Dell, BlackBerry share strategies for pursuing DOD clients

soldiers using mobile device

Tighter budgets have increased the stakes for vendors trying to meet the military's mobility needs.

It was a smaller turnout than usual at the tri-annual Pentagon Technology Day. Attendance was a few score when it is usually about 200, something organizers attributed to vacation season. The exposition in the stately Pentagon Library nonetheless offered a snapshot into a shifting defense IT procurement landscape.

FCW visited the display booths of two mainstays in that landscape – Dell and BlackBerry – and found divergent approaches to dealing with the changing software and mobile devices markets in which these firms compete.

David DeVries, part of Dell's public sector sales team, rattled off his company’s acquisitions in its bid to gain a bigger foothold in the software market. One of those acquisitions was Quest Software, which Dell bought for about $2.4 billion in 2012, and Quest products were a part of DeVries' pitch at the event.

Dell can no longer rely on its bread and butter of servers and hard drives because there is only so much return in the hardware market, he said. Dell's efforts to offer "end-to-end solutions" are nothing new, he acknowledged – every big IT firm seems to be claiming that versatility.

The word "differentiator" often enters the IT sales pitch at this point, as a vendor argues its software package is easier to use and more effective than that of its competitors. For DeVries, Dell's "differentiator" is that its software is not "native," or internal to a particular system, and can be combined with software from other firms. DeVries cited Dell’s work with Oracle as an example. He also shied away from the word "competitor," another common sales tactic. How can you have competitors when each software package offers something unique?

The Plano, Texas-based firm does business with multiple military branches, DeVries said, adding that he hoped to take advantage of being in the Pentagon on Thursday by meeting with clients. Last year was "rough" for business because of sequestration, but Dell’s public sector executives are adjusting to tighter budgets, he added.

A few booths down from DeVries, BlackBerry's Terry Poulias scrolled from icon to icon on the firm’s latest mobile device. He is fond of what he called the "split personality" of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which keeps work-related icons separate from recreational ones. Security is still king on these devices (a work meeting on the calendar requires a separate login), perhaps a nod to how BlackBerry became the incumbent for mobile devices at the Pentagon.

The Canadian firm announced last August that it was the first mobile phone provider to earn an authority to operate on DOD networks. In March, the Defense Information Systems Agency began deploying 20,000 BlackBerry devices, according to Poulias. DOD’s inspector general, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Defense Contract Management Agency are other Pentagon outfits using BlackBerry devices.

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was testing Samsung and LG phones for internal use. But Poulias shrugged off the suggestion that BlackBerry might be losing some of its government-client market share. On the table in front of him was a Samsung phone that ran on a Blackberry network.

The next Pentagon Technology Day is on Nov. 6.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

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