DATA Act: Open for Business?

Stephanie Headshot 65x85by Stephanie Meloni, Senior Analyst

On April 10, 2014, the Senate (unanimously!) passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). The bill would require the government to standardize and publish financial management, procurement, and related data in electronic formats that can be easily accessed by the public. Open data will give our industry new insights into federal spending, and potentially new business opportunities. The House is expected to vote on the bill later this month, where it is expected to pass quickly.

The DATA Act will be the most powerful transparency mandate since the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. The goal of the bill is to publish the executive branch’s entire spending portfolio as standardized open data.  The DATA Act will be used to provide visibility into wasteful spending and duplicative programs.

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Big Data Opportunity at NOAA

Mohamad Elbarasse_headshot_7-23-2013_For WordPressby Mohamad ElbarasseAnalyst

The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is requesting information from industry to decide whether it can and should move its voluminous data holdings to the cloud with easy access to computing, storage, and advanced analytical capabilities.

The agency posted the RFI on February 21 and responses are due by 5 p.m. (EST) on March 31. The RFI goes on to elaborate that much of NOAA’s data is hosted on public servers or websites and they have had great difficulty integrating the data. This has impeded their ability to improve their analyses and beef up their decision making by limiting the number of sources or type of data that can be used to make inferences.

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IT Dashboard Problems Surface

Tomas OKeefe_65x85by Tomas O’Keefe, Senior Analyst

One of the great tools we in the vendor community have is the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) IT Dashboard, which is a fantastic resource that provides us an additional layer of detail regarding agency’s IT budgets. The Dashboard was created as a way to display the Exhibit 300s that make up some of the key IT investments in the federal space, as well as providing us additional visibility on progress toward meeting OMB initiatives like the 2012 Digital Government Strategy. OMB has also used it to highlight at-risk government IT investments, of which there are quite a few.

Unfortunately, however, the IT Dashboard seems to go for months without being updated, and the lack of updates has now caught the eye of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO found that over the last few years the IT Dashboard has been updated only 33% of the time instead of every month, which seems to be somewhat in opposition to the mission of transparency that was championed by the Obama Administration when the President first came in to office. As a result, vendors are on the outside looking in and aren’t able to quickly respond to these troubled programs, as they could do if the government was more transparent.

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Three Questions Federal IT Leaders Want You to Answer

Mohamad Elbarasse_headshot_7-23-2013_For WordPressby Mohamad ElbarasseAnalyst

CIOs and IT directors do not want to hear you asking what their problems are. Although your hearts are likely in the right place, they want to hear about solutions. Better yet, if you can lay out a simple, cogent business case by answering three basic questions, you should be golden.

It is important to do your research before approaching an agency with a potential technology solution. Even though your technology may be a perfect fit and make the agency more efficient and effective, the manner in which you approach the CIO is critical. Know their pain points before engaging with them, so you don’t have to ask, and don’t focus too much on the technology itself. We have heard IT leaders stress this point over and over in recent months; they want you to come with a solution in hand.

Speaking at the IT Government Forum, Mark Day, Director of the Office of Strategic Programs at the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA laid out a simple framework for a succinct and effective business case. By answering these three questions, vendors can cut to the heart of what IT leaders at federal agencies are concerned with:

  1. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?
  2. How are you going to solve it?
  3. How are you going to measure success?

Day also advised the audience that CIOs won’t be fooled by flashy technology. He went on to say that “we need to stop thinking about IT as a separate mission, IT is a mission enabler and is built-in throughout the entire organization.”

Also speaking at the Forum, Paul Brubaker, Director of Planning & Performance Management at DOD, said CIOs are intended to be well-versed in business processes and not necessarily technology in general. Therefore, focusing on how your technology can help improve processes at an agency may be a better angle to take than trying to dazzle them with the latest features. Although, this does not mean that CIOs are totally uninterested in the technical aspects of the solution. Some IT leaders have actually expressed that they would like to see more sales engineers at their meetings with sales teams, so that they can answer the more technical questions and the three questions mentioned above more directly.

Answering those three questions, identifying pain points before starting the conversation, and focusing on process improvement during the conversation should better your chances at closing a deal.

