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New research from CompTIA offers mixed results for the channel.

The good news is that there is a tremendous need for a massive technology refresh at all three levels of government — federal, state and local.

The bad news is that while the feds are expected to grow their IT budgets 3.3 percent annually for the next five years, from $85 billion to $100 billion, state and local budgets will be slashed drastically, with 20 percent of the annual $50 billion IT expenditures expected to be cut during the same period, for a total reduction of $30 billion.

The ugly news is that while two thirds (68 percent) of government IT decision makers/influencers agree to the statement "We consider small or medium vendors or IT solution providers if they meet our needs.",  nearly half of the same group also indicates that they primarily work with vendors or IT solution providers that they have worked with previously.

There’s significant potential for the channel, notes Tim Herbert, VP of research, CompTIA, but it’s also a real challenge. Part of the survey includes comments on what the public sector is looking for in a solution provider.

"Some of the suggestions from government IT buyers really fall into the category of sales marketing 101, knowing your end users and providing a straightforward and honest assessment of what technology will and will not do to meet their needs, demonstrating that you’ve done your homework.  It’s common sense but a good reminder for anybody seeking to land a government contract."

Getting government work can be very difficult because the rules vary a lot. Herbert recommends doing a cost/benefit analysis and investing time and energy to understand the process. There are a number of sources of valuable information out there, including the various vendors’ government initiatives, he says.

"One of the takeaways is to make sure you understand the various sources of information and various sources of help because it is tough going it alone."

According to the study, the public sector is facing the same problems as the private sector, says Herbert. "They are being forced to do more with less, even with the stimulus dollars."

However, there are different priorities for the three levels of government. Keeping up with the rapidly changing technology landscape is a top concern, cited by 58 percent of federal respondents compared to 41 percent for local government. State governments are more concerned over the need to upgrade outdated IT systems and improve interoperability. And one of the biggest concerns for local governments is enhancing the technical skill sets of their employees, 52 percent vs. 46 percent for federal and state government.

Desktop or laptop PCs, infrastructure hardware, software upgrades and security solutions top the expenditure list over the next 12 months. One of the findings that jumped out to Herbert was the concern over skills shortages. Roughly 80 percent of those surveyed spend at least something on training.

"One of the challenges is keeping their staff up to date to new technology. Many of them are using outside contractors (and) they’re trying to develop and institutionalize the expertise."

Although lower down on the results, Herbert says tight budgets are compelling governments to consider new approaches, including software-as-a-service solutions, cloud computing, virtualization and social networking initiatives. There is also increasing interest in being more green, especially where cutting costs and resources can be achieved.