Selling Water to People in the Desert

Posted April 15th, 2008 by

Some things should absolutely sell themselves. In the Mojave desert, the guy to be is the one driving the ice cream truck because everybody is happy to see you.

When it comes to the Government there is one thing that is their lifeblood: they make and trade secrets. And since 2001, every building in DC has become its own semi-autonomous nation-state with X-ray machines and armed guards.

So why is it so hard to sell Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) and Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) solutions to them? I’ve talked to vendors in both solution spaces, and they’ve found that it’s a hard sell to get product in the door.

If anybody needs DAM and DLP, it’s the Gub’mint. I try not to play this game, but if you look at the PII incidents that meet the Washington Post front page threshold, you’ll see that all of them are preventable with either DAM or DLP or both.

DAM and Leackage Prevention

Photo by Dru

My thoughts on what’s up:

  • Government purchasing lags behind the private sector. Government CPIC works on a 2-year cycle. Keeping in mind that the average life expectancy for a CISO is 2 years, this doesn’t bode well. This is also why it’s so hard to get strategic projects (*cough* redundant data center *cough*) completed.
  • If it’s not in the control catalog, it’s hard to justify buying it. It’s the double-edged sword of compliance. Unless I have all the controls in the catalog implemented, I can’t really justify anything not in the catalog, and once I have all of the catalog done, they yank my budget for somebody who doesn’t have the catalog implemented.
  • It takes approximately 2 years to get a particular technology into the catalog of controls. If the catalog (SP 800-53) is revised every year, then if NIST thinks that my technology/concept is a good idea, then I still have to wait for the next revision.
  • So if you introduce a new technology today, the earliest I could expect to have it implemented is in 4 years, 3 if you’re lucky.
  • Selling to the government is long and slow (can we say “heavy on bizdev investment”) but has a big payoff: remember that the Overall IT budget is just shy of $80Bazillionz.

The winning strategies:

  1. Partnering up with the larger integrators who can bundle your product with an existing outsourcing contract.
  2. Matching up your product description with the catalog of controls. Make it easy for the Government to select your product.
  3. Let NIST and Mitre evaluate your product. Seriously. If you’ve got game, flaunt it.
  4. Invest in BizDev expecting 4 years before you get a return.

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