Can Industry Use Mobility to Build a Smarter Federal Workforce of the Future?

 Tomas OKeefe_65x85by Tomas O’Keefe, Senior Analyst

In five years, government won’t even be thinking about mobility, according to some of the speakers at AFCEA Bethesda’s Mobility Technology Symposium earlier this month. No, it’s not that mobility is going away – what the speakers meant was mobility’s strong forward momentum will mean it will become ubiquitous and simply the way of doing everyday business for federal workers in the coming years. Budgetary pressures are forcing agencies to make tough choices and federal decision-makers are beginning to envision the workplace of the future, one that is likely to involve a smaller installation footprint. However, different agencies face different challenges in executing on mobility, and while agencies are laying the groundwork for the future, they are recognizing the significant amount of work that is still to come.

On a panel at the Mobility Technology Symposium, Sanjay Sardar, the Chief Information Officer of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the small agency representative to the Federal CIO Council, talked about the challenges of mobility facing smaller agencies. Smaller agencies lack the budget of their larger components and find the costs of mobile innovation to be prohibitive. These smaller agencies are looking for larger agencies to develop and field solutions that they can tap into to cut down on excessive development costs. Small agencies are often forgotten in the hunt for opportunities, and at least in the realm of mobility they won’t represent prime areas to seek contracts. However, planting the seeds of mobile strategies and technologies may be beneficial for contractors as it may lead to these agencies calling on their trusted advisors when they finally have the budget for full-on mobility. Additionally, they may wait to see the types of solutions larger agencies adopt and try to take advantage of those solutions and contracts.

At the same panel, Brian Teeple, the Principal Director for the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Computers (C4) and Information Infrastructure Capabilities (IIC) in the Defense Department’s OCIO, talked about a different set of challenges for DoD. Teeple stressed that although DoD is pursuing some unified frameworks, the different service branches have different needs when it comes to mobility. As a result, there won’t be a one-size fits all approach to mobility across the DoD, but expect that the service branches each develop their own unique mobility strategies. One lesson DoD has learned, however, is to avoid a siloed approach as much as possible to temper costs. A key angle of approach, Teeple stated, will be to stress how you can meet the strict security requirements mandated by DoD systems without harming the user experience.

The panel concluded with some interesting remarks on the technology they wanted to see in the future. With mobility came the rise of mobile applications, and the panel mentioned several neat apps like translation for soldiers deployed in the field and apps that can assist in visual inspections when inspectors are out at a job site. Hoteling and telecommuting will become the norm, so vendors with technologies that enable remote workers to better collaborate on projections will find increasing areas of opportunity amidst this sea of change. But mostly, the panelists all echoed the similar sentiment that technologies upon which the mobile workplace of the future will be based may be at this time unknown to them, and that industry needs to show them how to build the smarter workforce of the future.

A Busy Week for Government Marketers

Photo of Allan Rubinby Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

This posting is a bit of a catch-all for government marketers, as it seems we’ve just come out of a very busy week. Among the items that have crossed my desk, both good and bad, here are a few of which you should be aware:

Government Media

My alma mater AOL announced it has sold its government portal, AOL Government, to Breaking Media, Inc. (along with other vertical sites for energy, defense, and industry) after a year and a half of publishing. It is yet to be seen how the publisher of Fashionista, Deal Breaker, and Above the Law will handle a government-focused content and advertising product with a social media bent. We wish nothing but the best to government IT publishing veteran Wyatt Kash and his team, who built a great product for AOL, and we look forward to seeing what he does next.

We’re also keeping an eye on Fierce Government IT, which was just named a finalist for a Jesse H. Neal Award for editorial excellence. I remember from my trade publishing days how big a deal that is. Congratulations to publisher Ron Lichtinger, executive editor Dave Perera, and managing editor Molly Walker for their work on this Web site and newsletter. It has been a busy year for Dave, who just co-authored a book with immixGroup’s Steve Charles called the The Inside Guide to the Federal IT Market. (Shameless plug: if you market or sell IT to the government, buy this book.)

