COVID-19 dealt only a glancing blow to federal IT, but market dynamics are still shifting

COVID-19 will accelerate a range of secular trends in federal IT

Despite the inevitable short-term impact of COVID-19 on federal technology outlays, IT infrastructure modernization will eventually return to the top of the list of federal IT spending priorities, as will investments in cybersecurity, analytics, AI, big data, cloud and machine learning. The epidemic will disrupt contract delivery, create resource deployment challenges at federal IT vendors and their agency clients, and may cause nonhealth-related discretionary spending to be redirected to healthcare areas, benefiting vendors such as Leidos, Accenture Federal Services, Maximus and ManTech (Nasdaq: MANT).

As federal agencies transition large portions of their workforces to remote environments IT infrastructure improvements and migrations to cloud and everything “as a Service” will follow, along with projects to improve private networks and broadband connections and engagements to enhance security requirements as the “threat surface” exposed to new security breaches expands. Federal IT decision makers are increasingly seeking methods of combating COVID-19 that have been proved in the commercial sector.

Federal spending levels are expected to increase on preparedness and response activities and other disaster recovery or mitigation work in the fiscal 2021 budget, with a growing volume of IT modernization opportunities around disease surveillance improvement, including the implementation of new IT systems and advanced analytics. Still, the overall landscape for products and services to counter biothreats remains unclear and federal IT vendors will be tapped to provide the vision and road map for the adoption of biothreat surveillance solutions. Spending on electronic warfare, countering drones and unmanned systems and other areas of the National Defense Strategy will remain strong for the next two years and in fact may expand to include bio-monitoring and bio-surveillance technologies.

Most of the results from the 1Q20 earnings season are in, and federal technology contractors have provided initial reactions to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their fiscal performance and their outlook for federal fiscal 2020 and beyond. By and large, the fiscal effects of COVID-19 were limited to the final few weeks of the quarter, according to a plurality of federal IT vendors, minimizing the top- and bottom-line impacts for most federal technology contractors. Negative impacts were most concentrated in the global aerospace sector, and as such, companies with a footprint in commercial or government aeronautics encountered severe growth and margin headwinds. However, all federal contractors had to scramble to acclimate resource management, operations, service delivery, business development and supply chain management strategies to the new COVID-19 environment.

COVID-19 earnings impact review: Early warnings

Early earnings indicators reveal ICT vendor ‘new normal’

The reality of COVID-19’s impact potential is clear. You do not have to be an analyst by trade to understand the pandemic will create new normals in our personal and professional lives, disrupting entire business sectors, including ICT, in the process. What remains unclear in many respects, however, is the quantification of that impact.

As of the publication of this report, approximately half of the vendors that TBR authors dedicated quarterly or semiannual reports on have released their 1Q20 earnings results. While earnings announcements and presentations are still rife with uncertainty, these releases, plus TBR’s ongoing vendor-centric financial modeling, provide some indicators of how to quantify the impacts yet to come.

Beginning with this report and continuing through this quarter’s earnings and benchmarking cycle, we will be aggregating some of our financial modeling data across our upcoming reports to assess the current state impact of COVID-19 on vendor performance and to predict next quarter and full-year outcomes.

TBR’s advice to vendors: Get predictive about benchmarking

These early results suggest the industry will be split on how to best set business performance expectations in the current environment but will increasingly err on the side of caution in terms of predicting the future. Stalwarts yet to release, such as Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (NYSE: HPE), have already announced that they, too, will suspend financial guidance. Now more than ever, understanding the trajectory of the ICT vendor peer ecosystem and aligning on industry best practices to navigate the effects of COVID-19 is critical for ICT players. Building, maintaining and updating line-of-business financial models on competitors enables vendors to better benchmark performance, predict quarterly and annual outcomes, and deploy tactics to optimize performance. Vendors should look at the context of peers’ earnings announcements for clues — while many are “going dark” in terms of providing revenue guidance, rich discussions are occurring in earnings calls regarding resource utilization, portfolio management, sales and go-to-market alignment that can be tapped for vendor insight to infuse into practices

In addition to this report, we are writing and reporting in depth on the COVID-19 impact in a dedicated special report series, webinars and our regular published analysis as vendors release earnings. Our published content is regularly updated on TBR’s website and can also be accessed through our client portals.