Ease our large-integrator pain

Guest commentary
Thursday, June 1, 2006

In February, I had the good fortune to attend the TechSec Solutions Conference on IP-Ready security technology. One of the recurring themes at this years' conference was "the new systems integrator," how the nature of the security business is changing in our new IP-based world. I'd like to provide some insight into how a large-scale systems integrator views and responds to the changing marketplace and selects technology to present to the ultimate customer, so smaller integrators might see where they team up with us.
The term "systems integrator" is common, but a little restrictive in my opinion. It might help to think of us in broader terms. We are end-to-end solution providers and typically, as part of that service, we seek efficiencies through the integration of systems. Sometimes, these are security systems, more frequently they are not. It doesn't matter because herein lies a core truth: We are not necessarily experts in the systems we integrate. Our value is in the maturity of our processes for program management, subcontractor performance, standards-based configuration management, quality and availability of engineers, freedom to be "vendor neutral" and thus a trusted agent. We live and breathe issues of systems interoperability, centralized command and control, impact on network and other resources, short and long term maintenance considerations, training, documentation, cost of ownership, etc. We reduce risk to the customer through the breadth of our experience, expertise and holistic view of their project and operating environment. This issue of perceived risk reduction on the part of the customer goes right to the heart of recent trends toward procurements specifying systems integrators as prime contractors.
So, here's the first takeaway: The systems integrator world is exceptionally complex because the customer's needs are complex.
If your company is to be on the team, either have your specifications in the RFP as a requirement or, help ease our pain--reduce the complexity.
As a rough count, there were over 800 security-related vendors at ASIS in Orlando last year. Two weeks after the show, I presented a capabilities brief to a potential customer whom I had run into at the show. He said it was "overwhelming" and "bewildering." I told him that one of the ways my company might help him is to bring some order to the chaos, essentially "down-select" appropriate technologies, based on his need. In other words, help ease his pain. Of course, in doing so, I just transferred that pain to myself; his pain became mine. Sometimes we business developers should just keep our mouths shut.
By this time, takeaway number two should be fairly obvious: If you want to work with a large company, see us as your intermediate customer and help us see how your offering provides true value. Create, market and present your product or service in terms of the overall solution. Think bigger picture. Invest time in understanding market trends, the customer, the breadth and scope of projects and how you fit.
Before you make that cold call or send that email to some person you met at a trade show from large company X, have your stuff together. Do not join the hordes of callers who start off with: "I heard you were chasing opportunity Y. I've got the product/service they need and I'd like to send you a brochure." You have not reduced the complexity, you've added to it! Why? Because you placed the burden on us to try and find your value. Like you, we are busy. We should be cordial for sure and be happy to receive your information, but do not expect a call back.
To break from the pack, do your homework and try something like this: "I heard you are chasing opportunity Y. We've invested considerable effort to understand this customer and his overall solution needs. We just completed a very similar project. We spoke to the customer and he/she will be sensitive to a standards-based platform that can be integrated with legacy systems, is easily maintained in house, etc." Now you have our attention. You are speaking our language. You understand. The pain's not gone but is certainly reduced.
Takeaway number three: Be brutally honest, with yourselves and with us. Treat us as a customer. Portray your capabilities accurately, as they currently exist. This is exceptionally important. When we propose your company as part of our solution, we put our good name on the line with yours. If your product doesn't perform as you claim or you don't have the staff to support the project, you will work with us once. If you become a trusted partner, we'll think of you first for future opportunities. As you know, it's very much about relationships.
The world of the large systems integrator is complex, not impenetrable. See you in the marketplace.


Hank Pomeranz is a sales executive for Northrop Grumman Information Technology's Commercial, State and Local Group, specializing in security solutions. He was previously employed as vice president of business development for a six-person firm where he learned these lessons the hard way.