How three IT vendors view the federal arena

As federal employees and vendors await signs from the Bush administration about the future of information technology, three companies say they know how to survive in the current economy.

By focusing on the business needs of government customers, as well as maintaining leadership in the markets that got them there, companies can stay competitive in the federal arena, said three business leaders.

To maintain an edge, Computer Associates International Inc. recently reorganized itself to target six product areas in the federal space and is focusing on building relationships with agencies' business managers.

Remaining competitive is the key for Islandia, N.Y.-based CA, said Otto Guenther, general manager of CA's federal group. "We must be No. 1 or No. 2 in all those areas or you won't see us there."

In selling to federal agencies, "you have to advertise and have the right kind of PR, but we also focus on the business managers as opposed to just the [chief information officers] and IT departments," Guenther said. "Before, we'd look at the lower-end technology folks and the IT managers to [build momentum]. But now it's paramount for e-businesses and e-government to look at business cases in an organization and to see what they are responsible for managing."

Cisco Systems Inc. built its reputation on routers and switches, but now the company is focused on bringing complete solutions to its federal customers.

"There has been a shift in the overall approach," whether it's civilian or military, said Scott Spehar, Cisco's vice president of federal sales. "For years we were moving boxes — switches and routers — and were very successful. But now we're also focused on human resources efficiency, workforce, e-learning and supply chain management."

Spehar said he's seen a growing interest in Internet business solutions from the buying community, with the greatest interest in increased security, wireless systems and new network architecture.

The agencies "are taking a good hard look at those offerings, and we have to turn those into technological deployments that they're comfortable with," he said.

At Silicon Graphics Inc., federal business includes products ranging from workstations to servers to supercomputers. "Big data" is its realm, said Bob Bishop, SGI's chief executive officer.

"We are supplying and totally focused on the big data markets: storing and using vast amounts of data in real time," he said. "Ultimately, we can visualize that data ourselves, including engineering, scientific and analytical applications."

SGI has been active in supercomputing applications for agencies related to monitoring and predicting weather. Initiatives include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which researches the modeling of hurricanes and other weather phenomena.

Agencies need such research because weather affects the U.S. economy, Bishop said. "So they want to model the weather better and bring together systems to share knowledge between different centers."

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