Q&A: Distributors Of WLAN
Representatives from four networking distributors answer questions about selling WLAN (wireless LAN) technology to the government vertical.
1. What government-related businesses are actively pursuing WLANs (wireless LANs)?
Ingram Micro, Bob Laclede: State and local governments are more amiable to the adoption of wireless. For example, wireless hotspots are being implemented in public areas such as libraries, parks, main streets, and schools.
Tech Data, Erich Ohngemach: The Department of Homeland Security offers the most opportunities for infrastructure and communication upgrades/integration. This agency is a combination of approximately 22 separate agencies. Some of these agencies include FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), TSA (Transportation Security Administration), Coast Guard, Customs, and INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service).
Westcon Group N.A., Carol Rivetti: Eventually WLAN-based solutions will be applicable to many federal, state, and local government agencies. Some early adopters we have encountered include the U.S. Postal Service, intelligence agencies, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and NIH (National Institutes of Health). Also, public safety and multi-office campus environments are seeking to add WLANs.
2. What type of information can a distributor provide a VAR for selling WLANs to government-related businesses?
WAV, Kent Brost: Value-added distributors (VADs) offer VARs pre- and post-sales technical support including wireless facility site surveys, RF (radio frequency) performance analysis, sales and technical training, and staging/installation services. VADs can assist VARs in determining which wireless solutions integrate best and also assist VARs in transitioning into new vertical markets.
Westcon Group N.A., Carol Rivetti: One important area would be to provide information and training on how to process contract additions. This would allow wireless solutions to be added to a project even if they were not in the scope of the original contract award.
3. Is there a better time to sell WLANs, or any technology, to the government vertical?
Ingram Micro, Bob Laclede: Historically, the federal government buying season is heaviest during the month of September. The state and local buying seasons are more sporadic and vary by state and city.
Westcon Group N.A., Carol Rivetti: Acquisition of WLANs, like any other technology solution, is always determined by budget availability. Therefore, the selling process needs to be ongoing throughout the year so the decision-makers are prepared to issue the purchase order when the budget is approved and funds released. Often, March through July is the time when VARs are proposing technology solutions, and August through October is when project funding is approved.
4. What type of expertise/knowledge will a VAR need to sell WLAN technology to the government vertical?
WAV, Kent Brost: VARs will have to demonstrate their ability to provide total solutions for their customers. Proof of concepts, including site surveys, pre-configuration services, and field installation expertise are very enticing to customers whose IT staffs are already stretched.
Ingram Micro, Bob Laclede: The most obvious requirement is the technical expertise to deploy and install the equipment. It is equally important for VARs to understand and deploy the security software and equipment necessary to allow the government to use this technology without compromising security. Also, as you'd expect, the government has very specific security requirements and standards such as FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) 140.2 certification. FIPS 140.2 is a standard that describes U.S. government agencies' requirements for IT products to meet sensitive but unclassified use. The standard defines the security requirements that must be satisfied by cryptographic technologies used in security solutions that protect unclassified information. FIPS 140.2 validation is required for any wireless products that are sold to the U.S. federal government.
Tech Data, Erich Ohngemach: VARs will have to understand government contracting, federal acquisitions regulations, and they should have a contract vehicle such as a GSA (General Services Administration) schedule.
5. Would government agencies rely on a VAR or their own staff to install a WLAN?
Ingram Micro, Bob Laclede: This will vary depending on the agency and the level of security clearance necessary to work with or for them. Most agencies will likely have some sort of contracted on-site technology assistance. In many cases, agencies will contract the services of an outside VAR to install the WLAN, and will then use on-site contractors to maintain it.
Tech Data, Erich Ohngemach: Although most agencies have their own technical staffers, they rely on contractors and sub-contractors for installation services, pre- and post-support, on-site maintenance, and 24/7 break-fix services.
6. Why are government-related businesses installing WLANs?
Tech Data, Erich Ohngemach: As with any other business, multiple locations need effective and efficient methods of communication. Although security is important to commercial companies, it is absolutely critical to government agencies, especially Homeland Security, DOD (Department of Defense) and intelligence agencies. Companies interested in pursuing federal government opportunities need to understand their products must have a high level of security.
Westcon Group N.A., Carol Rivetti: The growing requirement for mobility and collaborative computing by government employees will continue to fuel this market opportunity. WLANs are more cost-effective solutions for addressing cable plant upgrades, including moves, adds, and changes of personnel and offices within and between buildings.
7. What types of wireless security should VARs be familiar with for selling to government-related businesses?
WAV, Kent Brost: VARs should focus on WLAN security solutions that integrate to and add additional value to their existing solutions. Identify mainstream WLAN security solutions that are proven and strongly supported by WLAN security OEMs.
Ingram Micro, Bob Laclede: VARs should be familiar with the new 802.11i standard that includes government-approved, advanced encryption standards.