CriticalDevices.com Targets Government Integrators

CriticalDevices.com Targets Government Integrators

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Writer

When Andrew Levi, founder of 9-year-old value-added reseller Aztec Systems of Dallas, could not find an affordable asset management system for a client a few years ago, he decided to create a company to produce a solution.

That company, CriticalDevices.com Inc., just announced last month its Asset Services Management solution, which resellers and government agencies can use to track their computers and myriad technology assets.

"What drove us to the [Critical Devices.com] program was having one central location to see the status of assets," said Zaman Kahn, director of business development for Intelligent Decisions, a Chantilly, Va., government VAR that was finalizing its deal with CriticalDevices.com at press time.

Because VARs such as Intelligent Decisions must build the cost of recovering equipment into their government leasing contracts, being able to easily locate assets is essential to profitability, Kahn said. He also likes the ability to be proactive with systems management and offer tracking services that operate across multiple platforms.

"It will be a significant value-add for customers, and it will increase our sales," said Kahn, whose company plans to bundle the offering with other solutions.

Levi, now the chief technology officer of CriticalDevices.com in addition to his role as CEO of Aztec Systems, founded the Dallas-based firm in March 1999 after the VAR's 1998 annual strategy planning session revealed an opportunity to provide increased remote monitoring and management services to its customer base.

When the enterprise solutions on the market proved too costly for the quantity of devices its customers would need to support, the company set out to create a service that offered inexpensive, Internet-based device monitoring that did not require a dedicated connection or virtual private network (VPN) and supported network address translation.

The new company is headed by President and Chief Operating Officer Roy Hogsed and has 22 employees. Aztec and CriticalDevices.com have no official relationship other than sharing their founder.

CriticalDevices.com's Asset Services Management includes remote asset tracking and systems monitoring that VARs may offer as a private label, value-added service. ASM includes a unique software agent that is installed on each of the client's laptops, desktops, servers and other devices.

On a scheduled basis, the service checks in on the devices' location and health via secure, one-way Internet communication. Should a device be stolen, ASM can track it once the user logs onto the Internet. Other services include alerts, reporting and technical support.

At the recent FOSE 2000 show in Washington, the company was actively recruiting integrators seeking to broaden their service offerings to government customers. An integrator's role is to resell and deploy the solution, customize it by building unique business rules for each client device, and set up alert procedures that enable the VAR to keep the client's system operating at its peak.

"The ability to accurately manage and track computing assets is a big issue for the government, just as it is for the Fortune 1000," said Kevin Gallagher, vice president of Research & Reporting Services for the Newport Group, a Barnstable, Mass., market research firm.

Corporate America cannot find as much as a third of its computer equipment, and the loss rate is comparable in government, according to CriticalDevices.com officials. The need for tracking assets could loom even larger if the Federal Workforce Digital Access bill now before Congress should pass, putting a computer into the home of every federal worker.

CriticalDevices.com's solution is designed to address several problems experienced by government agencies, company officials said. It eases the challenge of maintaining an extensive inventory of devices through their myriad upgrades and changes, helps reduce network slowdowns and failures and lowers costs resulting from lost hardware and data. As government use of leasing continues to rise, the need to locate equipment as leases expire also will rise.

As a 1999 privately held start-up expected to do just $8 million to $10 million in sales this year, CriticalDevices.com faces competition from more complex, established offerings, such as Unicenter from Computer Associates International Inc. and Tivoli Systems Inc.'s Enterprise product. Both systems offer more functionality and performance data but also more overhead and potential network performance degradation, said CriticalDevices.com's Levi.

More comparable competitors in the performance management space include NetSolve Inc., Austin, Texas; SilverBack Technologies, Billerica, Mass.; and EverGreen Data Continuity, Newbury, Mass.; as well as makers of platform-specific tools.

"The big differentiator ? lies in the [indirect] business model," said Newport's Gallagher. That is "attractive to the end user, because they reduce the number of point solutions they have to manage from both an integration and ongoing maintenance perspective. The more value-add the VAR/system integrator can offer, the fewer headaches for the business user."

Gallagher said CriticalDevices.com's model should enhance its chances of success. Despite its small size, "they appear to have the infrastructure in place, and will add to their resources as business growth demands."

VARs may offer ASM as a subscription service or bundle it with other offerings, and pay CriticalDevices.com a monthly per-device fee for its services.

The company is initially seeking 25 service providers in the government space, which will be supported by national account managers and inside sales staff.

"We're looking for true service providers, people who do at least 30 percent of their business in services," said Greg Banning, vice president of Federal Government and East Coast operations for CriticalDevices.com. Other criteria include a minimum ratio of 2:1 for technical to sales staff and certifications such as Cisco, Microsoft and Solaris.

"It's also helpful if they have written vertical software applications, which shows they have vertical expertise within government, as well as complementary professional services," Banning said.

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