E-gov changes the courting rituals

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It's a bit like "The Dating Game." But instead of one woman and three eligible bachelors, many systems integrators and product vendors are trying to find partners that make them more appealing to potential federal government customers.

As agencies attempt to offer their employees and the public more sophisticated electronic services, more and more companies targeting the federal market are partnering to develop solutions — either by integrating individual software products or bundling products and services.

Partnerships "are becoming more prevalent around the industry, especially with respect to larger integrators, because the federal government has begun to move towards e-government," said Joseph Kampf, president and chief executive officer of Anteon Corp., a Fairfax, Va.-based systems integrator specializing in database development and data mining.

Anteon recently formed a partnership with New York City-based Information Builders — which designs tools for accessing, analyzing and integrating data stored in a wide variety of databases — with the idea of incorporating its software into e-government applications that draw from multiple sources of data.

Several other companies have formed alliances in recent months (see box).

Theoretically, the bundled team solution is a more attractive package than what either company could offer on its own. But just as in any relationship, companies are looking for several key factors in prospective partners.

Rituals of Courtships

Timing, of course, is everything. Although a systems integrator such as Anteon could eventually develop the technology it needs, it would risk missing its window of opportunity.

"Some said you could provide it all internally, but I never believed that," Kampf said. "It takes time and resources, and it's not the core product-offering of federal integrators. We decided 18 months ago to be ready a couple of years down the road, and we're ready."

The complexity of e-government applications is also a factor. Anteon has partnered with a handful of vendors in the government market — including IBM Corp., Siemens Corp. and Oracle Corp. — "to make sure we had each technology niche covered," Kampf said.

Vendors warn that such deals should not be completed too quickly or they risk being little more than reseller agreements. But the "courtship" leading up to such deals should not drag on too long. Kampf said alliances should take anywhere from six to eight months to finalize.

John Hogerland, vice president of global business development and alliances at JetForm Corp., which recently teamed up with Siebel Systems Inc., echoed those sentiments. "It can't take years — or even longer than six months — because at the speed this industry moves, it's too late," he said.

What's in It for Me?

Each party needs to come to terms with how it benefits from the arrangement and what its role in that partnership is.

The Siebel/JetForm alliance will allow customers to extend their Siebel e-business applications by enabling users to complete application processes online — thanks to JetForm's specialty, which is document fulfillment, Hogerland said.

But Hogerland noted that a partnership requires more than just a good fit of technology or services. The two parties also must build a business plan together, defining how they will turn their partnership into a moneymaking venture over the long haul.

It's the difference between two people dating because they have common interests and two people trying to build a long-term relationship.

That's a level of commitment that companies focused primarily on technology have not always made in the past. "Fundamentally, it needs to be a business relationship," Hogerland said. "The days of just a technology relationship are gone."Match made in heaven

Tech company ISO B2G solutions company for LTR.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. — Systems integration services. Secure Computing Corp. — Security software, including firewalls, PKI. JetForm Corp. — Electronic forms. Siebel Systems Inc. — Customer relationship management software. American Management Systems Inc. — Systems integration, consulting. webMethods Inc. — Online application integration software. GTSI Corp. — Product integration, reselling. Network Storage Solutions Inc. — Network-attached storage devices.


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