DOD Cloud Demand Increases, but DISA’s Role May Change

Lloyd McCoy_65x85by Lloyd McCoy Jr., Consultant

DISA’s role as the central broker and provider of cloud services for all of DOD is in jeopardy. Back in July 2012, Department CIO, Teresa Takai designated the agency as the DOD cloud broker. That means DISA manages the use, performance, and delivery of cloud services for DOD customers. The precursor to this designation was, DISA First, a policy where Defense agencies would consider the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for data hosting before considering other options. The outcome of these policies, ideally, was DISA being the key facilitator for all things cloud. So far these strategies have worked with mixed success.

DISA’s $450 million draft RFP, released in the summer to supplement its private cloud services with commercial cloud offerings is now being revisited because of lukewarm buy-in from the rest of the Department. Also, Takai’s push toward a cloud-based and DISA managed enterprise email system is facing resistance from important DOD stakeholders like Navy and Air Force. The consistent thread through all of the opposition is cost, as many within the military branches believe it would be cheaper to purchase cloud services directly from industry. Also, while they may not say it publicly, there is resistance within many in the Department to outsourcing cloud procurement outside of their respective silo. The result is that DISA’s first two major initiatives, the cloud contract and enterprise email, have met mixed success.

That’s not to say that adoption of cloud technology is shrinking within DOD. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed that DOD move in the direction of adopting cloud solutions for its data. Trends suggest the Department is indeed following this mandate. Cloud image 2The Navy, for example, is working with commercial cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for many of its public websites. The Pentagon is still closing data centers and reducing applications, thus increasing the need for cloud services down the road. These are just a couple of the many examples of cloud adoption spreading across the Department.

Expect cloud buyers to be distributed across the Department and less focused around DISA, an outcome that Teri Takai may not have wanted, but one that doesn’t necessarily impact the dollars spent on cloud offerings. DISA will still play a key role in cloud implementation and management for the Department, particularly with regard to private hosting requirements, like for sensitive, non-public data. Also, the Joint Information Environment, a conceptual end-state featuring interconnected and shared IT infrastructure across the DOD enterprise will rely on core data centers that will be managed by DISA. That will not change.

If you are selling cloud services into the Department, know that trends toward cloud adoption are here to stay and be aware of the following challenges they have highlighted as pain points:

  • Cyber security
  • Continuity of operations
  • Resilience
  • Data migration and management
  • Overcoming network dependence in low-bandwidth environment

The bottom line is that if you are a cloud provider working in the Defense market, whether your particular DOD agency or military branch is pursuing a go-it-alone strategy or going through DISA, the cloud market for DOD will remain robust for the foreseeable future.

6 Marketing Secrets from C-level Government Leaders

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

Government marketers don’t often get the opportunity to hear directly from the people we’re trying to influence. Sure, we attend conferences and events and listen to the feds talking to one another in moderated discussions, keynotes, and chalk talks. But it’s rare to hear them giving advice to marketers on the best ways to get our messages through to them.

That’s what happened on October 18 at the GovMark Council’s “Selling to Uncle Sam” event. Steve O’Keeffe led the “Connecting with Government” panel which featured three speakers from the audience we try to reach every day:

  • Simon Szykman, CIO, Department of Commerce
  • Keith Trippie, Executive Director, Office of the CIO, Enterprise System Development Office, Department of Homeland Security
  • Dr. Michael Valivullah, CTO, USDA, NASS

After describing their technology and business priorities, the panelists gave us helpful hints on what they click, open, attend, interact with, listen to, forward, and ignore. I heard six key themes emerge for marketers:

1) Do Your Homework

The panel said this multiple times in different ways: “I don’t have time to educate you on my business issues. Do your research in advance, learn what my specific problems are, and be prepared to tell me how you’re going to solve them.” If you haven’t figured that out before you send an invitation, fill their in-box, or pick up the phone, you’re likely to be dismissed. (Shameless plug: immixGroup clients can use our Market Intelligence organization to make this easier).

2) Make your Communication Relevant

Many marketing and sales initiatives begin with broad assumptions and one-size-fits-all messaging about a generic solution. They’re ignored, and it doesn’t take long for you to end up in the spam folder. To paraphrase one panelist, “just because a technology solution is important doesn’t mean it’s a priority for me.” If you’ve done your homework (see #1 above), use that knowledge to ensure your message cuts through the clutter by targeting it to the specific agency or program with which your prospect is involved, using language that addresses their needs.

