Government/Education Markets Come With Hurdles

Sperry Van Langeveld, owner of Image Computers, a system builder based in Holland, Mich., said local Michigan government agencies, schools and libraries can purchase products through the state's Reading and Educational Media Centers contract without putting the project out for bid.

It can be a real feat for smaller, new system builders to win a spot on government contracts.

"Unfortunately, [vendors on the REMC contract] are almost always the biggest tier-ones," he says. "Notebooks have been Dell for four years and desktops are primarily Dell and Hewlett-Packard."

To break the branded stranglehold on the state contract, Langeveld said that he's built relationships with officials from local school districts who have the option of putting out requests for proposal and getting bids on projects outside the standard contract.

What Langeveld would like to see is a change in how contracts are written to allow system builders like himself to win a spot on the REMC contract on a region-by-region basis within the state.

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"Now, if we go to REMC to bid a white-box notebook or desktop, we have to provide service all the way around the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. We can't do that," he said.

Dan Neeley, owner of Graymar Business Solutions, a system builder based in Timonium, Md., said smaller builders that are new to the industry face more obstacles than larger builders when bidding for government contracts.

Graymar's custom systems come with three-year warranties and can be purchased on state contracts in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Neeley said that because Graymar is an established business with a large installed customer base, he can successfully navigate the contract requirements.

However, Neeley said he does see some benefits in government contracts for custom builders. Federal agencies can put out bids for customized, nonstandard systems, but meeting these needs is often challenging for OEMs.

"The Dells and the IBMs aren't set up to do that," he said. "They want to pass large quantities of boxes standardized on a certain platform."