What is the FAR?

By Chris Wiedemann, consultant

We’ve established by now that government contracting is one of the most complicated business segments to work in. Part of what makes it so cumbersome is the plethora of rules and regulations, all packaged neatly in the hunk of a publication known as the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).

This multi-part document, established more than 40 years ago through the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act of 1974, outlines all the rules and regulations that most federal agencies follow when buying goods and services.

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What government needs to do to speed up cyber defenses

Lloyd McCoy Jr.By Lloyd McCoy, DOD manager

Two cyber breaches at the Office of Personnel Management in 2015 prompted the federal government to move quickly to award $500 million worth of government-wide BPAs for identity monitoring and data breach response and protection services.

It begs the question of where that money was before the problem.

More problems like this are increasingly likely as we all rely on more IT infrastructures that may not be up to the challenge of increased use. Down the road, better coordination between tech vendors and buyers before the acquisition process will be able to stem the cyber tide. But what do we do in the meantime with what we have now?

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6 tips for finding opportunities in the $80 billion federal IT market

tkanalyticswebinar_022117barbara-austinBy Tim Knob, data analyst, and Barbara Austin, database manager

The government market is a huge opportunity for the tech industry. But it’s also one of the hardest to navigate, from following all of its rules and regulations to even finding the best opportunities that align with your company’s tech specialty.

What many in the industry may not be aware of is the vast amount of publicly-available resources that can help unearth some of those opportunities. There’s everything from Exhibits 53 and 300 to government websites full of valuable information on priorities.

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Are You Ready for This Year’s Government IT Sales Summit?

Rita Walston Headshot_63 x 85SummitVideo Promo

By Rita Walston, Senior Director, Public Sector Channel Marketing

Selling IT to the public sector has never been more challenging. So much is in flux—we’ve got new revenue streams created by XaaS; an incoming administration with a new agenda and staff; evolving procurement policies; and fast-moving, disruptive technology.

With so much at stake, we designed our 3rd annual signature event—the Government IT Sales Summit—to help lead attendees across these new Bridges of Growth. The Summit will give solution providers, IT manufacturers, systems integrators, and value-added resellers the tools and resources necessary for bridging the gaps to growth.

This year’s Summit will be held Thursday, November 17 in Reston, Virginia from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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The Time for IT Modernization is Now; Can Congress Make It Happen?

Chris Wiedemann_65 x 85CongressBy Chris Wiedemann, Consultant

Those of you who have been following our blog (or the myriad news sources surrounding federal IT) will be familiar with the many challenges facing government IT managers: cybersecurity, cloud migration, enabling mobility, providing more effective and efficient services to the American public…the list goes on.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, federal customers are faced with flat or shrinking budgets, an increasing share of which goes to maintaining costly legacy systems instead of the modernization that federal technology desperately needs. According to estimates by US CIO Tony Scott, roughly 80% of total federal IT expenditure goes to steady state, or operations and maintenance – and that share is only going to increase. We’ve often heard about legal, cultural, or regulatory barriers to IT modernization and cloud adoption, but the question underpinning everything else remains: How can government actually pay for the modern technology it needs to execute its mission?

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How To Deal With the White House’s New Software Policy

Chris Wiedemann_65 x 85CategoryMgmt_070716By Chris Wiedemann, Consultant

Cutting back on expenses is never easy. Ever had to give up a daily Starbucks habit to save some money?

The White House’s recent attempt to cut back on wasteful software purchases could cause a lot more pain to software firms than just missing out on a caffeine fix.

The policy calls for agencies to appoint software managers to centrally manage their software buying, says a recent Nextgov article. Agencies will also have to maintain a continually updated inventory of software licenses to track usage and weed out potentially redundant applications.

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The Secret to Navigating Government IT

Chris Wiedemann_65 x 85US Capitol-Cheat SheetBy Chris Wiedemann, Consultant

Not much in business is harder to navigate than the federal government. Figuring out how to sell a single IT product into this massive universe of agencies and departments that spends trillions of dollars a year can be daunting.

That’s why every spring we go through the painstaking process of putting together our meaty Federal IT Cheat Sheet. It’s chock full of information on where agencies are spending the bulk of their budget, including what each program does, their tech requirements, and the large contractors working on them. It’s a useful planning tool for veterans of the government IT space, as well as newcomers.

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Why GWACs Are A Good Bet

US Flag, Capitol Building and MoneyBob Laclede 100x135by Bob Laclede, Vice President, Channels

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has dusted off a 2011 policy for stamping out “unnecessary” government-wide acquisition contracts. With so much time left to do business in FY 2016, it’s time to review the fundamentals of a good GWAC strategy. And a few of the techniques manufacturers can use to maintain or even boost their federal sales even if they don’t have a prime contract on one of the main GWACs.

What I’m suggesting may sound obvious, yet I’ve heard so many manufacturers over the years complain that they’re blocked out of this or that agency or requirement because they miscalculated their GWAC strategy. Read more of this post

A Look at the Next Two Weeks…And Beyond

Steve Charles_headshot _7-23-2013_65x85by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

With the Washington Nationals now eliminated for sure from this season’s baseball playoffs, Washington the city and the market can focus fully on handicapping the possibility of a government shutdown next week.

Just in case, the White House issued a memo this month on agency operations during a “potential lapse in appropriations,” the proper word for shutdown. It’s two pages, followed by a 12-page attachment on details of contracting, grants administration, and payment processing during a lapse. In essence, for the government to spend anything, it would have to be for “excepted” activities, mainly essential and emergency requirements, lest an agency fall out of compliance with the Antideficiency Act.

