Overheard at GovComm 2012

Here’s some of what we know: There are a bunch of AV integration companies that work well with government customers and see an opportunity to grow that part of their business. Several of them were at GovComm 2012 in Washington, D.C., the last week of November, including Applied Visual Communications, Audio Video Systems, Communications Engineering Inc., Whitlock, and others.

There are also a slew of AV manufacturers interested in the government market who saw GovComm as a chance to make connections, such as AMX, Audio-Technica, Aurora Multimedia, Crestron, Da-Lite, FSR, JBL Pro, Kramer, Middle Atlantic, NEC, Planar Systems, Polycom, Premier Mounts, and more. Sounds a lot like an episode of the InfoComm Show (June 8-14 in Orlando next year).

We also know there are a lot of government technology workers who are keenly aware of what modern AV communications can do to support their “missions”–and yes, government workers at every type of agency routinely refer to what they do each day as a mission. At one point during GovComm 2012, Dave White, the deputy CIO for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, launched into an impassioned and unscripted homage to AV technology and its potential to improve government. (For many of us in attendance, it was the highlight of the two-day conference. See the panel White was on here; his praise of AV comes near the end.)

But for everything we know, there’s some we don’t, especially when it comes to technology and the federal government. If you were at GovComm and either sat in on the various sessions or spoke to government attendees on the show floor, you may have noticed–they don’t talk like we do in AV. And it can be hard to come up with government AV solutions when our two sides aren’t speaking the same language. There is a reason that technology companies who want to do business with the government often hire former government employees: translation (and relationships).

Over the years, in various capacities, I’ve had the honor to speak with many federal CIOs, deputy CIOs, and others charged with running our national’s tech infrastructure. If you heard Richard Spires (pictured), CIO of the Department of Homeland Security, speak at GovComm 2012, you know that he and people like him are some of the sharpest minds in technology. And you can quickly glean from what they say some of the things you should know about when talking AV systems.

For one thing, the government’s technology priorities are very IT-centric, so if you’re not yet adept at all things digital and networked AV systems, you’re already two steps behind government technology strategists. And they’re highly focused on whatever technology directives the current Administration hands down, via the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). So if you need a CliffsNotes guide to talking tech with a federal technology employee, start by reading whatever OMB has issued. Some of it will pertain to AV; some of it won’t. But all of it offers a vernacular for doing business in government.

Beyond that, here are some catch-phrases overheard at GovComm that you might want to bone-up on:

Common operating picture. This was something CIO Spires talked about that comes off as particularly AV-ready (the “picture” part, i.e. video). Since 9/11, it’s been a top priority for government agencies to share information to create one window onto everything from national security to constituent services. In Spires’ case, he’s talking about visualizing threats based on data coming in from intelligence services, the Defense Department, and more. When I heard him utter “common,” my mind instantly went to the physical manifestation of all this data–one common video platform for seeing everything. But, as if he were reading the mind of every AV professional who wouldn’t get a chance to integrate this common visualization platform, Spires pointed out that the common operating picture only refers to data. How a government agency–federal or state–chooses to ingest and display that data (as long as it’s secure–videowall, control room, projection, whatever) is up to them.

Cloud. To be clear, the federal government was pushing for cloud services before we ever heard them called “cloud.” They used terms like “shared services” and “centers of excellence” to describe initiatives for consolidating technology in certain areas of government from which multiple agencies could draw. These days, federal technologists are eagerly (yet cautiously) sipping the cloud juice (in part, because OMB is mixing it). But by some estimates, 80 percent of what feds do in the cloud they’ll do in “private” clouds that they or a trusted contractor will build just for them and their closest agency friends. This isn’t the same cloud you hear about in TV commercials. And all cloud initiatives will be guided by…

FedRAMP. Here’s a term that came up a few times at GovComm. Got a cloud AV solution you’d like to sell to government? Or one you’d like to integrate into an AV solution? Better get familiar with FedRAMP, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Basically, FedRAMP is the governmentwide program for certifying and authorizing cloud services for government use. It’s just getting started, but you’ll be hard-pressed to talk cloud with a government IT worker who doesn’t ask what FedRAMP thinks.

FIPS and FISMA. Again, if you’ve been to GovComm or spent time with federal technology workers, you’ve heard these two acronyms. The Federal Information Processing Standard relates specifically to information encryption (so if you’re setting up a protected videoconferencing link, is it FIPS-compliant?) and the Federal Information Security Management Act, enacted in 2002, is umbrella legislation that governs all agencies’ approach to secure IT and AV. Under FISMA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is in charge of coming up with standards (like FIPS) and guidelines for building secure systems. If you’re going to build a solution for a federal agency, they will ask you about FIPS and FISMA. It’s why much of the GovComm educational programming, developed by InfoComm University, was focused on issues related to “secure AV.”

Certainly, government agencies are in need of bread-and-butter AV systems. They’ve all got conference rooms, for example. And ask Ed Morman, CTS-D, CTS-I, of General Dynamics and a GovComm instructor, about his days working for the White House Commications Agency, essentially handling AV and live events staging for the president. The government is an ardent user of AV.

But as AV communications become more prominent, as AV systems integrate more with IT, as they need to be secured, and as users rely more on AV to get their jobs done, the relationship between AV professionals and federal IT workers (and their contractors), is bound to flourish. Events like GovComm (on the calendar again for early Decembr 2013) help that happen.

And it pays to talk to talk.

Do you have interesting tales (that you can share) of working with the government on AV projects? Do tell.

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is a one-time writer and editor for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 20 years. For more, visit the Blogger Bios page.

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