Time to partner up

Tech companies feed integrators' need for new solutions by avoiding competition

You won't find some of the biggest names in
technology on Washington Technology's Top
100 list of federal contractors. Rather than
working directly with government customers,
technology powerhouses such as Cisco
Systems Inc., Microsoft Inc. and Sun
Microsystems Inc. depend on partnerships
with systems integrators for entry into the
federal market.

Systems integrators are an integral part of
Microsoft's business strategy, said Curt
Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft Federal.

"One of the things we've been focused on and
continue to invest in is building a deeper relationship
with systems integrators."

The relationship between contractors and
information technology companies is more
critical than ever as government projects
become more complex, industry experts say.
Mandates, such as using open-source or commercial
solutions, also create a climate in
which technology companies and systems
integrators need each other to be successful.

Understanding that partnerships are not
necessarily competitive is an important step in
building relationships between integrators
and companies selling products, said Bill Vass,
president of Sun Microsystems Federal Inc.

"Systems integrators are really becoming
aware that we don't compete with them ?
we're a partner," he said.

Some of Sun's competitors compete in the
services space, but Sun does not go after systems
integration work, he said. Sun relies on systems integrators for access to federal customers
because the company generally doesn't
sell to them directly, he added.

DEMAND FOR OPEN SOURCE

The increased demand from government
customers for open-source solutions is helping
encourage those partnerships, Vass said.

Federal contractors are looking for vendors
to deliver enterprise-class, scalable, opensource
products, he said.

Factors underlying that demand include
the cost and security profile
of open source, he
said. "Getting open source
for free is still a selling
point for a lot of customers
because they can
start on a project right away rather than
waiting for contracts to be negotiated for
support," Vass said.

Sun's production software ? not just
developer or demo versions ? is available for
free and can be downloaded immediately.
Acquisition costs for open source are lower
because projects often start with
development and tests, which
require licensing negotiations
for proprietary software.

With open source, an
agency doesn't go
through the support
contract negotiations
until they're ready to go
to production.

"You're not paying your
systems integrator to sit
around and wait until you can get
access to the real production code,"
Vass said. "You can pull it down and work on
it right away."

Federal customers, especially in the
defense and intelligence markets, are
embracing open source because of its security
benefits, Vass said. Those customers want
to know exactly what is in the code so they
can protect against any possible attacks.
Sun's work with Northrop Grumman Corp.
on the Army Knowledge Online Web portal is
an example of the use of open source in the
federal government.

"It is an open-source mail product, an
open-source calendar product, and they use
an open-source database," Vass said.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

At Microsoft, the relationship with integrators
is so important that the company has had a program
devoted solely to that area for the past
three years.

"We have invested in building out teams that
specifically, directly support Lockheed Martin,
Northrop Grumman, BAE [Systems],
Raytheon and General Dynamics," Kolcun said.
"We support their internal use of Microsoft
technology as well as working with them in
partnership to capture new revenue opportunities
with government customers across
the public sector."

Microsoft invests billions
in research and development,
and the intellectual
property gained from that
effort fits in well with the
work of federal contractors,
Kolcun said. Systems
integrators can use that
intellectual property to
develop government-specific
applications.

"We've engaged with integrators to
varying degrees relative to intellectual property
sharing on the development of new commercial
technology like our simulation product called
Microsoft ESP," he added.

Contractors like working with a commercial
product, and Microsoft benefits by having those
products tailored to the requirements of government
customers.

"For our simulation product, Northrop
Grumman is looking at how they can integrate
that into joint mission-planning systems,"
Kolcun said.

Microsoft Federal is interested in developing
similar relationship with contractors for other
pieces of technology.

A new focus on developing solutions rather
than stand-alone products is another trend in
the contractor/technology company relationship,
said Dawn Duross, director of Cisco's
Federal Channels group.

"The nature of our business at Cisco has
really changed over the last
few years," Duross said. "In the
past, companies would come
to us, and we would give them
a quote on a router or a switch.
Today, as the network has
gained importance as a platform, our role has
changed in how we work with large systems
integrators."

Cisco has made investments to deliver a
more cohesive solution to address government
agency needs. Cisco's engineers, for example,
worked with engineers at General Dynamics
on improving that company's Itronix Corp.'s
GoBook rugged laptop computer, Duross said.

"We ported our Cisco unified communications
manager software onto the GoBook," she
said. "It will be able to be used by programs like
the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical."

Cisco has similar partnerships with other
integrators on federal projects and continues
to look for more opportunities.

Vass recommends that integrators who want
to work with Sun go to the Sun Federal Web
site. The site lists programs the company is
interested in capturing and where it needs
partners.

"They can click on our solutions tab and see
the portfolio of solutions we have," Vass said. "If
they have any expertise in any of those solutions
and they'd like to team with us to deliver
those solutions, we're always ready to talk to
them."

Doug Beizer (dbeizer@1105govinfo.com) is a staff
writer at Washington Technology.

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