3) Less is More

All panelists lamented the volume of email, invitations, white papers, and other solicitations they receive. When they do engage, they want to know right up front how you’re going to help them, and they won’t give you much time to get to the point. Keith Trippie used the example of Twitter’s Vine, which allows people to send videos up to six seconds in length, and suggested marketers think about creative ways to hit the high points very quickly. He also added “send me less and I’ll open more of what you send.” Pushing out too many messages too frequently can be the kiss of death.

4) Don’t Focus on the C-Level

Many of our internal stakeholders judge the success of our marketing activities based on the number of C-level executives that participate. I asked the C-level panel point-blank if that was the wrong expectation, and the answer was just as clear: you’re targeting the wrong people. Simon Szykman stressed that CIOs focus on policy and strategy and leave the task of selecting specific technologies to others in their organizations. He thanked me for raising the question and suggested we tell our counterparts in sales that we heard directly from the CIOs that they are the wrong target audience. Instead, we should engage with the people below them that they trust to make technology recommendations.

5) Gain Their Trust

Dr. Michael Valivullah cited the importance of helping your customer solve their problems even if you don’t sell the solution. Leverage your contacts and industry knowledge to point your customer in the right direction, and you’ll earn their trust in the process. Doing so, he said, will make the customer more likely to turn to your business when the opportunity arises, which can yield sales over the long run.

6) Go Mobile

There’s nothing new about the need to transition some traditional media efforts to digital marketing initiatives, but we heard repeatedly about the government’s increasing reliance on mobile devices. Make sure your emails, Web site, videos, and other digital initiatives are mobile-friendly so you’re in step with your customers as they unchain themselves from their desktops and laptops.

Sometimes we have to stand back from our day-to-day activities and remember what our customers and prospects want. If you were there, and you’d like to add anything I missed, please share your thoughts!

Reloading Your Federal Marketing Toolbox

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

My mother likes to complain that my father takes tools from the toolbox and doesn’t replace them, leaving her with a handful of nails and no hammer to drive them. Frustrating, right?

Marketers trying to attract the attention of government buyers face a similar dilemma: tools are getting taken from our tool kits and not replaced. Since my last posting about government event cancellations, we’ve heard of at least two more: the Department of Homeland Security’s 6th Annual Industry Day and DIA’s Defense Intelligence Worldwide will not take place.

Traditional media sources continue to struggle, with editors and reporters being downsized and print magazines continuing to consolidate. The impact of Sequestration cuts on major contractors and systems integrators is unlikely to help this trend as marketing budgets will surely be hit.

Those of us who are active in lead generation (via phone campaigns, email blasts, and events) will surely see conversion rates take a hit as furloughs kick in. What’s the best day or time to call or email someone if they’re not working that day? Will ongoing furloughs, downsizing, and political fights over giving a meager 0.5 percent pay raise break their spirits and drive them out?

Today’s blog post in FedConnects raised a few interesting questions. Among them:

How will government address the need for civil servants and military and intelligence workers to stay abreast of new technologies, innovate and collaborate in order to increase efficiencies and ensure productivity?  As part of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, we are supposed to be operating under an open government mandate that encourages less siloing, more sharing of services and innovations.

How can true transparency and efficiency be achieved if government is restricting collaboration and opportunities for government leaders and industry to share ideas and work on problems?

If your organization relies on you to create demand in the public sector, it’s time focus on finding new tools to supplement the old ones. Will virtual events play a role as live conferences drop like flies? What role will associations play in educating our customers? How about social media driven information sources like GovLoop and Federal Technology Insider? I think it’s time to work some of these into your public sector marketing budgets, in addition to the targeted, local, and low-key events that were highlighted in Market Connections’ recent study.

Speaking of tools, we have a few that can help you make sense of Sequestration and the ongoing budget mess. Our Sequestration Resource Guide provides our take on how to deal with the pending cuts and also points you to market intelligence resources that can help. In addition, we’ve already had hundreds of IT sales and marketing professionals register for our upcoming webinar on Sequestration and the Federal Budget.

With so many tools vanishing these days, make sure you re-evaluate and take advantage of the ones that are left.

New Research: Best BD and Marketing Practices of Winning Government Contractors

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

With all of the news about tightening budgets, travel scrutiny, and possible ethics reform, there’s no doubt our business environment is going to be more competitive and restrictive over the next few months (and years).

As the market for winning new contracts and holding onto existing ones becomes more difficult, our friends at Market Connections are about to release some new research on the state of the government contracting community. The results of their new Government Contractor Study will be presented at an event on June 21, and we expect some of the findings to be surprising and informative for government marketing, business development, and sales professionals.

