VARs looking for new opportunities have known that the federal government has been a big source of funds, ideas, and opportunities over the past several years. And being at the Federal Office Systems Expo show in Washington, DC this week proved the point. I used to go to the FOSE shows when I last lived in DC back in the Carter/Reagan years (Washingtonians refer to their time in town dynastically, like the ancient Egyptians referred to their rulers), and I am pleased to say that there is some life and excitement once again in our industry.
It wasn't that the show was held in a brand-new convention center, or that the floor was alive and crammed with booths and people. Or that the show organizers had attracted big names like McNealy and Chambers to do the keynotes. What got me excited was the brilliant opportunities for VARs and how they could be found everywhere. I'll give you three examples of great applications that I found at the show.
Take the company North American Access Technologies of Hawthorne, NY as an example. They have this Mobile Emergency Data Center that looks like a cross between an ambulance and a meat wagon. It is basically a hot site on wheels: inside the truck are racks of equipment, UPS and a power generator and enough room to stash gigabytes of storage. It can be outfitted anyway you want and can serve as a mobile command center, a movable storage facility for your files, or as an emergency data center. They are a perfect example of a VAR that can assemble a truly unique product out of commonly available parts, to serve critical needs for governments and even private clients that need to have mobility and security and redundancy in a single package.
Another exciting idea is a joint solution that is being sold by government integrator giant GTSI called STORM. You know how the government likes its acronyms, and this one stands for Secure, Tough, Online/Offline, Reliable and Mobile. (Too bad they didn't rearrange the "r" and "o".) It is a combination of Panasonic's Toughbook rugged laptops, Senforce's mobility and security software, and GTSI's distribution savvy to meet the Defense Department's demand for commercial wireless applications. In a nutshell, the military is looking for a few good laptops, but they have to be able to turn off the wireless radios when security needs demand for more circumspect communications. The DoD is concerned about being able to prevent denial of service attacks as well as stop potential interference from friendly sources. They want to be able to restrict wireless transmissions in classified areas, and also be able to stop wireless communications when laptops are connected to DoD-wired networks, as well as to prevent their networks from being vulnerable from intruders who could gain access to them via a wireless link.
You wouldn't want the enemy to sniff out where our army users are by listening in on their wireless broadcasts, and hence the government has come up with regulations to be able to switch their laptops from chatty Cathys to more demure and encrypted ways to communicate, so nicely called 8100.2 in DoD parlance. This is perhaps the first time someone is interested in buying a Centrino laptop and wanting to turn off their radios.
What is nice about this STORM is that it again shows how VARs (in this case GTSI) can bring together a total solution, again out of commonly available piece parts but packaged in a way that makes sense, in this case for protecting the data transmissions for our military. Senforce has specialized software called Enterprise Mobile Security Manager that can handle wide-area network security, end-point access, and policy enforcement for laptops and remote users across the battlefield. Panasonic has battle-hardened laptops that reduce the failure rate in the field: at the announcement yesterday, their representatives were talking about an almost 90% failure rate for ordinary commercial-grade laptops that were being used in the Middle East and being returned for exposure to the harsh environments of the desert there. The Panasonic Toughbooks had less than 15% return rate.
My last example is a bit more down to earth, and concern of all parents of high-school aged children. The process of applying for financial aid is hard enough, but the Department of Education with some help from Accenture manages to make things a bit easier with its Student Aid on the Web portal. On this site you have links to all kinds of resources, including explanations on how to prepare for college, choosing the right type of aid package, finding the right funding sources, and applying for the actual college loans online. Seeing some of my friends with older kids go through this process, I realize that parents need all the help they can get and the Education Department is doing a terrific job making things easier.
These three were just the tip of many more that I ran into at the show. And while it was nice to hear from McNealy and Chambers (both gave their usual "stump speeches, slightly tailored for a government audience, although Scott wasn't as funny as I have seen him and John looked like he had been through too many time zones lately), the action on the floor shows that VARs continue to innovate and find new and interesting ways to deliver IT services and products to the government audience.
Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.
David Strom, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 (516) 562-7151
Port Washington NY 11050
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