When I was with IPLocks in the 2004 time frame, we were exploring the possibility of selling our monitoring and assessment suite into the government. Friends and contacts made introductions, and we began investigating if there was a need for the solution, and if so, how we would approach tackling that type of relationship. While we knew dealing with the government would be tough, we felt that any organization that is sitting on piles of personally identifiable information and literally hundreds of thousands of databases would be a natural fit for our technology.
After a few months of analysis process we decided we couldn’t do it. Too much in the way of time and resources, and too much uncertainty about what we needed to do. Going through the process was simply too long and too difficult for a small company like ours to undertake. We had a technology that could solve problems in different branches of the government, but this is not like the private sector where vendor meets customer, product meets need, and we write up a contract. There are far more demands and restrictions, and the more we learned, the more we felt we will missing basic knowledge of all of the steps in the process. Or even what the process was, for that matter, or which systems integrator we should approach, we did not know if we needed to focus on specific branches of the government, nor were we even aware of all of the accreditations and certifications our product would need to go through. The risk was too great and we walked away.
This is a common problem and one to be expected. I run into vendors at every trade shows who are in the same boat; a desire and a good technology fit, not a clue as to where to start. A couple years ago, my friend Robert Rodriguez helped found the IT Security Entrepreneurs forum with the intention of tackling this type of problem and provide a way to “bridge the gap” between Federal agencies and private industry. From his perspective he saw both the desire from the vendors side to participate, but also the need from the government side to have security products that were, how do I say this, from the current decade. But the process does not favor this sort of innovation, rather it is the larger firms that can afford the time and resources to last through the effort, with the smaller and mid sized vendors getting filtered out. Smaller firms with innovative technologies typically cannot compete. Various arms of the US Government are supporting this effort to address the problem by offering educational resources and contacts, and the forum’s web site will host much of that information freely to the public.
If you are serious about selling to the government, there is also a conference in March dedicated to this topic, and it is well worth the $400 fee. Past events have had a number of very good speakers from the security industry, academia, DHS and the US Military, along with some very eye-opening comments from the behind-the-scenes administrators who run the procurement side of the process. Once you understand the issues from the other side of the table, it makes things a lot clearer about what you need to do and why. Plus a lot of the VC, resellers and system integrators are in attendance, and they help small firms avoid common mistakes, wasted efforts and provide some plain speaking advice on what you need to do to sell to the government. If you have ever sifted through the online tomes of government requirements written in that special form of legal-ese, you know why that is of value.