Diversity, as defined by Booz Allen Hamilton
- By Gary Arlen
- Feb 24, 2006
"We're so client-focused," it's best when "people can tell me where in the big picture [they] can contribute to the success of the contract." ?Lynn Livengood, Booz Allen Hamilton
"What do you do?" is just about the worst question to ask Lynn Livengood, especially if you meet her at a small-business fair where she scouts potential partners.
The question evokes in Livengood a profound frustration, because it reminds her that far too many companies do not do enough homework before seeking to partner with IT contractors.
Livengood, small-business liaison manager for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., said she gets asked that particular question all the time ? even though her company is No. 9 on Washington Technology's 2005 Top 100 list of the largest government IT contractors.
For companies that recognize the possibilities and pursue Booz Allen relationships, the opportunities are extensive. Livengood maintains a database of about 1,500 companies that are registered via Booz Allen's small-business Web site
. The site also gives background information about projects Booz Allen is pursuing: management sciences, telecommunications, IT strategy and architecture and financial management.Performance a plus
Although "small-business subcontractor" often is considered synonymous with diversity, Livengood said Booz Allen has a different interpretation of the term. Booz Allen does not select subcontractors based solely on socioeconomic category, she said, but seeks partners with diverse backgrounds and complementary service offerings.
"We [want] people who can perform, rather than someone who can just plug a hole," she said. "We're trying to move from a compliance program to a strategic-advantage way of doing things."
Chemistry is important. "We look at capabilities. What do you bring to the table?" she said.
Booz Allen also pays close attention to contracting requirements. It's targeting service-disabled and historically underutilized business-zone, or HUB-Zone, partners, taking Livengood to venues where she and her staff can identify appropriate companies. They've attended events run by the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Women's Business Enterprises National Council and the American Small Business Coalition.
The company also runs its own industry days to bring in small businesses to meet with its project managers. Using its database as a resource, it sends invitations to appropriate potential partners. The most recent event, developed with the Greater Washington Board of Trade, attracted about 30 small businesses to a half-day meeting this month.Know yourself
In addition to learning what Booz Allen does, Livengood recommends that potential partners maintain a strong sense of what they can do. When registering on the Booz Allen Web site, for example, companies should "be very specific ? drill down to the most specific key words" to explain skills and previous experience, she said.
The way to get noticed is to be thorough in listing capabilities, which also lets Booz Allen look for capabilities and knowledge of its clients, she said.
Expanding on her recommendation that small companies supply specific information when they register on the Booz Allen site, Livengood said there are several ways to do so:
- Identify target client agencies
- Spell out services that the subcontractor can offer those agencies
- Describe the value proposition in providing those services to the customer.
With these three points of information, she said, she can introduce the small businesses to Booz Allen leaders.
Livengood works closely with Booz Allen's project managers to match upcoming activities with potential partners. Serendipitous alignments happen.
For example, Booz Allen frequently works on large requests for proposals that are several years from implementation. If Livengood finds a small-business partner for such projects, she can direct that company toward more immediate contracts while the larger task takes shape. Through such alliances, Booz Allen can build long-term relationships, she said.
The nine protégé companies now working with Booz Allen further exemplify the company's emphasis. Washington-based Advanced Performance Consulting Group is working on e-government issues with a Defense Department focus, while enGenius Inc. of Atlanta is developing systems and network management projects, database administration and e-commerce solutions for the Defense Department and several civilian agencies.
"We like to use companies that we can call our go-to partners," Livengood said.
The nature of the procurement usually dictates the resources that the small-business partner must supply, Livengood said. In evaluating prospective partners, Booz Allen looks at Dun & Bradstreet reports, financial data and references from prior jobs.
Booz Allen is revamping its database to enable more detailed searches to help its project directors, who are dispersed across 250 offices on six continents. That scale makes it all the more exasperating when prospective partners ask Livengood, "What do you do?" She can tell them, but she prefers to hear companies describe their capabilities.
"We're so client-focused," she said, it's best when "people can tell me where in the big picture [they] can contribute to the success of the contract."
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md. He can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com