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I'm making software that could be of use by businesses and the US Government, but I hear that dealing with the government is a huge hassle business-wise.

Why do they have such a bad reputation among ISV's?

How difficult is it to sell my software to them?

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I think slooooow is probably what most people say about government. –  TheLQ Sep 5 '10 at 22:24
    
508 compliance section508.gov will be important too. –  Sign Sep 28 '11 at 13:57
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closed as not constructive by Mark Trapp Dec 17 '11 at 6:20

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7 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted
  • They usually prefer big companies that can promise lots of support
  • While they must usually put needs out for competitive bids, they almost always go with an undocumented preferred vendor; when that doesn't happen, they go with the cheapest
  • There are usually very detailed and difficult-to-comply-with security restrictions
  • Old browsers, old computers, out-dated OSes are the rule
  • Decisions are made extremely slowly.

If you want to base a business off of selling in to the government, you will need an army of sales-related people and compliance experts to help you. And, in the end, your software might never get used; I've seen many vendors successfully wring $100K+ out of the government, and the software sits on a shelf never used.

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Meeting FIPS compliance is always a challenge as it is the most poorly misdocumented insecurity stuff imaginable. Also, internal security is frequently so tight that you may have a challenge getting development done. Practice developing as a nonAdmin. Oh, and everyone is moving to Windows 7 lickety split as they finally found an OS the security dept likes. Everything Dave mentions is true and I've seen them happen at large corporations and banks as well. –  Tangurena Nov 8 '10 at 3:29
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You should ask people working at the government what are the requirements for software they buy. It can change from a country to an other and it can change overtime.

Usually they require your application to be accessible to disabled people and it's going to need to be compatible with old software such as Internet Explorer 6.

It can be hard to sell them software even if they need it really badly, because of budget. They often have tight up budget and buying and installing software cost a lot of money at once. They often rather just stay with older technology and be less effective, then have to pay a big amount of money at once. In the end they lose up money just because they can't bust the budget.

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Making software accessible to the disabled is something that every software developer should strive for in every piece of end-user software they write. –  Steve Evers Oct 16 '10 at 7:06
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In addition to the other answers, it should be noted that the level of CMMI and the amount of documentation they require is absolutely massive. As a result, smaller companies can tend to get swamped.

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+1 for CMMI. Mentioning that your company's consultant(s) are 100% (1 out of 1) PMP-certified also helps. –  rwong Oct 16 '10 at 7:59
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You need to be listed in the CCR registry https://www.bpn.gov/ccr
You need to have a DUNS number
You need to be able to take credit cards
You need to sign a vendor agreement

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I'm currently working (in the side) on a website conversion for a government agency. Converting a ColFusion app to .NET. One of the issues was an incompetent friend blew most of the budget before he got fired. He finally recognized he was over his head and suckered me in to help. The budget is long gone and the sword the feds can hold over your head is that they'll blacklist the contracting company (and their principles) from doing business with the federal governmet again. This website connects to another project that a different contractor was hired to do. That project was more than 1 year late and more than $1,000,000 overbudget. The contracting company had to eat the loss. I must say it is weird to work on a clumsy little website (it had to duplicate what the 10 year old CF app did) that brings in $1/4 B per year in tax revenue.

At my day job, we've had other issues trying to get approval of the parent corporation for bidding on government contracts. Namely that the legal department didn't think we could do the job and forbade us from bidding. In retrospect, while it would have brought in about $150 Million (over 10 years) for our branch, our mismanagers would have screwed it up and it was a good call by legal. This government project had been on hold (by the government) due to a budgetary impass when Congress could not get off their butts and pass a budget.

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In addition to what everyone else said, I'd recommend trying to get your product on the GSA Schedule. GSA is essentially an intermediate party that holds a contract with you, and many agencies buy software that is only on a GSA schedule. They essentially will lock you down to a certain price, and will often demand lower than retail prices. It's a HUGE pain, and often it's worth investing in a consultant to guide you through the lengthy, complex process.

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On top of all the pain of dealing with bureaucracy and bureaucrats, you also get to wait 3 months or more to get paid.

I'll note that I live in Washington and refuse to do any government work at all.

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