But let’s presume Congress will find some way of avoiding a shutdown. For sales planning purposes, how else can you think? A shutdown wouldn’t likely last more than a few days anyhow. Less clear is how much spending authority your federal customers will actually have in terms of both dollars and the authority itself.

If you have a scholarly bent, the Government Accountability Office has long tomes (GAO Red Book) online covering appropriation law, dating back to the Civil War era. But for more immediate practical purposes, pay attention to the term of a continuing resolution. In theory they could do it a couple of days at a time. In practice, the term will revolve around the Obamacare defunding gambit and the debt ceiling deadline around October 17.

Regardless, agencies only have spending authority at the yearly rate, prorated for the months approved. So an agency with an annual budget of $1 million in an account would have authority to spend only $250,000 during a three-month CR.

But like your Swiss wind-up watch, this year has complications. Namely, sequestration, which at this writing is still in effect. Will the CR live within the 2014 Budget Caps of the Budget Control Act (Sequestration levels) or will it ignore them and apply the sequestration holdbacks later in the year?  Expect some agencies to remain cautious, others will try and spend what they can early and worry about holdbacks later.

When approaching government customers, remember any spending under a continuing resolution, aggressive or conservative, must be mappable back to an authorized program funded by appropriated dollars in the previous year. Agencies can’t initiate new programs under a CR, but they can engage better ways to do what is already under way. That’s the smartest way to position your offerings now.

Beyond the current budget vicissitudes, here are a few of the long-term trends we’ll be staying on top of in the next year:

  • How  to sell products in a services-oriented environment. Infrastructure as a Service, utility-based computing, application sharing ⎯ these are all changing how the government looks at IT. Perhaps this by-the-month mode of buying is at some level driven by unpredictable spending authority.
  • Extreme price sensitivity, seen in the growing use of lowest-cost, technically acceptable procurements, shared services, and in the growing practice of analyzing competing contract vehicle prices. Keep an eye open for the “prices paid database” promised by OFPP.
  • Development of rules and practices to fill out the policies designed to ensure a safe electronics supply chain. Our big concern is whether the government is prepared to pay what it costs for tested, certified parts through bonafide channels.
  • Expect  more pressure to participate in strategic sourcing programs. The government wants to pay less and we need to show them how we’re lowering our costs of sales.

Salesmen Need To Be Coaches At Fiscal Year-End

Steve Charles_headshot _7-23-2013_65x85by Steve Charles, Co-founder and Executive Vice President

Your customers need your help. Not just your products and the requirements those will fulfill, but your personal help to get fully justified purchase requests to contracting shops who can issue the order before the end of the fiscal year.

I spoke on a panel discussion last week put on by the Digital Government Institute. The conference was called 930Gov ⎯ a reference to Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal, now five weeks away. During typical years, the feds spend about a third of the budget in the last quarter. While sales for complex deals and engagements are off, sales for easy to buy commercial items are likely to stay strong.

This year’s weird budget situation forced caution on all government buyers, so as we head into the last month, they are making sure they obligate all the funds they legitimately have to spend. Program managers are looking for “gap-fillers” as they strive to end the year with a zero-balance in their many accounts.

One of my federal co-panelists noted that many customers using governmentwide acquisition contracts need help in preparing their procurement packages so contractual obligations can actually occur. Michelle Street, an NIH procurement analyst with the CIO-SP3, CIO-SP3 Small Business, and ECS III GWACs, noted that some requirements come through with a plea for a contracting officer to get the buy done.

We at immixGroup also hear this. I find it surprising that government buyers are asking sellers to help them find a contracting shop, but they do. I’m not sure if this is because their shop is simply too busy, or if their purchase request was rejected because it lacked a market survey, clear requirements, a brand name justification, or an independent government cost estimate.

So to secure year-end sales and increase your odds of making your numbers, ask questions to make sure the program and tech people you’re dealing with have done what they need to do to make their purchase requests actionable by a contracting officer. In fact, your knowledge of all the items required and the length of time they take is especially crucial at year-end.

A couple years ago, the Army published this year-end close-out guidance including their [procurement data package] requirements and summarized it in 2011 with the Army’s Procurement Administrative Lead Time, or PALT memo, both of which provide a clear recitation of what it takes to get a procurement over the line. Or, if you prefer, check out the Navy’s Fiscal Year Close-out and Start-up Guidance.

Obviously your government customers don’t have 90 or 180 days to do year-end buys at this late date. Some steps must be completed in parallel. Others can be compressed. Many of the GWACs, including those operated by the NIH and NASA, have online environments in which an agency with a requirement can complete market research and other steps very quickly by leveraging the small group of contractors that hold that particular contract turning an RFI into an RFQ, and a Quote into an Order in a matter of days. This can buy you and your customer more time to get both funding approval and the procurement done before time runs out.

Mary Davie, an executive in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, also pointed out in the panel discussion that GSA’s and other agencies’ Blanket Purchasing Agreements offer ways to buy services quickly. She named managed print, satellite and ground-based wireless, and telecom expense management, all of which can be purchased in days if the preliminary work has been done properly.

In short, there is time left for significant sales. But sales people will need to be fast on their feet, shifting from product emphasis to counseling customers on how to get purchase requests routed through the fund certifying official and on to a procurement path with a contracting shop that can execute.

If your team is hazy on any of this process, get them tuned up for next year with one of our Selling IT to the Federal Government classes. In the meantime, here’s to a busy September!

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