Making the team: GTSI moves broaden its focus with small-business alliances

GTSI Corp.

Top 100 rank: 19

Projects

IT wireless security, videoconferencing, telecommunications, physical security, satellite communications systems

For information

Steve Pace, manager of small-business alliances in GTSI's Integrator Solutions Group

Steve.pace@gtsi.com

703-502-2800

Special requirements

GSA schedule holder ? security clearances are a definite plus

When do subcontractors become involved? As early as possible, sometimes before the contract solicitation

Outlook

Homeland security, communications

Special attention

GTSI's Emerging Growth Technology practice seeks small-business innovation

"Everyone should have one project that can say, 'This is what we've done well.' " ? Steve Pace, manager of GTSI's small-business alliances program

Zaid Hamid

Like an old-fashioned shopkeeper who has outgrown its original storefront, GTSI Corp. clings to its roots as a hardware vendor.

From its Web site, which touts its 250,000 IT products from more than 1,300 manufacturers, to promotions emphasizing value-added network solutions, the 22-year-old company often positions itself primarily as a hardware vendor with a value-added workroom out back.

But GTSI's backroom, which now includes an Integrator Solutions Group and an Emerging Growth Technology practice, also is where small-business partnerships are nourished.

GTSI's evolution to something more than a hardware supplier is manifested in several ways. The company maintains a secure, 16,000-square-foot production and assembly facility in Chantilly, Va. A small business recently used the ISO 9002-certified facility to assemble ruggedized mobile devices as part of a classified global satellite system. GTSI sourced some of the components for its small-business customer, which had been subcontracted for the work by another large IT contractor.

Such is GTSI's unusual and flexible role. Its Integrator Solutions Group and related operations have helped the company hold a strong position at No. 19 on Washington Technology's 2005 Top 100 list of federal prime contractors. About 20 percent of GTSI's work goes through ISG and its Small Business Alliances group, which was established in January.

"We always want to nurture small businesses," said Steve Pace, manager of GTSI's small business alliances program. "There will always be small businesses with niches that some of our partners don't have.

"We're different from a systems integrator, because we don't compete with the high-end services that the big guys offer," Pace said.

Small companies can work with GTSI on a team to offer niche services to the largest contractors, such as that mobile-device assembly project.

Three recent projects typify this kind of teaming. GTSI partnered with Blue Tech Inc. to supply ruggedized Panasonic laptops for military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Diego company participates in the 8(a), woman-owned and HUBZone small-business programs.

For an Army contract, GTSI allied with All Points Logistics Inc. of Gainesville, Ga., to furnish Panasonic systems to a large integrator. All Points is in the 8(a), Native American and Service Disabled Veteran owned small-business programs.

For Eyak Technology LLC of Anchorage, Alaska, an 8(a) and Alaskan native corporation, GTSI supported its work for a large defense contractor's installation of a satellite communications system.

GTSI has more than 50 contracts with small businesses, Pace said. Some of the relationships were initiated at trade shows, where GTSI solicits new connections.

The company also is a member of the American Small Business Coalition (www.theASBC.org). GTSI often receives referrals from agencies, which buy directly from it, and from other integrators.

"We talk to the small-business advocates within the big integrators," Pace said. "Once we've made the initial introduction, we set up one-on-one meetings."

The meetings give both sides "a pretty good feel on how to work together," he said.

In seeking small-business partnerships, GTSI scrutinizes several factors. Having a General Services Administration schedule demonstrates a company's commitment to the federal marketplace. Security clearances are a definite plus. GTSI also likes to see a list of agencies with which a potential partner is doing business, plus other key customer relationships.

"Everyone in the government process these days [relies] on past performance," Pace said. "I'd like to see a success story. Everyone should have one project that can say, 'This is what we've done well.' "

Prospective teaming allies can monitor the GTSI Web site for current and upcoming ventures. Pace said that small companies also may e-mail him directly (Steve.Pace@gtsi.com) with information about core competencies and how these skills "will bring value to our team."

GTSI requires potential partners to have a Central Contractor Registration. Pace and his team also conduct one-on-one meetings with prospective small-business partners as part of the due diligence process, often making onsite visits.

When alliances are formed, GTSI tries to involve small companies in the contracting process as early as possible, "even before the solicitation," Pace said. For companies that do not have financial resources to go after a contract, GTSI has established relationships, developed case by case, to build such partnerships.

In addition to Pace and his unit within GTSI's Integrator Solutions Group, the company is expanding its five-year-old Emerging Growth Technology Practice, which has been the entry point for many of GTSI's small-business partners. The technology practice screens about 600 companies per year, examining the technologies they want to bring to federal, state and local governments.

More than half of these companies are small businesses with fewer than 300 employees. Among the technology practice's recent relationships are:

* Verdiem Corp. of Seattle, a company that develops power management software for PCs

* Germane Systems LC of Chantilly, Va., which makes high-end network computer servers

* Viack Corp. of Scottsdale, Ariz., which provides secure online collaboration solutions.

With its integrator solutions group, its emerging technology and its fundamental hardware and value-added reseller roles, GTSI itself demonstrates how a small vendor can mature. Its own migration has been from a single hardware store to a diversified chain with countless relationships among big and small businesses.

Gary Arlen of Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md., can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com.

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