City, County IT Initiatives Spell Opportunity For VARs

VARs able to help government enhance broadband access and online services stand to make a pretty penny; most know that. More recently, however, that opportunity has boomed at the city and county level, providing incentive for VARs to revert some attention from the presumably deeper pockets of federal agencies.

Naturally, many VARs view public-sector opportunities in terms of available dollars, with the federal government sitting on the ultimate goldmine of a $65.2 billion proposed IT budget for 2006. But just because IT dollars are allocated does not mean easy access by VARs. Funding at the federal level is divvied prudently, and despite an increasing trend to outsource, agencies are often expected to first look internally for IT services.

"In federal government, the federal government is often the service provider," said David Mulholland, CIO of the U.S. Park Police, at Cisco's public sector press and analyst briefing Tuesday. Local municipalities have smaller budgets, but greater latitude in how dollars get spent. "I get jealous of [city and county governments] that have more capabilities to leverage partnerships," he added.

And these days, they certainly seem to be doing just that. Most recently, Philadelphia officials announced plans to make the city's 135 square miles the largest Internet hot spot in the country. Similarly, Monterey Bay, Calif., implemented a Cisco wired and wireless network that connected about 20 city offices, public schools, fire stations and other facilities; Arlington, Va. provided IP-based videoconferences services to the whole county.

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"In the future, the city -- not the country -- will be the incubator of creativity and innovation," through connectivity and the collaboration of agencies and citizens, said John Eger, president of the World Foundation for Smart Communities.

So how can VARs specifically tap in? First, by providing full solutions tailored to the needs of the customer.

"Very often, VARs solve problems in the most cost-effective means possible," says Gil Gonzales, CIO of California State University in Monterey Bay. "That's not necessarily what we're looking for. More important to us is knowing VARs will be there over time to bring together different tools we need to solve problems."

Second, local municipalities are looking for project management. According to a recent study sponsored by Cisco, IT initiatives that focus first on business processes and second on specific applications result in 20 to 30 percent cost savings post implementation.

"Without IT project management, there often is a lack of any clear methodology," says Christopher David, CTO of Arlington County. "We need a balance between schedule, scope and cost to really see the low-hanging fruit. We also want VARs to let us know what other verticals are doing to avoid being pigeon-holed in a public-sector box."