Federal Events

If you’re involved with The Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare (AUSA ILW) symposium this week, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: top Army brass have been cleared to attend. The bad? There won’t be as many of them. According to Federal Times, “Army Secretary John McHugh approved the attendance of 76 Army personnel at the conference,” compared to 576 soldiers and civilian employees who traveled to the conference in 2012.

For those looking to support local AFCEA events, the Belvoir Chapter has just postponed its 12th Annual Ft. Belvoir Industry Days conference, scheduled for April 1 to 3, 2013. The chapter cites “current budget directives and fiscal constraints.” I guess even local conferences aren’t safe.

Speaking of AFCEA, we heard at the recent AFCEA West conference from the organization’s president, who held an impromptu meeting for sponsors. Citing recent guidance from DoD, they discussed the approvals process for 2013 conference attendance. Since every service agency has to approve attendance, it is easier to gain approval if only one agency is involved as opposed to multiple agencies, which require multiple approvals.

Further, AFCEA won’t move forward with a conference unless it meets all three of the following criteria:

  1. It is mission critical
  2. It offers a clear value proposition for the government
  3. It provides critical training

AFCEA West, which was declared “mission essential,” cited an increase in government attendance over the previous year (although we haven’t heard that verified, and it’s not too surprising since last year’s event wasn’t strong). Many government employees had to wait until the last minute to receive approval to attend, leading to late registrations. Based on recent events, we expect that to continue.

Thanks to immixGroup’s Jennifer Taylor and FedInsider‘s Peg Hosky for keeping me up to date!

The Federal IT Market

Things are moving pretty quickly, with such game-changers to track as government furloughs, sequestration, the potential expiration of the continuing resolution, FITARA, turnover at the agency CIO level, a new cyber security executive order, and more. If you’re not doing so already, sign up to follow this blog as well as our e-newsletter, Public Sector Business Alert, to learn how these developments may affect your ability to market and sell IT to the government.

More Cancellations for Government Events

photo_Allan-Rubin_65x85by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

My wife may disagree with this, but I take no great joy in saying “I told you so.”

It’s no secret that events targeting government employees have fallen on tough times. We’ve used this space repeatedly to encourage immixGroup clients and channel partners to re-evaluate their event marketing plans. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more examples to prove this re-evaluation is necessary.

We learned today that the DoD Cybercrime Conference has been “postponed” with the following message as an explanation:

“Based on DoD’s budgetary uncertainty, The Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3) has been given direction to reduce the government expenditure rate. Therefore, DC3 and Technology Forums have reluctantly come to the decision that we will not be holding our annual DoD Cyber Crime Conference in 2013. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate everyone’s efforts and support.”

This came on the heels of this message which we received on January 15:

“In response to DoD and DON guidance, the DON IT Conference, West Coast 2013 has been cancelled. The conference was scheduled for Jan. 28-30, 2013, at the San Diego Convention Center.”

In mid-December we received this notification of an event postponement. Is this a precursor to another shutdown?

“As a result of much deliberation, as well as guidance from the Army, AFCEA International has reached the decision to move TechNet Tucson to Augusta/Fort Gordon, GA.  The event will be renamed TechNet Augusta, and take place September 10-12, 2013 at the Marriott at the Convention Center.”

While I can’t yet confirm this, we’ve heard rumors that many of the AFCEA conferences may be cancelled this year. We hope that’s not the case but it’s worth watching.

The drop in demand for government event attendance was clear in the recent data put out by Market Connections. This confirmed what most of us already feared:

“With shrinking budgets and fewer resources to support mission goals, federal government decision makers and influencers plan on attending fewer events this year. According to a recent poll by Market Connections, Inc., a leading government market research firm, 38% of government employees plan to attend fewer educational and trade events in FY2013 compared to FY2012.

The main reasons for the expected decrease in event attendance are budget and travel restrictions (78% and 58%, respectively). Just over one-third (36%) of respondents also report management will not allow them to attend events in FY2013. However, some government workers plan to attend about the same number of events (27%), and a few plan to attend more (5%).”

