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Larry Carvalho

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Opinion

Making the Government $$$ Foster Real Innovation and Competition

Government deal size can coerce solution providers to inter-operate and innovate

In the mid '90s, I started up a practice at a large systems integrator helping customers plan, design and implement on-premise e-mail systems. Very often the differentiator was the collaborative functions that an organization could also leverage during the e-mail system implementation. This capability helped departments share information and react to market dynamics faster. At that time we never dreamt of putting email information outside of an organizations network. Customers spent millions in purchasing licenses, hardware and implementation services to give them an edge over their competitors.

Today, driven by consumer acceptance of free e-mail services, corporations are most likely to view e-mail as a commodity that can be purchased and implemented without affecting their competitive advantage. Several large wins like Motorola and LA County by Google, Dow Chemical by Microsoft and Panasonic by IBM/Lotus are reducing the mental barriers of entry.  Back in the mid 90's, I would never have dreamed of e-mail commoditized to the extent it has been today. Leveraging distributed technology is helping organizations deliver very scalable solutions at a fraction of the cost that was a norm of the past.

Recently, there was an interesting Wall Street Journal article about Google and Microsoft competing for federal contracts, specifically the General Services Administration (GSA). I was surprised how the article made it sound like it was a two horse race. Where did Cisco and IBM disappear to?

There is a lot of discussion going on about governments encouraging open standards and providing the necessary infrastructure helping the private industry to gain a competitive edge. For this much commoditized e-mail solution today, I would like to challenge the GSA and Vivek Kundra, the CIO of the Federal Government, to do something very unique. Put a set of security requirements for any vendor to meet in order to sell their services to the government. Build a set of integration standards that each vendor has to comply to ensure inter-operability. Negotiate pricing based on volumes. Here comes the kicker - let the employees have an option to pick their e-mail vendor of choice. After all, a lot of large private employers give their employees the choice of cell phone providers. Sometimes those employees pick those providers who most suit their individual needs, for example, cell phone coverage for where they live.

If a solution of choice is implemented, you will see competition by vendor’s to produce the best user interface that users would like. Finally we will start to see not a “winner take it all” but “the best solution wins” mentality by vendors. Sales teams will not walk away from the deal counting their commission checks but will now be involved throughout the implementation to make sure their product gets accepted. Ability of employees to switch e-mail providers will ensure ongoing customer service like never before.

Choice of solutions will ensure innovation while meeting standards and interoperability. Allocating a small budget to start-ups will help keep the cloud computing hosted e-mail field level, especially in solutions required by local governmental agencies. Let the federal government, with a $71 billion IT budget, make sure in action and spirit that there is not a duopoly of vendors but well defined standards which allow a variety of vendors to participate in this fast growing area. With the increased pressure to reduce the deficit and helping the private sector become more competitive, the government could do wonders by maintaining a competitive market.

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Larry Carvalho runs Robust Cloud LLC, an advisory services company helping various ecosystem players develop a strategy to take advantage of cloud computing. As the 2010-12 Instructor of Cloud Expo's popular Cloud Computing Bootcamp, he has already led the bootcamp in New York, Silicon Valley, and Prague, receiving strong positive feedback from attendees about the value gained at these events. Carvalho has facilitated all-day sessions at customer locations to set a clear roadmap and gain consensus among attendees on strategy and product direction. He has participated in multiple discussion panels focused on cloud computing trends at information technology events, and he has delivered all-day cloud computing training to customers in conjunction with CloudCamps. To date, his role has taken him to clients in three continents.