Contractors team up with tech giants, adapting commercial technology for agencies

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, August 23, 2010

When Director Michael Bradshaw came to Google Federal about four years ago, he visited all the big government contractors in the federal market, going door to door to promote partnerships.

"A lot of people didn't even know Google Federal existed," Bradshaw said. "I think we were more of a novelty in their mind."

Fast forward four years, and many traditional government contractors are clamoring to work with the company. Both sides sees advantages in the collaborations. Despite Google's widespread commercial success, the partnerships help the Internet giant establish a beachhead in another lucrative market.

So Google Federal is partnering with well-known contractor Unisys to offer a services program that would include Internet-based e-mail, calendar and collaboration tools. In the past, the company has teamed with Falls Church-based contractor CSC to offer a search application for the Defense Department and with Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin on geospatial products, Bradshaw said.

For traditional government contractors, the appeal of working with commercially successful companies such as Google or Apple is clear.

David Smith, an analyst with information technology research and advisory firm Gartner, said that consumer-targeted products and technologies have drawn tremendous interest from employees -- and federal workers are no exception.

"There's a lot of demand for consumer-grade technologies" coming not from the IT department of an agency, but from employees, Smith said. "It's not a new thing, [but] it's really accelerated in recent years."

In response, government contractors are positioning themselves as integral to adapting commercial technology. Take Unisys's federal division, which is not only partnering with Google, but also working to secure Apple iPhones and iPads for government use. Thomas G. Frederick of the company's federal group said Unisys is readying a secure "sandbox" feature that would partition government data from other data on the devices.

Unisys already offers a "Mac Accelerator Program" that helps government agencies determine whether Apple technology will work for them and, if so, come up with an integration plan.

Lexis Nexis has long provided database services to various government agencies. Now the company is making sure its 10-year-old "bread and butter" program for law enforcement agencies, which helps locate and verify the identities of individuals, businesses and assets, works on iPads.

The company is also in the process of testing several other iPad applications, the first of which would allow users to identify sex offenders in a given area. Several agencies have sought to serve as testers for the application's pilot program, said Haywood Talcove, chief executive of Lexis Nexis Special Services.

"This is what people want," he said of iPads, recounting a recent request from one agency for 20 iPads to test in the field.

As federal agency demand for commercial technology increases, Bradshaw said he expects it to fuel government contractors' interest in even more partnerships.

Some integrators "really need that verification from the federal customer that this is a good market to pursue," he said.

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