Synnex Panel: Stimulus Opportunities In Health Care, SLED, Green

A panel of public sector-savvy solution providers told 100-plus VARs attending Synnex's Red, White & You conference in Dallas Tuesday that the best VAR bets for stimulus opportunities are in health care, state, local and education markets, and even green IT initiatives.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's $19 billion for electronic health records (EHR) implementation is a real and important opportunity, said Cindy Loranger, director of health-care solutions for GreenPages, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based solution provider.

Several VAR attendees during a Q&A session asked what they could do to sway older physicians -- or any health-care professional -- shrugging off EHR as just another hassle.

"They have no choice," Loranger said. "And we have heard of some organizations that are already firing doctors for refusing to learn EHR. This is a very fast-paced movement to get our butts in gear."

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For VARs who want a crack at health care, knowing your audience in that particular vertical might be more crucial than in any other, she said.

"Everyone, from university hospitals to long-term care facilities, likes the idea of a vendor who understands this business," Loranger said. "We're building our business based on our knowledge -- the health-care language, the terminology. If someone asks you about a CPOE [computerized physician order entry], for example, and you say, 'What's that,' that means they're not even going to talk to you. The best thing you can do is a training program for health care, and then taking that training and correlate it with what you do best as a business. If technologists don't understand health care, it's a losing battle."

VARs are seeing immediate stimulus funding at the state and local levels, especially with Department of Transportation projects such as bridges and roads. The VAR play is the IT needed to support those endeavors, said Jeff Bohling, COO of Compar, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider.

"Our emphasis is on where the money is flowing, not where it isn't. You can't afford to waste time," Bohling said.

Burl Williams, business developer at Integration Technologies Group, a Falls Church, Va.-based solution provider, urged VARs to check out reference sites such as that of the United States Conference of Mayors, which lists the requests that have been made to the Obama administration for stimulus funding. Even if there hasn't been money awarded, it's a good place to check for opportunities, he suggested.

Williams said the federal side of his solution provider practice hadn't seen much of an impact from the stimulus -- a sentiment that echoes ongoing VAR and vendor suggestions that the federal side isn't as fertile an opportunity. But areas such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the GSA are still lucrative. A GSA schedule in particular is still seen as a "rubber stamp" in government, Williams said. It takes six to nine months and a lot of paperwork and financial commitment to get one, but that, VARs agreed, is the door opener to a lot of federal business.

Next: Small Business And Environmental Friendliness

All five members of the panel, which also included Dana Gardner, a director at Computerware, Vienna, Va., and Steve Hull, vice president of sales for Westwind Computer Products, Albuquerque, N.M., agreed the Obama administration would favor small business interests.

Hull suggested that supplier diversity programs -- designed to help small businesses level the playing field with special certifications -- were one niche where a lot of VAR partnering was happening. Loranger confirmed she was seeing a lot of diversity programs in health care, too, from places such as insurance, pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The panelists also agreed that green IT initiatives were starting to play a bigger role in sales and procurement than ever -- feeding the popularity of virtualization and other technologies that drive efficiency.

"EPEAT is big on the federal side now," suggested Ed Somers, Synnex's government program manager. Somers was referring to the electronic product environmental assessment tool that was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate technologies in gold, silver and bronze categories based on their environmentally-friendly attributes.

Williams said he felt like "only one out of 10" resellers knew what EPEAT was, but it was becoming a make-or-break for some of the deals he was seeing, especially in the federal space.

"Some vendors do a good job [identifying] which products meet EPEAT levels, and some don't" Hull said.

"EPEAT is a program," Williams said, describing the strength of the classification. "EnergyStar is just something that's written on a box."

Regardless of which public sector vertical a VAR chooses to engage, it's always important, the panelists argued, to look at the end-user organization as multiple facets.

"Don't just talk to the purchaser," Hull argued. "Stick to your niche and understand their [the end user organization] language. Meet with them six to 12 months ahead of the game -- if you're responding to bids, you're already too late."