The idea of securing a government contract should stimulate your entrepreneurial wits. Succeeding in the endeavor can be very lucrative and can help to grow your agency tremendously. As with most great rewards, there are great risks along the way so the road in between requires careful evaluation and meticulous planning. This is not something to take lightly.
Whether your agency is already working a government contract or is simply considering the opportunity, there are many areas to assess in order to avoid pitfalls along the way. The primary areas of concern are infrastructure and security. Yes, the two are related – you will see this below – and there is certainly some overlap but several subcategories within each require some real attention. In fact, it is a good idea to revisit both infrastructure and security regardless of how and what your agency is working.
When evaluating infrastructure related to government collections, I am asking you to consider hardware, physical networks and collection software.
Is your current configuration scalable? If you are new to government collections, you are likely facing a significant increase in account and raw data volume. Ensuring there is proper disk space and processing power can eliminate delays in the most inopportune circumstance. You do not want to be ready to work your brand new accounts and have to upgrade hardware.
Re-read the hardware subcategory. Everything mentioned applies for physical networks as well. In addition, what is your solution for failover? Do you have one? In the event your primary Internet service provider is down or even interrupted, make sure there is a secondary protocol for continued service. Now is the time to evaluate bandwidth as well. Check your upload and download speeds and consult your provider for upgrade opportunities. A government contract may require your agency to interface using web service technology, unique file sending and retrieving systems, or some other real-time exchange methods. Any of these could impact your network performance, especially as data volumes increase.
Most collection software is customizable to enable adding new tables, fields, windows, views and reports. In most cases when onboarding a new client or line of business some custom work in your software is required. Before taking on the burden exclusively, check with your collection software provider for government modules or add-ons. There may be something available that will get you 90% of what you need.
Without a doubt the most scrutinized category regarding government collections is security. Most of the subcategories mentioned in the infrastructure section are valid areas of security concern as well. Let’s evaluate a few considerations related to government collections and security.
Most are aware of the recent Home Depot and Target data breach events making national news. There have been smaller instances of data security concern in the collection space as well. The point is data security is a primary concern when working a government contract. If you find yourself overwhelmed with implementing or updating data security policies and procedures, a great resource to start with is the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It will not answer all the questions or undeniably solidify your agency as foolproof for government collections but FISMA will provide great direction and help you set things in motion.
Finding top-tier talent is tough. Finding and training a team to service government accounts is an even greater challenge. Before the team has been identified, create an electronic training program focused on working with government data and its sensitivity. To take it a step further, stage examples using your collection software running a test or training database. Understanding FISMA should provide plenty of detail towards constructing a training program both electronic and tangible in your collection software.
Separate from training yet somewhat related is security awareness. It is important for everyone in your organization with access to government data to be aware of any questionable security situations. It is equally important to implement automated IT related processes to promote awareness. Single sign-on, scheduled change password policies, mass internal email reminders concerning security and awareness, eliminating wireless networks, and prohibiting the use of mobile devices are just a few examples.
There is huge opportunity and huge risk in government collections. Securing and keeping a government contract means you must be a top performer. The concept of “open data” exists in government collections. Use the significance of the Department of Education contract as an example. It is not only public knowledge of which agencies have the contract but also of how each agency is performing and ranks among the competition. My hope is the aforementioned data and technology items for consideration will help guide you in the right direction and ideally position your agency for your first or for your next government contract.