known primarily for manufacturing telecommunications routers and switches now coordinates the efforts of its three divisions ? the Internet Business Solutions Group, Boston's Global Government Solutions Group and the federal sales team ? to boost sales of IP networking solutions in the government market.

Klein estimated that Cisco has at least a 70 percent government market share in IP networking. The company does not disclose its government revenue.

Cisco's three-prong approach is a ramped-up effort to show that the company has moved beyond its switch-and-router image, said Gerald Charles, executive adviser of the Internet Business Solutions Group. "We really moved so far beyond that about seven to eight years ago. We have a much wider and [more] diverse portfolio."

Charles said the Internet Business Solutions Group ? the brainchild of Cisco Chief Executive Officer John Chambers, who wanted a management consulting component that could advise clients on improving business operations ? performs "a sense-and-strategy function."

The group consists of about 240 employees worldwide who meet with individual agencies to determine how they might function more efficiently. "I like to say, 'Let's not talk bit, byte, RAM, ROM to our customers,' " Charles said.

Instead, they talk about efficiency of citizen services, productivity, emergency response, mobility strategy and other problems hindering the agency's performance. "Our job is to help senior executives drive their business and their business strategies," he said.

"We work with the top leaders of those organizations to understand their business in their business terms and what their problems are," Charles said. "We're talking to them about how they'll improve their workforce productivity, how they'll improve their emergency response, how they'll improve secure collaboration or the exchange of information."

The information gleaned also helps Cisco invest in, develop or purchase new technology, he added.

Then it's up to Boston's business development and engineering group to determine precisely what federal customers require and create technology that meets the specific IP networking needs of the individual department, agency, military branch or facility and ensure that the technology conforms to appropriate government certifications.

"Gerald's group has a much deeper strategic consulting relationship with customers," Boston explained. "What we're doing is creating technology capabilities ? or possibilities ? in the mind of the customers and trying to understand the specific technical challenge they're [facing] and show them how to do that."

Different conversations

Unlike Klein's sales team, Boston added, the Global Government Solutions Group doesn't deal with sales quotas or product profit and loss statements. "That creates a much different conversation that we can have with many of our customers, especially in the defense space, both in the United States and outside," he said.

The Global Government Solutions Group was created by Boston's predecessor, Greg Akers, when it became clear that Cisco wasn't able to provide some government customers with security-cleared engineers to deal with certain IT problems. Today, the group includes many retired military officers and former government officials who have the necessary clearances and understand the needs of the defense and intelligence communities.

Boston and Klein work together closely on designing IT systems and making the sale. "We clearly and quickly identified the different complementary areas of focus that our two organizations had and have today," Boston said.

For example, when the sale of a voice-over-IP system was held up because the technology didn't meet specific Defense Department requirements and the components were not on the government's approved products list, the Global Government Solutions Group's adaptation engineers identified the problems and designed solutions that got the products certified so Klein's staff could close the sale.

Cisco's switch-and-router history has given the company an advantage in selling IP networking in the federal market. "Over 80 percent of the government agencies in one way or another have Cisco routers and switches in their [IT] environment. So they're using our network technology," Klein said. "We're adding intelligence to the network. We're putting more services into the network to take care of security issues, to add collaboration tools."

The company also has been around a long time. "It has many established relationships and many established customers," said Kate McCurdy, a government technology analyst at Datamonitor plc, a business information company.

Government agencies generally prefer to work "with the people they've done business with historically," she said. "If you have a good relationship, you want to further that. So that also is an important aspect."

She said Cisco's emphasis on building government IP networks "is a good strategy that is positive and working for them" because government officials, law enforcement and other social services providers can't work effectively if they're tied to their desks.

They need a strong and flexible network, something that can grow with the agency and its various users, McCurdy said. "This is something that Cisco recognizes and understands."

Associate editor David Hubler can be reached at dhubler@1105govinfo.com.

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