A strong bench is essential

Prism Pointe stands out in a crowded field

Prism Pointe sets up shop in Kuwait

Cliff King, chief executive officer of Prism Pointe Technologies LLC, was prescient when he set up shop in Kuwait to maintain and repair the information technology hardware of U.S. military forces in Iraq even before the troops were deployed in 2003. He first sent a team to Kuwait City to conduct due diligence. Then he secured approvals from the appropriate Kuwaiti ministries and sought an indigenous sponsor-partner, as required by local law.

"In Kuwait, you have to be sponsored by a 51 percent or greater Kuwaiti-owned, related company," he said. "So if you manufacture widgets, you have to have a Kuwaiti widget-manufacturing company act as your host agent."

In addition, Kuwaiti law requires the host company and its partner to locate their office facilities in the same building.

After interviewing a number of Kuwaiti IT companies, King partnered with Kuwaiti-Digital Computer Corp., a local systems integrator whose provider partners include Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. KDCC handles PPT's local licensing, payroll and human resources regulations based on Kuwaiti law. In return, PPT pays KDCC rent for its office space and a monthly partnership fee.
"In keeping with our business model, which is a partner model," King said, "this particular company also has its own facilities and personnel in six other countries in the Middle East region. So we were able to provide them with business opportunities and partnering opportunities in those six other countries."

"It's been a wonderful relationship," he said.

? David Hubler

"Some of our biggest growth areas are at our [overseas] regional locations." ? Cliff King, Prism Pointe Technologies

Just as sports teams need more than a star-studded starting lineup for success, government integrators require a game plan that foresees contingencies and reserves ready to step in to support the overall effort.

Cliff King adopted that theory in 2002, when he founded Prism Pointe Technologies LLC, a provider of information technology maintenance and repair services that partners with large systems integrators, such as GTSI Corp., and also supports federal agencies directly.

King, PPT's chief executive officer, approached his business plan like a football coach plotting X's and O's. He built a network of partners and put a business plan in place four years before opening for business, he said.

PPT set up a full IT maintenance depot and repair facility in Kuwait months before the first U.S. troops arrived in Iraq in 2003. "We foresaw the inevitable," King said. "To my knowledge, we were the first company to stand up an on-site service capability for those troops and all the supporting elements that we knew were going to be moving into Iraq."

The Fayetteville, Ga., company has grown substantially since its founding. PPT experienced a 483 percent increase in revenue from 2002 through 2006, King said. And in just the past calendar year, the company's employee ranks have swelled by 400 percent, he added.

More than 13,000 PPT service engineers at 1,500 locations worldwide provide on-site, around-the-clock repair and warranty services on everything from laptop computers to fax machines, printers and scanners. "Our business is very, very labor-intensive," King said. "It requires true 24/7 attention."

"Some of our biggest growth areas are at our [overseas] regional locations," he said. In addition to Kuwait City, the company has facilities in Manheim, Germany, and Seoul, South Korea. And King has plans to expand its small federal sales center in Herndon, Va.

PPT's bench strength, he said, is having service delivery certifications and authorizations from every tier one and tier two IT manufacturer.

Valuable input

Some analysts, however, doubt that the company's strategy offers an advantage.
"I don't think an integrator being partnered with a service and maintenance company brings a lot of value to the integrator," said David Perara, research director at Government Insights, a market research and analysis firm in Falls Church, Va. "When you're looking at complex federal deals, you've got to customize what your solution is based on the requirements."

But Don Richards, an engineer at GTSI, said that when GTSI is proposing a solution to a client, the company's partnership with PPT can result in valuable input about the products and support that the manufacturers don't provide.

That partnership proved to be a plus earlier this year when the Justice Department awarded GTSI a $42 million blanket purchase agreement for workstations and desktop and laptop computers. Hewlett-Packard Co. is the primary hardware supplier and PPT provides warranty and call-center support, warehousing, and managed logistics.

As an example, Richards cited GTSI's contract with the Defense Department's Dependent Schools (DODDS), which is the board of education for all DOD-run dependent schools worldwide. Richards took Bill Weithman, executive vice president at PPT, to a meeting with the head of the system, who laid out its IT needs and goals. Among them, the DOD schools in Europe were experiencing major delays in receiving new computers, and there were recurring problems with repairs and spares for older ones.

"Together with Weithman, we were able to craft an end-to-end solution from a service standpoint as well as delivery standpoint to meet that need," Richards said. As a result, he added, in 2005 GTSI was awarded a DODDS Information Technology Requirements Analysis contract to deliver more than 2,500 laptops to schools all over Europe.

"I understand the value of this service," he added. "Only 10 percent of the value is in the sale; 90 percent is in the support. That's where past performance and credibility come in."

A good defense

PPT won a DODDS contract on its own in January to service and maintain 15,000 computers at 120 schools in 10 countries.

In addition, the Army recently selected PPT to provide global warranty services for seven of the nine winners of the Army Desktop and Mobile Computing 2 (ADMC 2) contract and four of the six winners of the Army's Information Technology Enterprise Solutions Hardware (ITES-2H) contract.

"The ADMC 2 and the ITES-2H are the largest Army procurement vehicles for IT equipment," Weithman said.

Of the two winners, PPT did not partner with on the ADMC-2 contract, in one case, an agreement could not be reached before the bids went in. "The second one was a company that we're just not doing business with at this point," he said.

The enterprise-level ITES-2H had fewer bidders, so PPT was "quite a bit more selective as to who we were going to bid with," Weithman said. He said some valid companies on that list came to PPT, but the company told them it was already teamed with others. "We limited what we were going to do," he said.

PPT picks its partners carefully, King added.

When the company is asked to perform a specific job or provide a service somewhere in the world, it checks to make sure that such a short-term relationship won't harm a strategic partner. Rushing into a deal "could put them on the same level playing field as a strategic partner who has given us all the business," he said.
"Also, we want to make sure that we don't casually allow everyone to say, 'We're using Prism Pointe' because then all of a sudden Prism Pointe doesn't bring any value to the table," King added.

King said he isn't worried about someone copying PPT's game plan. Time and high start-up costs are the company's best defense.

"Can someone come in today and put together a partner network and open the doors? Certainly," he said. "Would it take him two years minimum? Yes. At a considerable investment? Of course."

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

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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