Integrators are the contracting stars, but tech firms make the show.
When the house lights dim and a band takes the stage, the audience applauds the performances of the musicians. But no show goes on without the work of dozens or hundreds of behind-the-scenes players.
The world of federal contracting may be less glamorous, but it's just as layered. Systems integrators usually win the contracts, take charge of the projects and stand in the spotlight, but the companies that develop the technology the integrators use deserve just as much credit. Without them, there would be no show.
The technology firms, while operating largely behind the scenes, are critical to the success of projects, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc.
"There's a very strong dependence on technology firms," he said. "Integrators typically aren't in the business of developing new technologies. They're certainly capable, but in their role as integrators, they work with their technology partners."
Although there is no way to include all or even most of the businesses that make the technologies federal agencies use, it's time for a few of them to take a bow.
Juniper's role broadens
When Science Applications International Corp. needed secure, scalable solutions for a Defense Department backbone network, the integrator selected Juniper Federal Systems, a division of Juniper Networks. The company provides just a portion of the technology required for the project, said Tom Kreidler, vice president of Juniper Federal Systems.
"We work both sides we sell to integrators as well as to end users," Kreidler said. "We try to work up front in advance of the solicitation, the formal [request for proposals], and we try to choose our partners from the eight to 10 largest systems integrators."
The company prefers to partner early in the process and incorporate Juniper's secure, scalable network technology into the architecture of a project.
"Hopefully, we do that with one of the systems integrators, which of course completes the picture with a total solution," he said.
There are two ways to support a large integrator, Kreidler said. One is to adopt the role of a vendor or subcontractor, setting a price and defining terms and conditions. But Juniper prefers the role of integrator teammate.
"As a teammate, we provide preferred pricing, we provide both cost and profit sharing, we provide customized proposal support, usually on their site," Kreidler said.
TeleContinuity's lines hum
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave birth to TeleContinuity, a provider of a disaster-proof and survivable telecommunications network. At least that's how Executive Vice President Mike Rosenberg tells it.
With original funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology soon after the attacks, TeleContinuity set out to create a voice communications network that would guarantee call delivery in emergencies.
TeleContinuity is a network-level solution designed to restore incoming telephone service within minutes of a terrorist attack, fiber cut, fire, flood, building evacuation or other emergency. The solution differs from the traditional approach of relying on backup facilities and centralized telecom infrastructures, which has had limited success.
"Our major markets are federal and state governments," Rosenberg said, "but the question is how do you sell to them. We're not on the [General Services Administration] schedule. We are a new company with an emerging technology. So our strategy has been to [find a] channel partner."
Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has mandated that federal and state governments have continuity-of-operations plans, TeleContinuity's telephone backup system has attracted the attention of a number of large contractors wanting to win government contracts.
"We're the survivable voice provider," Rosenberg said.
Blue Canopy aimed for the skies
"It only takes a small company to manage a lot of moving parts." That's what Jeff White, president of Blue Canopy Group, says when someone asks him how small companies like his can land lucrative, long-lasting partnerships with big federal contractors.
In truth, Blue Canopy got the kind of lucky break many small firms dream of. When Computer Sciences Corp. needed a partner for a large Environmental Protection Agency contract, an executive remembered working with Blue Canopy in a previous job. The executive recommended that CSC consider using Blue Canopy's fourth-party integrator tool, which aligns complex networks of interdependent business and information technology systems.
Thanks to the executive's long memory, Blue Canopy won a five-year contact to staff and manage the EPA's emergency call center near Research Triangle Park, N.C. The project has meant a great deal to both prime contractor and subcontractor, especially after the contract was scaled back and CSC was forced to cut some small firms from the project.
"We were the only small business to survive all the cuts, and now we're definitely symbiotic together at that site," White said.
Today the Reston, Va.-based company, which employs about 130 people, does a good deal of client-management work for CSC. But it had to earn that business.
"You have to prove yourself to be able to do that," White said. "Now we do everything from bid and capture all the way to deploy and fulfill a lot of these contracts."
White said subcontractors that have assets beyond their technology solution stand a better chance of creating mutually advantageous, long-term partnerships with integrators. Being able to help a prime contractor from the beginning by working on proposals and filling niche gaps in the integrator's capabilities is a true plus, he added.
Objectivity finds the way in
It can be tough for smaller firms to attract the attention of large integrators precisely because they are so big, said Leon Guzenda, chief technology officer at Objectivity, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of real-time data management solutions.
"Finding the way in in the first place is the difficult part," he said.
Objectivity first started partnering with federal integrators in 1992, when it won a government contract with Boeing. Guzenda said the company sought personal introductions from people on the inside.
"We also [tried going] through the front door, knocking on the federal contract office and asking to talk with the business development people and partnerships people," he said. "And that usually takes quite a while to set up. They're very busy people."
And then there is the always-wise adage about being in the right place at the right time. In 2003, Guzenda spoke at a workshop in the Washington, D.C., area on the company's flagship product, Objectivity/DB, for managing large volumes of complex data.
"There were a half-dozen people in the room who had no names, only numbers, and it turned out they were all from Fort Meade," Guzenda said. "Afterward, one of them pulled me aside and said, 'You've got to come down and talk to these guys.'"
"These guys" worked at the super-secret National Security Agency, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md. The meeting led to an NSA project, and more federal contacts and contracts soon followed.
Guzenda said integrators look for something that will give them a competitive advantage when they bid on a project. "
They might call us and arrange for some kind of pilot or [internal research and development] project to verify that we can really do what we say we can," he said. "After that, we'll work with them on the RFP as part of their bidding process."
In most cases, it's the large integrator that will determine whether Objectivity gets co-star billing or remains behind the scenes during the proposal process.
"Sometimes they're in a security classification that we can't reach or [don't] have access to," he said.
"On a whole lot of projects, we really have no idea what they're actually doing," he added. On one project in particular, he said, "I still am not allowed to know what the program is."
Hubler is a freelance writer and editor based in Annandale, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unisys: A view from the top
In summer 2004, Unisys won a Transportation Security Administration contract to install biometric technologies at several airports so TSA could test the Registered Traveler program. The integrator giant knew precisely where to find a partner for the $6 million contract: It selected Daon, and not just for its fingerprint-matching and iris-scanning capabilities.
Daon also excels at support and offers internal resources that an integrator can draw on, said Larry Zmuda, a partner in Unisys' homeland security practice.
"The better the partner, the better the solution and the more successful the project is," he said.
The integration of biometric technologies isn't always smooth, Zmuda said. So to build a successful partnership with a large integrator, technology providers must have the ability to match the integrator's resources and commitment to the project, a trait that Zmuda refers to as the ability to "play on the same scale."
If a partner can do that, it shows early on.
"When you're developing [the project], they're right there answering any questions with you to ensure you use their capability to its fullest extent," Zmuda said. "They're willing to bring people to the site where you're implementing it."
When Unisys was setting up Registered Traveler at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Daon flew staff to the site to make sure everything was deployed correctly.
"Any issues with their piece of the technology, they were there to make sure things were deployed quickly and seamlessly," Zmuda said.
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