The Navy's online database of COTS vendors and products offers a way to let customers know who you are for free.
By Gary Donnelly
Are you spending time and money trying to get your firm's name and products in front of potential U.S. Government buyers? Are your federal marketing efforts not giving you the results you hoped for? Would you like these buyers to come to you on their own? Then perhaps you should know about a Navy project called the Computer Open Systems Implementation Program (COSIP). Developed by a division of the Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea), COSIP is an online service that provides a database of open systems vendors and products that are used by technical and procurement personnel in the identification and purchase of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software.
COSIP consists of several components, the main one being the Computer Resources Information Base (CRIB), an in-house-developed Oracle database running on an HP server under HP-UX. CRIB provides the access to the vendor and product information via an intelligent front end based on software from Neuron Data of Palo Alto, CA. This makes an easy-to-use search engine for nontechnical users. CRIB provides a single location for industry research without requiring an in-house database expert or even much in the way of computing resources.
Another component of CRIB is a product evaluation section. In this section are the results of formal product evaluations for those items in CRIB. Issues such as adherence to specifications and interoperability are indicated. Vendors as well as all users of CRIB have access to this information. A vendor who objects to an evaluation has the right to challenge it. Up to now, no vendor has ever challenged an evaluation, indicating that these evaluations are both complete and fair.
According to Kelly Ross, an electrical engineer and one of the COSIP developers, COSIP has been successfully used by Navy personnel in the systems acquisition phase of an advanced display system, the AN/UYQ-70. Navy personnel, looking for vendors in specific product areas, were able to use COSIP to identify and contact those vendors. This saved the Navy money by lessening the amount of research time necessary for vendor and product identification.
COSIP is available on the Internet for access by anyone, not just Navy or military personnel. Its Web address is http://www.cosip.npt.nuwc.navy.mil. If your demands are for a more rapid response (even at 28.8kbps the Internet can be intolerable), you can have the Navy provide you with the database along with periodic updates (currently quarterly) via replicated copies of the Oracle database. Of course, you must have Oracle already running at your site. Current non-Navy users include the Air Force, the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA, the National Security Agency and others. Commercial firms can also obtain COSIP. Those having done so include ELS, Loral, Texas Instruments and TRW. According to Ross, they have not turned anyone away who has requested a copy of COSIP.
If you log onto this Web site, you will get a good feel for what COSIP is and what it provides. For example, I decided to use the Web-based demonstration as opposed to downloading a copy for my office workstation. This makes the queries a bit slower, but it eliminates any downloading across the Internet. By selecting a query against the vendors, I was able to see an entire list of the vendors who are on the COSIP database. I chose an entry and saw that the company had 21 products listed. Selecting one of those products, I was able to see information regarding its technical details. A similar search on "compilers" indicated that 75 different compilers were listed. If I were looking for, say, an Ada compiler, I could peruse this list and contact the vendors individually.
I spoke to Pat Hanson, director of program development for Visicom Laboratories of Alexandria, VA, the vendor I had chosen to look up, regarding their use of COSIP. Hanson is very positive about the results. He couldn't point out any specific sale as a result of being on the database, but that's probably normal for federal sales. Hanson says that COSIP is a "hell of a yardstick of what the government needs." It's easy for a small vendor to participate and get the same shelf space as major vendors who have much larger marketing budgets. Hanson believes that his firm's time spent in getting on COSIP was well-spent. As the government agencies move toward standardized operating systems and COTS products, COSIP "provides an excellent vehicle to show how products fit, especially for small companies," Hanson says.
At the opposite end of the corporate size spectrum is Hewlett-Packard. Don McClure, the Navy account manager based in Tampa, FL, decided to support the COSIP effort for several reasons. First, his job is to present HP's products to as wide a Navy market as he can, within the budget allocations. Second, he wants to show support for Navy projects, especially those that can reap return benefits. McClure feels that COSIP is the first step in the commoditization of both hardware and software in the procurement process. When the Navy needs to find out information about open systems products, he wants it to see that HP is represented. McClure, like Hanson, feels that it's too early for him to credit any specific procurement success to COSIP. But that doesn't bother him, and he expects to continue to support the COSIP effort.
Now that you have an idea as to what COSIP is, just how do you get your products and services on their database? Simply log in and complete the online questionnaire. Or contact the COSIP office and have them send you the questionnaire in the mail for offline completion. Your information is then categorized and loaded into CRIB. It's up to you to be complete and accurate, since no one validates your information.
Where does the Navy see COSIP going? Ross feels that COSIP will grow in several areas. She'd like to see the vendor and user bases get larger, although over 600 vendors and approximately 30 organizations already use the program. COSIP has developed a user forum, which had its first meeting in June 1996. Ross also would like to see increased coverage in the types of products, to include more products relevant to Navsea's efforts, especially in digital signal processing.
At a time when all vendors are assessing their marketing strategies and budgets, it makes sense to take advantage of as many information channels as possible. Many smaller vendors make use of the larger vendors' third-party products catalogs. While these are valuable, COSIP goes them something further. COSIP is being used by operational people in the solving of operational problems. Being able to get your company's name and products in front of key decision-makers is a valuable asset. COSIP will allow you to accomplish this for an investment of only your time.
Gary Donnelly teaches and consults in the client/server and open systems arena, focusing on federal marketing issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.