Market Connections notes a few silver linings in the data (summarized here). Most federal workers still prefer live events to webinars. They still see value in attending events to learn about new technologies in addition to networking. The key is to make sure your events align with the preferences of your target audience:

“Of the 400 government workers we polled, 58% prefer smaller, content-specific events over large trade shows with multiple vendors. Many of the respondents are thinking local, with seven in ten more likely to attend events that are close to home (69%) or hosted by a trade association (72%), as opposed to traveling to events that require a hotel (29%) or are hosted by a corporate entity (25%).”

So when your sales team or corporate office asks you to set up that glitzy product demo at the Ritz to attract 100 federal CIOs, you may have some bubbles to burst.

We’ve been proactive over the past 18 months to re-align our marketing programs to stay in front of these changes. If you’re an immixGroup client, contact your senior account manager or email me at allan_rubin@immixgroup.com to learn more.

UPDATE: As if on cue, I just got this message only a few hours after this blog post went live:

“Due to U.S. Department of Defense evolving budget directives and its current fiscal constraints, DISA has notified AFCEA International that DISA has cancelled its “Expanded Forecast to Industry” conference scheduled for 14-15 August 2013.  Senior DISA leaders are hopeful they will be able to resume the conference with AFCEA in FY14.”

Three Reasons to Cut Your Trade Show Marketing Budget

by Allan Rubin, Vice President, Marketing

For most of my career in B2B/B2G marketing, trade shows have been an integral part of the marketing mix (for lead generation and branding/awareness). This was particularly true in the defense world, where large shows and face-to-face meetings were staples of the annual marketing strategy. Often, your absence from a show would be as notable as your presence, and that alone became a justification for investing marketing resources and budget.

I think it’s safe to say those days are behind us. Recent scandals, budget pressures, and political posturing have taken their toll on everything from attendance to activities at large conferences and shows. While I think these events may still play a role, smart federal marketers need to re-evaluate how much they’re spending and what they’re doing at these events, and they need to reset their expectations accordingly. I see three primary reasons to find other places to put at least some of your federal marketing funds:

  1. Trade Show Attendance is Down – We knew this was likely to happen as travel restrictions kicked in and spending scrutiny increased. AFCEA’s TechNet Land Forces South show, one of three regional shows that spun out of the former LandWarNet event, was held in Tampa last month with roughly 225 government attendees for a three-day show (compared to 600+ exhibit personnel).
  2. Off-the-Floor Events are at Risk – Looking to host a big party or fancy dinner to engage with your prospects? Don’t bother. Camera-shy attendees don’t want to answer questions about why they were partying it up on the taxpayer’s tab. We’ve learned at least one agency has forbidden its employees to attend vendor parties at an upcoming show and is encouraging exhibitors to keep things low-key to avoid negative publicity for the event. I’m sure they are not alone.
  3. Driving Traffic is Getting Tougher – FAR rules already restrict your promotions and giveaways intended to draw people to your booth. But expect attendees to be wary of accepting anything with any perceived value whatsoever. Don’t forget — any negative publicity for a show could lead to cancellation in this hyper-sensitive climate…a fate that has already befallen AFITC and threatened shows like GFIRST 2012. We’ve heard some show organizers may prohibit swag at future federal shows, making it even harder for you to get the attention of a limited number of visitors (although many of us would welcome a reduction in treasure hunters with overflowing goodie bags). Already, organizers at GFIRST have banned catering on the exhibit hall floor, so attendees will have to leave the hall (or hit the concession stands) to get their coffee, smoothie, or popcorn fix.

Our advice: if you need to be at a trade show, scale back your investment and/or put on your negotiating hat. Many exhibitors are pulling out and leaving empty booth spaces on the floor, so you can probably super-size your booth at little to no extra space cost. Don’t forget to remind your sales team to call on prospects in advance to schedule meetings. No matter what the environment is, those who put very little effort into a show usually get very little out of it.

If you’re looking for new ideas on how to re-direct those federal trade show funds, contact your immixGroup account manager or our marketing team to see what we’re cooking up.

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