Mitel Expert Spotlight: Murray Van Dyke on Public Sector Procurement, School Safety, and Listening to Customers

4 min read

Sharushka Odayan | August 28, 2023

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when considering selling in the public sector? Perhaps you think of how your state government or local city buys the technology they need to keep things running.

Or, perhaps, how to make the schools and universities your children attend every day safer. Either way, navigating the State, Local Government, and Education (SLED) industry or public sector, as it's more widely known, can be a complex endeavor. It usually requires a unique combination of skills and understanding that can take years. 

At Mitel, we are fortunate to have a few industry subject matter experts. In our new Expert Spotlight Series, we sat down with each of them to dive deeper into their industry expertise and how they became trusted advisors.

Murray Van Dyke has more than 30 years in the public sector industry, with many of those years spent working at Mitel; he was recently honored with the Sourcewell Pioneer Award, showcasing his dedication to the industry. With his years of experience and deep knowledge, he shares his insights into keeping up with government and education agencies' changing demands. Having witnessed the evolution of government contracting over the years, he has a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities that arise in the field. 

Q: How did you get started with a career in SLED?

I was introduced to selling in the public sector early in my career, and its importance in being an addressable market impressed me early on. I managed a professional soundstage movie studio facility for the College of Santa Fe. Part of my responsibility was renting the facility to film companies and charging them for using the phone system on-site.

The turning point came during a management retreat when the college president mentioned that they could not charge students for long-distance calls due to the inability to put account codes into their switch. After many phone calls, I discovered that the phone switch was outdated and nearing its end of support. 

Determined to find a solution, I took matters into my own hands and advocated for a new phone switch. Like any potential customer, we met with several vendors; three were just trying to sell me a product. The fourth sat in my office and said, “Do you mind if we survey to find out how people use the phones and how the infrastructure was set up?” They were the only ones who came back with an appreciation of us as a customer; they ultimately offered me a position in sales to the public sector, where I have worked since.

Q: What changes do you see in the public sector, and where do you see it going?

I started with digital phones when there was a cost for long-distance calls. Throughout my career, I've seen toll bypass, IP phones, wireless technology, and most recently, the emergence of the cloud and cloud-based apps. What is interesting is that through all these changes, premise-based solutions remain relevant. For example, within education, some schools reconsidered their approach to technology adoption after realizing the ongoing costs involved with moving to multi-tenant hosted voice-over IP if it is not subsidized. They reevaluated the longevity and cost-effectiveness and returned to the previous premise UC system.

Q: What do you need to be successful when selling into the government and education space? 

The resistance I've seen from most people trying to sell or even consider selling into SLED or the public sector is that it has a very long sales cycle, which may make it difficult to secure business. But this challenge is why I've focused on contract vehicles my entire career. When I was asked, “What do you need to sell into the government and education space successfully?” I said contract vehicles because how people can buy from you is much more important than what they buy.

We've seen a fundamental change in terms of people adopting contract vehicles to be able to make their purchases. As revenues drop, everyone is usually asked to do more with less, which has become a turning point in adopting cooperative purchasing contracts. Many customers prioritize an easy purchasing process over everything else. Utilizing pre-competed contracts and cooperative purchase agreements satisfies their competitive bid requirements without the need for time-consuming RFPs. Going through this process with an open discussion about the customers' needs and how we can address them establishes a genuine, long-lasting partnership.

Q: What are people's most common misconceptions about the public sector industry or selling into it?

I think one of the common misconceptions about SLED, about the industry in general, is that it's all about cloud solutions. And from what I've seen, cloud solutions have their place. No question. But it's also been shiny object syndrome for a few people within the government and education industries. And I think education has learned its lesson in a large part.

Not to say that there aren't unique circumstances or situations where they may find a cloud solution to be appropriate, but what I've seen recently is that the premise solutions are critical to those education customers where safety and security are primary considerations, and for those government customers where continued access to communications is crucial.

Q: Is there something specific about premise solutions that are crucial to them?

It's beginning to be a more practical discussion around some of that, around the pros and cons, because both cases have pros and cons. But there's a real value to the premise solution that I think got overshadowed by this rush to the cloud. There is also a real value to cloud solutions, but they depend upon a connection to the cloud, and those connections are not always available. And then the question becomes, how mission-critical is that application? If it's mission-critical, do you have an acceptable, adequate fallback solution, and is it worth it?

Q: What projects have you worked on that stand out as one of your most significant accomplishments?

A large school district in Colorado was looking at using multicast to do mass notifications to all their phones. They didn't have overhead paging; they just had phones in the classrooms at about sixty-five different schools, and they needed to be able to use multicast to reach all those locations simultaneously if required. I was instrumental in driving the discussion.

This solution had been an ask for several years, and we were able to incorporate multicast into the phones with the Mitel Revolution mass notification solutions. Using multicast with Revolution enabled us to overcome switch limitations regarding the number of phones and endpoints that can be given in each page group.

Q: What part of the technology at Mitel sparked your interest?

In many ways, I think that the most essential part of what we do is to facilitate communication, and with communication comes understanding and the ability to address various issues that otherwise create friction. Let's get the friction out of the way. Let's solve the problem; let's provide a solution. That's what's exciting to me, not the technology in and of itself, but how it can serve a purpose.

The most important thing to me is the questions you get to figure out: How do we approach problem-solving during this? It's straightforward. You listen, ask questions, get to the root, and discover the root issue. If you understand the problem, then the solution is inherent. It's right there in front of you. Mitel also has a long history of innovating, and it's wonderful to be a part of that and see it continue. The technical expertise and resources available to us to meet various customer needs are incredible. Fifty years is a long time, and we continue to innovate.

Q: What is the most fulfilling thing about working here?

So, honestly, the most fulfilling thing about working here is the broad portfolio of solutions we have, to be able to meet and address individual solutions and serious problems. Earlier, I referred to the use of mass notification. I was involved in selling our first mass notification solution because of Virginia Tech. It was a real issue, and it hit home how important safety and security for all K-12 and college kids is. The Mitel Revolution solutions are nearest and dearest to my heart in many ways, just because they bring value in potentially saving lives.

Sharushka OdayanContent Strategist, Mitel

Sharushka Odayan brings to Mitel a decade of experience using technology dynamics and trends to shape vertical-specific content. She lives in Dallas and has spent the majority of her career in the telecom industry in areas including IoT, cybersecurity and mobility.

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