A new column from Government Executive, "Tech Insider" looks at how business gets done in the federal technology market. Learn from the inside players in government and industry how deals are made.
Players big and small in the federal technology game have their knives out and are carving up a brand new market: homeland security. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have spurred the biggest push yet toward a vision of seamless, electronically integrated government that tech firms have spent years pitching to federal agencies. With agencies finally willing to act, it's feeding time for companies. In the four months since the attacks, dozens of technology companies have tried to sell themselves as the answer to the government's security prayers. Suddenly, projects like a multi-million dollar database integration effort for the entire federal law enforcement community, explosive detection equipment for luggage screening at every U.S. airport and new surveillance technologies for the domestic war on terrorism are all possible, and they're all business. Between the slew of daylong security seminars hosted at the Washington offices of top technology contractors and the endless stream of association- and consultant-sponsored breakfast training sessions on how to sell to the government, corporate marketing, sales and acquisition teams are working overtime. Some, like Oracle, the leading seller of database software to the government, stepped onstage early. In the days after Sept. 11, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison put the company that built its business on the public sector smack in the middle of the homeland security agenda by calling for the creation of a national identification card and offering to help build the data system behind it. Ellison has been pushing the security mantra for years and now appears more ready than ever to make the vision a reality. Meanwhile, company officials remain focused on making sure the technology to do the job will actually work. E-government, the long-vaunted recipe for making government act more like a business, is playing a new role as companies hope to repackage database integration and usability as the pillars of the emerging culture of cross-agency information sharing. Many firms are betting that linking together agency's "stovepipes" of information-a move that e-government proponents have always advocated-will allow law enforcement, defense and intelligence agencies to finally start reading from the same page. Systems integration firm Unisys is thus readying its e-government playbook, which, luckily for the company, was written mainly by the president's new point man on e-government, Mark Forman, when he served as a vice president for e-business at Unisys. Ira Kirsch, the new president of the company's federal practice-tapped to bring the errant group back into the corporate fold-says the company will pattern its e-government offerings after Forman's model, which Forman is busy touting in front of every gathering of federal and corporate decision-makers he can shake his Power Point at. Unisys feels its standing in the eyes of the administration isn't hurt by the fact that Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is an old friend of the Blue Bell, Pa., company from his days as Pennsylvania's governor. Unisys chairman and CEO Larry Weinbach met with Ridge not long after the September attacks. The homeland security market is so filled with buzz at the moment that getting customers to pay attention to the screaming masses of vendors is tough. Some firms have made bold moves to make their case. Consider software manufacturer Siebel Systems, which re-pitched its signature software, a contact management system, as a way to integrate intelligence, immigration and criminal information on terrorists in real-time. The company took out full-page ads in Washington publications, including Government Executive, featuring a surveillance photo of the alleged ringleader of the Sept. 11 assault walking through the security checkpoint at the Portland, Maine, airport. The ad asks, "Who are the Mohamed Attas of tomorrow?" Other smaller players have made fast work of setting up partnerships up with established giants, as biometrics boutique Viisage Technology did when it agreed in mid-October to sell its facial recognition security technology through Unisys' existing contracts. Still others have opted to buy up the companies needed to meet new homeland security needs, as evidenced by explosive detection device manufacturer L-3 Communications' recent purchase of the X-Ray scanning equipment division of instrument manufacturer PerkinElmer for $100 million in cash. L-3 is one of only two manufacturers in the United States that makes bomb-scanning equipment used to search airline passengers' luggage. The 2001 Aviation Security Act requires all airports to deploy such technology by the end of the year. Clearly, the market is jumping, but do these moves represent a redefining of the federal technology market altogether? Not really, experts say. "Every good company out there can take what they do and reposition it for homeland defense," says Roger Baker, the former chief information officer of the Commerce Department and now executive vice president for telecommunications and information assurance at Arlington, Va.-based systems integrator CACI. While cozying up to Tom Ridge doesn't hurt your image, Baker says the money will be spent by current customers-the individual agencies whose security needs have become top priorities. That's where companies looking to score have to make their plays, and, in that sense, the game hasn't changed a bit. Agency leaders are now engaged in the hard work of assessing how their missions have changed. Once that work is complete, Baker believes CIOs will try to convince those leaders that technology can help secure the homeland. In the meantime, as market experts say, put your ear to the ground. That rumble you hear is the quickly increasing pace of industry feet on the street.
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