Google: Dilemma Possible in Federal Sales Push

February 22, 2009

I am no longer schlepping to Washington, DC, every week. Those days are happily behind me. I have been thinking about several different news events in the last week. At lunch yesterday at the lovely Harrod’s Creek Bar-B-Q Pit yesterday, three of us mentioned separately these events which could come together in a chain reaction crash:

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If several events come together at one time, Google could face the bureaucratic equivalent of a chain reaction collision as its government business begins to take off into the hundreds of millions of dollars, not the wacky $4,000 reported by a unit of CBS.

  1. The story that ran in MarketWatch about Google’s making only $4,000 in sales to the Federal government in 2008. I mentioned this in the context of a major news outlet’s amazing ability to create the impression that Google’s presence in the US government is only slightly more than buying a Kentucky influence peddler to get a road repaved. Ludicrous. Wrong. Uninformed. Why’s this important? Whoever wrote the story doesn’t know much about government procurements, the General Services Administration, and Google’s growing footprint in agencies. Not surprising. Most experts find their information via Google and calls to some well-worn contacts. Little wonder Google was positioned as an incompetent loser in the Federal market. Totally wrong. Refresh your memory of this write up here. My write up is here.
  2. One of my lunch partners mentioned the White House’s push for open source systems and non-proprietary software. The example offered was the use of Drupal software for the Recovery.gov Web site. You can read about this in the TechPresident.com Web log. There are maybe a half dozen or more trophy generation firms running around the White House doing information technology. But that’s normal for a new administration. The message that this decision sends to Executive branch agencies is that proprietary software peddled by the giant integrators may fall from favor. Yellow lights flash. Bells clang. Suddenly the Beltway Bandits form Google practices and little known programs built on proprietary software which cannot be operated by government employees gets pushed toward the budget MRI machine.
  3. The third person at lunch raised the issue of the Department of Justice’s apparent interest in looking at Google as a company of interest in the dicey monopoly space. I don’t may much attention to the DOJ since I had to wait 45 minutes to get through the air blast super security sucking machine to attend a meeting in the facility in 2008. My group had just arrived from a secure facility and the machine flagged the group of four as having residue on our clothes. We think it was the taxi’s air freshener that made us late to the meeting. The new interest at Justice seems to be related to an allegation by SourceTool.com that Google is not behaving like a tame Googzilla. You can read one take on this story here.

When I walked the two technical advisors to Beyond Search this morning, I reflected on these three Google-related comments. My thoughts coalesced around the idea that Google may be in for a little rough sailing in Washington. First, even if the White House loves open source, Google, and Macs (loved by Googlers because “real” Unix is only a click away from the cartoon interface)–Google could become a hot potato. A probe even if the allegation is specious fires up the bureaucracy. When those thousands of gears engage, in my experience it is tough predict what will emerge from the maw of justice. Risk sky rockets, and no procurement committee gets too excited about risk. In my opinion, some hefty procurements now in the works could stall. Google doesn’t sell direct. Integrators and partners feel the pain. Phones ring. Email flows. With that information winging around, risk ratchets up like the tachometer on an F1 race car leaving the curve and heading down the straight away.

The dilemma? The government wants to buy Google. The allegations and the legal process slow the uptake of Google products and services. Google now faces a real–not an imaginary decline in US Federal government sales. I think I will find a front row seat and watch these forces collide, merge, reform, and eventually reach entropy. The question becomes, “Now what?” Any thoughts?

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One Response to “Google: Dilemma Possible in Federal Sales Push”

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