'We want them to approach us'
Once small itself, RSIS looks to help others
- By Gary Arlen
- Jul 07, 2006
At RSIS, David Gardner is eager to mentor small businesses that have a blend of values, performance and technology.
If RS Information Systems Inc.'s federal contracts were a remake of the movie "A Star Is Born," 1 Source Consulting Inc. would play the title role: the character who starts out in a supporting part but quickly is tapped to headline the show.
1 Source, an 8(a) company in Seabrook, Md., went from being a protégé in RSIS' mentor-protégé program to a joint venture partner on a $1 billion, seven-year Energy Department technology services contract.
"It shows that the mentor-protégé program ? blossomed into something groundbreaking," said David Gardner, senior vice president for business development at McLean, Va.-based RSIS. As the relationship between RSIS and 1 Source grew, the companies increasingly saw the value of pursuing projects together, Gardner said.Flexible roles
One of RSIS' strengths is its flexibility in doing projects either as a prime or a subcontractor, said Gardner and Cheryl Hill, RSIS director of governmentwide acquisition contracts and small-business programs.
As a former 8(a) company, RSIS is a subcontractor to Digital Solutions Inc. of Altoona, Pa., on a National Science Foundation project worth $20 million over five years to provide integrated infrastructure support. RSIS mentored DSI during the procurement, helping the company write its proposal, and supporting it during the one-month transition after the contract award.
In a more typical process, RSIS in June won a $111 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract, which included a significant subcontracting role for Webster Data Communication Inc. of Arlington, Va., Hill said. Webster is offering service delivery point and IT service solutions, systems and network engineering support, and help desk and call center support.
RSIS' other small-business alliances include one with Sumaria Systems Inc., a Danvers, Mass., company that has worked on LAN and WAN support for an Air Force contract at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. For the National Weather Service's Nexrad (Next Generation Radar) systems, RSIS tapped DBZ and Lee Corp., an Oklahoma City minority-owned company with radar maintenance expertise.
Such relationships emerged from RSIS' efforts to build a comprehensive small-business program, Hill said. Her office evaluates small-business technical offerings and competencies as it looks for partners to match with opportunities RSIS is pursuing.
"We want them to approach us," Gardner said. RSIS uses its Small Business Registry Web site to evaluate core capabilities and determine whether or not there is a cultural fit, he said.
The registry lets RSIS managers find potential partners based on factors such as size and status, technical capabilities and customer base. It gives RSIS searchable access to each company's information.Seeking synergy
Although required qualifications vary by project, RSIS looks for "an overall synergy in corporate values, business approach, technical offering, past performance and customer relationship management," Hill said.
Its roster of projects include software engineering and applications development; telecommunications, network engineering and management; and information assurance and security planning, evaluation and testing.
"We look for state-of-the art technology with excellent past performance and experience in the agencies we serve," Hill said.
In addition to the registry, Gardner and Hill do small-business searches on the Central Contractor Registration Web site (CCR.gov) and use other small-business databases as well as the small- and disadvantaged-business utilization offices at agencies with which it is seeking work.
The RSIS business development staff furnishes Hill with parameters for upcoming projects, and she uses those specifications on the registry to identify potential partners.
The small-business unit has been integrated into the business development group, giving RSIS a way to gauge small-business requirements whenever it prepares to work with an agency, Gardner said. This approach has helped RSIS identify small-business participation in its projects and find specific skills for a contract, he said.
Although RSIS returns to successful small-business partners for subsequent projects, "we evaluate our teaming and subcontracting requirements for each specific opportunity," Gardner said.
RSIS checks client references, which Hill said is important "for businesses with comparable skills." The company sometimes does face-to-face meetings to determine customer experience, competitive pricing, staffing capability and ability to contribute to marketing and proposal efforts. During this process, RSIS looks at specific IT capabilities or certifications, depending on the nature of the pending project.
"We try to get all team members involved very early," Gardner said. "Getting subcontractors involved early in the process allows us to conduct effective pre-RFP joint marketing, and it gives them needed experience."
After the contract is awarded, RSIS begins program management reviews to assess performance during the project.
"We try to get all of our team involved from Day 1, often a year in advance of the request for proposals," Gardner said.
Another way RSIS reaches small businesses is through workshops it holds at least once each quarter. The one- or two-day programs, "Business Development/Capture Management/Proposal Development," are designed to show small businesses how to work with the federal government and how to develop proposals, Gardner said.
"That's something we mastered, and we want to share it with the small-business community," he said.
More than 1,000 small-business executives have attended the courses, most of them held in the Washington area. The workshops are not listed on the RSIS Web site, but are promoted via word of mouth and by those who help to set up the programs. For example, the Commerce Department recently pulled in RSIS' team to run a workshop, and Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) set up a program attended by about 100 small-business owners and managers.
"We've had such success with the training classes that people come up to ask me when is the next one," Gardner said.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md. He can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com.