By Milad Bahrami, Vice President of HHS Operations at GDIT and former NIH Division Director

This article was featured in the recent FedHealthIT Winter 2020 Magazine.

We are at a point in time when technology surrounds us no matter what we are doing. That statement more than holds true in Federal Health. Federal agencies are constantly looking at ways to pilot emerging technologies to better understand how they can create efficiencies with respect to their processes and challenges. One of the best examples of this is the Department of Health and Human Services Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quality (IDIQ) for Intelligent Automation/Artificial Intelligence (IAAI) that was awarded earlier this year.

At the same time, the Federal contracting community is establishing innovation centers and centers of excellence in an effort to keep up with the technology. At the middle of all of this are the technology providers that are continuously innovating. This trifecta begs the question of how we can best work together to adopt and implement these emerging technologies.

I have had the opportunity to work as a Federal employee, with a leading software company, and now with a large Federal systems integrator (SI). Because of my past experiences, I feel that I have a different perspective on how to engage with product vendors as an SI, that many of my counterparts may not have, understanding that at its core, there should be a strong partnership and trust.

Here are three potential approaches to better align systems integrators and product vendors:

Firewalled Resources

Product companies generally like to play the field on any opportunity and therefore it is rare for them to be exclusive to a particular company. That said, it is possible to arrange for exclusivity, which I have been able to do on a couple of opportunities. If you are not able to gain exclusivity, the next best option is to identify the strongest resource and ask to have the individual firewalled to your team. This means that during the capture and proposal preparation phases a particular individual will be assigned to your team and they will not be able to work with any other competitor. This can be a competitive advantage, depending on how well you know the company and whether you know who is closest to the customer.

Engage Early

As many people know “Engage Early” is key in the Government capture process. The same holds true as far as partnering with product vendors. The key to engaging early is to stay ahead of your pipeline, to know what opportunities are coming in 12-18 months, tracking them and strategizing your approach to capture. If you identify an opportunity early and partner with a product vendor early you are able to jointly market and identify a solution for that opportunity. This will also increase the probability that you can obtain exclusivity with that company.

Build a Practice

Another great way to align to a product vendor is to build a practice that focuses on the product. Most product vendors are concerned with partnering with integrators that are not skilled or certified in implementing their product. You can show a commitment to the product by having a pool of trained resources that can showcase and implement a product successfully. Accomplishing this will require an investment on your part as the SI. This is also though where product companies should step in and make an investment by providing subsidized or free training. I work across a lot of product vendors and some are far better at this than others. On many occasions, how the product company approaches this component is part of the deciding factor on what I will propose to the client.

My advice for systems integrators is to really partner with product vendors to bring true value to Federal Health agencies. Systems integrators are fearful of partnering with product vendors because there is no exclusivity in that partnership. That is a valid concern, but as an SI we have to learn to work beyond that. There are creative ways of building that partnership.

About Milad Bahrami

Milad Bahrami is a seasoned Federal IT industry expert with over 20 years of experience in both the public and private sectors of the Federal Government. Milad is currently the Vice President of HHS Operations at General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT). He works with executive leaders at HHS to ensure GDIT is helping to improve IT effectiveness and delivery of enterprise-level results at HHS.

He is a former Division Director with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Business Applications Services organization within the Center for Information Technology, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) CDER IPT Manager, and a former Enterprise Reporting Manager with the U.S. Department of Justice. He has earned an NIH Director’s Award and was named as one of the FedHealthIT100.

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