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Will Amazon’s IC Marketplace Disrupt IT Acquisition?

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Launched in April and first reported by Nextgov last year, Amazon Web Services’ Marketplace for the U.S. intelligence community aims to change the status quo for how the 17 intelligence agencies buy technology.

The IC Marketplace is essentially a classified version of AWS’ public marketplace that allows customers to peruse  – and try before they buy or deploy – nearly 3,000 software offerings created by 925 independent software vendors.

While the IC Marketplace is just getting off the ground, an assortment of tech vendors, including providers of big data, analytics, security services, DevOps and other software providers, have already gone through rigorous security vetting necessary to get their products behind the IC’s firewall and onto AWS’ C2S cloud built specifically for intelligence agencies.

The reason? While the government’s antiquated tech acquisition processes aren’t going away any time soon, the value proposition is too high to pass up for some companies.

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“The world has changed and the way the world uses tech products now is completely different,” said Gary Orenstein, chief marketing officer for MemSQL, a software provider that provides in-memory computing solutions to companies like Comcast.

The consumer world, Orenstein said, has changed how companies sell technology. Users need only open their cellphones and visit a variety of app stores to notice the monumental changes that have occurred in the last few years. In the IC Marketplace, Orenstein said he sees a government trying to catch up to what the consumer world is already doing.

“The way the development community has evolved in tech, it has become an expectation that I, as a user, can try and download whatever I think might be appropriate,” Orenstein said. “We’re giving the IC that capability at their fingertips. I think this is a step – a very big step – toward streamlining procurement, and giving government access to the latest and greatest.”

In addition to an additional business channel, the IC Marketplace also evens the playing field for startups competing for government business, said Aaron Gussman, senior technologist for Arlington-based software services company HumanGeo.

Whether a solution comes from an established vendor or a tiny niche startup company makes little difference on the IC Marketplace, Gussman said. If they survive the paperwork and vetting process Gussman said took about six months – with less “bureaucratic overhead” than they’re used to when dealing with government – they’re judged once in the IC Marketplace based on their performance alone.

“For us and other smaller-level companies, the IT Marketplace levels the field a little; it doesn’t matter if we’re competing against a super well-funded startup,” Gussman said. “Our traditional efforts that make up a majority of our revenue, we don’t project to change. But we’re looking at the IC Marketplace as another avenue to expand and grow our business.”

It’s both a new marketplace for traditional IC customers, like the CIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and software providers, who haven’t always had reliable ways to enter and navigate the antiquated acquisition seas of the defense and national security space despite the billions of dollars of business up for grabs every year.

With its classified Marketplace, AWS is offering an alternative to large-scale software acquisitions that have cost taxpayers $10 billion over the last 10 years.

It’s a big bet, but then again, so was cloud computing just a decade ago.

“We’re bringing agility to the IC so they can take advantage of innovation in real time,” Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services’ worldwide public sector, said Monday at the AWS Public Sector Summit. “We know our IC customer has always been an innovator, but we really think the IC is disrupting the acquisition model for intelligence agencies to disrupt IT.”

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