Eye on the States: You know you're a state and local company if ...

Thomas Davies

Because I am switching from analyst to industry executive, this will be my last column. Consequently, I wanted to impart what I've learned over the past eight years writing this column ? a task, I soon discovered, that wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I needed something simple that encapsulated everything I've written about. It took awhile, but then it finally hit me: State and local government is a terrific market, but it's not for everyone.

You're probably thinking, that's it? After eight years, that's all Davies can come up with? No wonder he's moving on to do something else.

For many of you, this probably is quite obvious. For me, it's taken quite a lot of time ? with more trial and error than I sometimes would like to admit -- to come to this realization.

Perhaps it has been so difficult for me to see that state and local is not for everyone because I've been too close to the market. I got hooked early in my career on the adage that "state and local government is the laboratory of democracy." I certainly believe this is the case when it comes to technology.

But if state and local isn't for everyone, who is it for? Here's how I determine that.

Your company may have a future in state and local if:

  • Your company is in it for the long term, not just to make up for a lack of federal sales in the next 12 months. State and local is not a quick fix to a company's growth problems.

  • Your company has something of value that can be replicated across many state and local governments. A state and local business based solely on one-off deals, even if they are megadeals, just isn't economically attractive, no matter how you slice it.

  • You're willing to let the state and local business stand on its own as a separate unit. If not, you're probably hiding it among your other lines of business and not giving it the attention, nor making the commitment, that it needs.

  • You're willing to invest to go after the business, no matter where it is, even if that means building a customer base in Fargo, N.D. Too many companies are interested only in state and local business that's within a one-day drive of Washington or in a major state capital.

  • You aren't continually comparing your state and local business to your federal and commercial businesses. Doing so is like comparing your children: It may make you feel insightful, but rarely is anyone better off as a result. Hold state and local to a high standard, but realize it's a different market from the commercial and federal ones.

I would be remiss if I didn't express my gratitude to the many people who contributed to the "Eye on the States" columns, directly or indirectly, over the years. You have truly enriched my understanding of how to be successful in this market, and I deeply appreciate your trust and willingness to share your insights and experiences.

Thomas Davies is now senior vice president of business development for the Government Solutions Group at Affiliated Computer Services Inc. His e-mail address is tomdavies_global@yahoo.com.

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