After several years of hearing about budget cutbacks in major AV markets like corporate, education, and houses of worship, I wanted to speak with integrators who are working in one of the few markets that are spending money — namely, the military. Military work seems really mysterious and difficult to those who are unfamiliar with the territory. As a result, it is rare when a new player enters this niche market.
As with any client, each branch of the military has its own way of doing business. This is why Tom Corzine, vice president of government services for AVI-SPL, says that “it’s important to have people who understand the environment, who have worked in that environment and understand the workings of the military.”
When he joined the firm approximately eight years ago, he instituted a more proactive outreach to the military community, rather than waiting for them to call. “The military is in a communications industry too,” he says. “They use AV to make their job more efficient.”
Robby Turner, regional vice president for Data Projections, says that there are diverse opportunities for AV installs, including classrooms, training rooms, network operations centers, command and control centers, and secure meeting rooms. “Videoconferencing technology is widely adopted in this market, more so than in the corporate market,” he says. “Technology adoption is driven by the customer. They need videoconferencing for secure communications with other military bases and government agencies.”
Cheryl Walker, vice president of General Projection Systems, agrees that videoconferencing is a major technology for the military. “What is unique about their usage is that they are dealing with real human lives and real-time critical situations,” she says. “Take the Haiti crisis, for example. Every minute counts, especially when you are waiting for a command.”
What they look for
So, what does it take to work on military projects? Attention to detail – not just in your install work, but also in your documentation. Walker says that they are required to include resumes of each person on the team in their bid package. As a result, her eye is on your meticulous attention to detail starting in the interview chair. If your CTS is expired or you can’t produce your control system certification, then that just won’t cut it.
“In addition to industry certifications, it is huge if your company has people with top secret security clearances. Even if the project doesn’t call for TS clearance, it says that your people have passed background checks and are trustworthy to work on-site without an escort,” she adds.
Another important aspect is understanding network security and Telecommunications Electronics Material Protected from Emanating Spurious Transmissions (TEMPEST) requirements. TEMPEST addresses the protection and control of the electromagnetic and sonic domains, as well as the physical equipment. “Certain functions have to be built into the system to fulfill TEMPEST requirements, as well as be able to handle classified and non-classified information,” says Turner.
Turner also says that his military clients speak in acronyms, almost like it’s their own language. “But military clients are great. They’re very tech-savvy and know what they want,” he adds.
The sales cycle can be long, similar to working with the education market. The government’s fiscal year runs October 1 to September 30, so it’s also important to know the timing of pre-budgets and budgets. Depending on the branch of military, Walker says that some pre-budgets are due as early as April and as late as July.
Contracts are awarded under strict guidelines. Turner says that the different contract vehicles can be difficult to understand at first. For example, navigating the General Services Administration (GSA) is a feat unto itself. They are the largest purchasing arm in the government and handle everything from contractors to office supplies to real estate transactions and frequent flyer miles.
Per Walker, contracts are usually written for the integration portion of the work, but rarely include maintenance. “I spend a lot of time educating my military clients about maintaining their systems, and using qualified personnel to do so,” she says.
Linda Seid Frembes is a rAVe columnist who covers AV technology, installs, market trends and industry news. Linda has worked with high profile AV manufacturers, trade organization, systems integrators, rep firms and dealer/distributors in the industry including John Lyons Systems, Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW), Northern Sound & Light (NSL), and InfoComm International, among others. Reach her at email@example.com