The study will explore what winning government contractors are doing to differentiate themselves.  Sample findings include:

  • How crucial is thought leadership marketing for contractors?
  • Are companies with higher win rates using more white papers or webinars?
  • Are winning contractors doing more speaking engagements or writing more bylined articles?

If you’re interested in learning the answers to these questions and more, you should register to attend the Government Marketing Forum’s 2013 Contractor Outlook Event.  Don’t miss this opportunity to learn what it takes to be a winning government contractor. immixGroup is proud to sponsor this event and support the Government Marketing Forum. We look forward to seeing you there.

Reserve your seat now.

Smaller Event Audiences are on the Way

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

We’re starting to hear how the recent GSA event scandals will impact the ability of government employees to attend our marketing events. If you rely on trade shows, conferences, seminars, and other in-person events to interact with your federal customers and prospects, you might want to take another look at your marketing mix.

I’d start by reading the article Jason Miller posted today on FederalNewsRadio.com. The good news, if you can call it that, is GSA employees will still be able to travel to staples like GSA Expo, ACT/IAC’s Management of Change Conference, and other events over the next four months (albeit with specific rules and restrictions). Even with this allowance, approvals will be harder to get, and GSA workers will be encouraged to use other means to communicate.

Miller cites an April memo in which acting GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini announced the suspension of travel to various events unless certain criteria, justifications, and budget restrictions are met. That’s understandable on both practical and political grounds.

More ominous for federal marketers is the specter of GSA’s top-down review of agency operations, which will include a close look at the travel policy. Miller’s sources speculate that “GSA participation in vendor dinners or events will be much lower, maybe by more than half.” So much for marketing ROI.

So far, I’ve only heard specifics about how this will impact GSA employees; the agency has “cancelled more than 35 conferences” already. But I don’t think it will stop there. DoD killed its annual procurement conference. NOAA solicited, and then stopped, a bid solicitation for a magician for its June leadership conference, earning more negative press at a time when government events didn’t really need it. Early reports from this week’s DISA conference indicate lower attendance numbers. We’ve seen this at other recent shows that are not connected to GSA.

We continue to recommend that IT companies take another look at virtual marketing activities and look for teaming opportunities to sponsor conferences, trade shows, and hosted seminars with complementary vendors. We have several programs in place to support these types of initiatives and make it easy (and cost-effective) for our clients and partners to pull them off. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re worried about how these changes will impact your marketing spend or lead generation activities.

Are Your Sales and Marketing Messages Aligned to the Times?

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

The federal government is a popular punching bag these days. I’m not talking about the poor judgment shown by a relative handful of Secret Service and GSA employees, in scandals that are keeping the journalists, pundits, and special interest groups extremely busy. (Apparently, what happens in Columbia doesn’t stay in Columbia any more than what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas).

No, I’m talking about the budget cuts that are forcing hard-working government employees to do more with less every single day. According to last week’s Commerce Department report on first quarter economic growth, as reported in the Washington Post, federal government spending dropped by 5.6 percent, with defense spending down 8.1 percent, and “those cuts are likely to continue.”

Thankfully, the IT community continues to do pretty well in the face of budget cuts. We know that technology, particularly commercial off-the-shelf products, can often be used effectively to increase productivity and lower costs. The government needs these solutions more than ever before if it hopes to continue doing things like protecting the borders, repairing bridges, fighting wars, and treating wounded veterans with fewer human and financial resources.

We’re urging our clients and reseller partners to keep these realities in mind as they roll out sales and marketing campaigns, whether for lead generation, branding, or awareness. Spend time with your internal product experts to make sure you have a compelling story to tell about how your solutions can increase efficiency and reduce time-to-market for more agile, immediate implementations. Lean heavily on past performance stories within the government. If you’re finding it difficult to get those (not surprising given the recent scrutiny of government/contractor relationships), look for parallels within your commercial business to demonstrate your product’s value in solving challenges that mirror those of your federal customers.

Remember, many of the large, customized, multi-year programs that have dominated in recent years are falling out of favor due to unacceptable cost and schedule overruns. Make sure your sales pitch, collateral, and awareness campaigns reinforce your ability to help a bruised, over-worked, and under-funded customer reduce time, money, and risk. It’s all about doing more with less.

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