With September 30 in sight, we’ve entered the federal buying season and the usual end-of-fiscal-year scramble to use all available budget. For FY18, there’s an additional wrinkle, since Congress boosted the federal budget overall by $143B just a few months ago – $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for civilian agencies.
How will this impact Contracting and Procurement Officers’ decision making? Government Technology Insider asked Paul Parker, Chief Technologist for Federal and National Government at SolarWinds for his insights on how to get through the end of Q4, how to deal with that extra, last-minute budget and how to get the most from your IT investment.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): Paul, from now until September 30th, federal contracting and procurement officers will be working flat out. Any advice on how to weather the season?
Paul Parker, SolarWinds (PP): This is definitely a special time of year for everybody. Contracting officers are losing their sanity. Sales managers are tracking purchase orders day and night. This is the Federal Black Friday. As somebody who has been both a federal government buyer and a federal government seller, these conversations are happening all the time, whether it’s you know Q4, Q2, Q3, Q1 — let’s pick any one of these quarters, right? It’s no less critical; it’s no more critical. It’s just simply people tend to freak out when money hits the card and they need to spend it quickly.
My advice for government IT leaders is to have conversations with your engineers and architects and find out what are the critical needs. When does it need to be procured? How is it going to be procured? And does this address all the requirements? Going out and buying the wrong things or buying shelfware can cause a negative perception because people look at that as though you just wasted money. Let’s make sure that we address all their requirements upfront, buy the right things like having proper maintenance.
You’ve got money in your pocket. Have you identified what is generally referred to as “what color is the money.” What are the things that you can buy with that money that you have? Is that services money, is that maintenance money, is that new procurement money? There are different colors, different flavors. And people don’t always necessarily understand that they just see it as cash.
GTI: There is a mandate to modernize the government’s technology capabilities so they can become more responsive and proactive, and more reliable and secure. So, what are some of those other areas that you were mentioning where agencies could put that remaining budget to best use?
PP: One of the biggest points for me is network visibility, like I said, if you don’t know that it’s there, how are you ever going to secure or protect against it. Patch management comes up all the time. As you know, we’ve invested 100 billion dollars in our cybersecurity strategy, but we forgot to patch the Apache Struts issue. We laugh about it, we joke about it, but these really are critical things that should be keeping a lot of Information Assurance folks up at night.
GTI: What if an agency has an unexpected windfall? As we’re seeing, because of the budget increase, suddenly many agencies have more money than they thought they would. So, what could they look at with that extra budget?
PP: I have personally seen where they will go out and just spend the money on something because they’re so afraid to lose it. But they didn’t necessarily do their homework. One of the areas that I think we’re fantastic at is that we’re (SolarWinds) very quick to allow you to demonstrate the product, test it out in your environment. Our demo page is wide open to the public — anybody who wants to go take a look at that, download the software, trial it quickly and make those decisions without having to spend months putting together a requirements package.
GTI: What about something like a pilot project, something that could lead to a bigger project down the road.
PP: Absolutely. It being a fully integrated toolset that can be virtualized or installed in a cloud environment, doesn’t require you to have a lot of resources to be able to run through the scenarios.
GTI: As we’ve talked about, digital transformation is going on throughout the government and we are seeing a lot more use of cloud and mobile technologies. What are some of the big IT trends that you see shaping FY19?
PP: Well there is you know what I always effectively referred to as the buzzword bingo. Talk about blockchain technology. Big data is still out there. As I alluded to earlier, things like cybersecurity.
I always say if it’s flexible, secure and allows for automation you’re going to cover pretty much 90 percent of your gaps.
GTI: Are we going to see an end to legacy systems and stovepipe systems?
PP: I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from traditional on-premise IT. A lot of our cybersecurity surveys and customer surveys show that hybrid IT really is the future. So, whether it’s going to be private cloud or using public cloud, there’s always going to be a certain level of hybrid IT that’s going to be there. Payroll systems or things like that, people aren’t necessarily comfortable with. Human resources files that they don’t want to have exposed out into a public cloud because there’s not necessarily the right amount of controls that are behind it or…
Let’s be frank. We know that Amazon GovCloud or Azure GovCloud are secure, but do we know who are the people that have access to that? Insider threat is always the single largest vulnerability for any organization, and you can’t mitigate that risk when you’re using somebody else’s technology.
GTI: Any thoughts on how to make the most of Q4?
PP: I would say just stay the course. There’s a lot of energy that gets put into Q4 but I think, honestly, Q1 is equally as important. Recognizing that the path forward is going to be there, there’s always a certain amount of front loading on Q1 budget, as well. At the end of the day, you should always have a prioritization of what you need and where there’s projects fall and how much do they cost. Regardless of whether you have a windfall of money or not, you still need to accomplish these tasks.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that your network isn’t secure or that you have an audit coming up that you haven’t addressed properly. So, Q4 shouldn’t really be all that different other than the fact that you’ve got some money to spend.