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ACT-IAC CyberSecurity COI - Industry and Government Interactions



Both vendors and government representatives often describe their interactions with each other as challenging, frustrating, or often unproductive.  Vendors, trying to develop business or awareness of their offerings, regularly find government representatives standoffish, dismissive, and sometimes rude.  Likewise, government representatives may describe some vendors as overly pushy, robotic, or tone-deaf.

With that in mind, ACT-IAC held an interactive and informative forum on government-vendor relations as part of their January meeting.  The discussion was led by Paul Cunningham who is a member of the ACT-IAC governance board and is known for being straightforward, witty and sometimes challenging in his engagements with vendors.  With over 10 years of government and four years of vendor experience, he is uniquely positioned to foster an open, engaging and enlightening discussion between government and vendors teams.   

During the 90-minute forum, teams shared their perspectives on what they found both helpful and frustrating when engaging with their counterparts at public events, scheduling efforts, office visits, and follow-up calls.  For instance, vendors often felt dismissed when trying to introduce themselves to a government representative after a publicly held panel.  In some cases, the introduction might have been a significant part of their decision to attend.  From the government representatives’ perspective, some felt that receiving lines are often misused by vendors who frequently give sales pitches or are overly insistent in scheduling a follow-up meeting on the spot. Usually, the receiving lines are long and are an unplanned barrier in an already overburdened schedule.  By respecting each other’s perspectives, a proper introduction can happen in a thoughtful way that is respectful of each other’s time, objectives and position.

Another point of the discussion focused on the different experiences and perspectives the teams have related to the office visit and follow-ups calls. Vendors spend a great deal of time and effort in preparing materials for the brief.  When they are at the brief, they feel fully engaged and interested but sometimes feel their counterparts are disengaged, distracted or inattentive.  This leads to a disjointed or scripted delivery when they would rather have an informative dialog where both parties would benefit.  The government representative perspective noted that they are inundated with product and services pitches to a point where most of the presentations look and sound the same.  Also, the government representatives indicated that they are often in a meeting where they know the offering pitched is not overly viable due to limited funding, competing priorities, and contractual or institutional barriers. In some cases, they may not be the only or right decision maker to move forward and, therefore, are not fully engaged toward the vendor’s goal of bringing the product forward.  By clearly communicating the intent and expectations of the meeting early, both parties can ensure their engagement is of value or a decision can be made postpone the meeting to a later date.

These are just two of the many insights and tidbits brought forward in the forum.  There were numerous other thoughts and recommendations made by both teams.  However, in the end, several common themes emerged.  First, we must better understand our counterpart’s perspective to foster more successful engagements.  We should also approach each other as partners and respect each other’s positions. Lastly, we must recognize, appreciate and respect that we have different sets of drivers that may impact how we engage with each other.  The key to all these challenges is to remain honest, open, and respectful of each other.

Paul Cunningham

Document Date: 
Mar 31, 2020
Author (organization): 
ACT-IAC Cybersecurity Community of Interest
Document type: