VA's Tibbits: Vendors need to show the value of their offerings

Without use cases to show how a technology can reduce costs or otherwise benefit an agency, the sales pitches are not helpful, VA official says.

Paul Tibbits, VA

VA's Paul Tibbits says vendors need to be ready to demonstrate the benefits of their wares.

Dr. Paul Tibbits, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Deputy CIO for Architecture, Strategy and Design, has some advice for contractors and vendors looking to sell IT solutions: Show him the money. Or rather, the use-case that demonstrates how the solution will save money.

“One thing that concerns me – and I meet with two to three vendors per week who want to sell to the government – is that the IT industry comes to me with use cases about 1 percent of the time,” Tibbits said when speaking at 1105 Media’s Enterprise Architecture Conference on Nov. 29. “We have got to show how we are going to get more value for the money we spend.”

In an era of tightening IT budgets and more transparent cost expenditure data, Tibbits said vendors are going to have far more success selling to federal agencies if they provide concrete use cases – or a list of steps to achieve an explicit goal – rather that  attempting to explain away complex technologies, terminologies and ideas to federal executives.

Tibbits said vendors “are assuming we, the buyers, are smart enough to determine” how to use a product to achieve goals, but that “assuming the government is smart might not be a good assumption.

“You’re depending on a whole lot of knowledge that might not be there,” Tibbits said, prompting laughter from an audience of more than 100 panel attendees at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Sooner or later, Tibbits said, agencies will “quit buying stuff from (vendors) that way,” especially as IT revenue streams shrink.

Tibbits spoke alongside Ashok Nare, chief technology officer for Octo Consulting, and Susan Perez, program manager for the Interagency Program Office in the departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs, on how converging technologies are promoting agility in federal organizations.

Nare said federal budget cuts are a driving force behind agency adoption of cloud computing, mobile technology, social media and other technologies, along with data-center consolidation and shared services. Policy-driven initiatives and a changing workforce also play a role.

“Cloud, mobile and social and other technologies are converging and reinforcing each other to drive new business scenarios,” Nare said. “The combination of pervasive mobility, near-ubiquitous connectivity, commoditized computing services and information access decreases the gap between idea and action.”

 While the gap between turning an idea to an end-state solution for the federal government may be decreasing, uncertainty still remains regarding new technologies.

For example, while the VA is implementing a cloud computing services strategy – VA Directive 6517 – Tibbits expressed doubts as to how cost-effective the cloud might be. The department recently signed a $36 million deal to migrate its e-mail and calendar services to the cloud for 600,000 users.

“It is not 100 percent clear that expenses go down if we jump into the cloud,” Tibbits said. “The revenue stream is up there in neon lights, we have got to figure out if that is going to save us money or not.”

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