Resellers try to change with times

A series of recent hires and initiatives at GTSI Corp. show some of the efforts resellers are making to become more competitive as technology offerings increase and federal buyers grow more sophisticated and demanding.

The company recently hired Rick Turner, a 32-year veteran of the federal government, to serve as strategic area executive, special programs. Turner spent the final two years of his government career at the National Security Agency. Earlier, he had served as chief information officer at the Federal Trade Commission, and CIO in NASA's Office of Space Flight before that.

"I had a stint in every part of the government you can think of," said Turner, who started working at GTSI in August.

His task at the company is to expand its understanding of its government customers, while informing agencies about what the company has to offer.

"The government's moving from building things to buying things," Turner said. "I saw that at NASA, where they went out of the business of building spacecraft to having them built commercially. [I saw] the same thing at my most recent agency."

Companies such as GTSI sometimes don't understand that agencies want to buy comprehensive solutions — combinations of products and services intended to meet a specific need, he said.

GTSI is one company that does get the message, Turner said. Chief executive officer Dendy Young wants "to move the company to where it is providing solutions to government, not just delivering parts that government can put together," Turner said. "What I bring is a good knowledge of what the needs are, at [the Defense Department], at the civil agencies and at the regulatory" agencies.

Hiring Turner is part of the company's strategy, Young said. GTSI officials are also developing solutions with broad appeal, using standard products and services, so they can be easily duplicated and sold. GTSI Agility, a mobile office that includes several communications and productivity applications packed into a travel trunk, is one prominent solution.

GTSI has also been assembling 11 specialized teams to address specific customer needs, Young said. "In the last nine months we've started up our storage team," he said. "We've also built a security team. We'll continue to build technology teams."

Another company that is trying to figure out how to evolve is CDW Government (CDW-G) Inc. Earlier this year, the company officials conducted a formal search for a team of small-business partners to provide specialized services to customers. CDW-G officials have also provided specialized training for the sales force to help them understand customer needs.

"It's an evolution that's been under way for quite a long time," said Jim Shanks, CDW-G's president. "We have always provided service to our customers. We have always been involved in building solutions for our customers. Now what we've done is extend that to another level of being able to help them from cradle to grave."

CDW-G has largely chosen not to create prepacked solutions, he added. "We do that to some extent, but I don't think that's our prime mission in life. Each customer's need is unique. We want to be flexible in that," Shanks said. "Rather than try to predict what the customer is looking for, we engage a highly trained sales force that is immersed in technology."

While resellers are not likely to turn into full-fledged systems integrators, they are all trying to add unique features to their offerings, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. "They have to, in order to distinguish themselves from their competitors."

CDW-G to go local with small-biz consortium

CDW Government (CDW-G) Inc.'s Small Business Consortium, a team of companies that CDW-G picked this summer to serve as partners, is proving to be a hit with customers, said the company's president, Jim Shanks. Now he wants to take the team beyond Washington, D.C., and make services available to state and local customers.

"It has been exciting," he said. "The reception that we have gotten from the partners [and] the responsiveness has been great." CDW-G staff were aware that agencies often needed help making use of the products they bought, and put out a formal request for proposals from small companies earlier this year. In August, the company chose 12 out of 24 who applied to sign one-year partnership arrangements.

— Michael Hardy

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