The voice of experience

Renny DiPentima is considered a definitive source for information technology in the federal market. Now president of consulting and systems integration at SRA International Inc., DiPentima was the deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration. Having worked on both sides of the desk, DiPentima knows that it's tough for vendors to make an impression on federal chief information officers.

Q: Have you ever seen such a competitive environment for federal IT business?

A: Vendors are always trying to get a piece of federal IT contracts. The move away from large, single-award contracts with long procurement cycles toward the faster [governmentwide acquisition contract] and [other] vehicles has caused the vendors to market the federal customer even more often and more vigorously because of the speed of those vehicles.

Q: Is it because the commercial market is still weak?

A: This certainly is a major factor. [The commercial market] is slower than slow right now, and the federal market is very inviting.

Q: Do cold calls work? If not, what does?

A: From my own experience, cold calls seldom work. What I think does work is getting to know a lot about a potential customer, match the skills of your company to the needs of the potential customer and present a sensible solution when you do get a chance to visit. Otherwise, all you are doing is showing up for a cup of coffee and a handshake, and little useful for the customer or your company comes of that.

Q: What advice would you give vendors looking for a toehold in government?

A: It's difficult for a new vendor to get a toehold in the government market today. If they have an exciting technology solution that's done well in the commercial marketplace, that could be an entry for them, but look at the difficulty the commercial [enterprise resource planning] and [customer relationship management] vendors have had trying to do that. If you were starting from scratch, you'd need some key strategic hires who know the federal marketplace and are known in that marketplace, some good solutions to sell, and some vehicles to compete on and win new work.

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