Making the Team | Constantly seeking partners

Verizon Federal uses events, Web traffic to gather subs

Making the team

Verizon Business Federal (A unit of Verizon Communications Inc.)

How many small-business partners do you use?

About 600 companies: half from legacy Verizon Business, half from MCI WorldCom after the merger earlier this year.

» Key personnel:

Gail Freeman-Parker, director of federal contracts Susan Zeleniak, vice president of civilian networks

» More information:

Contact Denis Stasulis at denis.stasulis@verizonbusiness.com.

www.verizon.com/supplierdiversity

» Outlook:

Upcoming projects focus on network system design, power design, server management, database management, inventory and asset management as well as other services. Some projects require expertise in installation and maintenance of Cisco routers and other products.

» Projects:

Homeland Security Department's data support center Army National Guard's voice over IP public branch exchange National Institutes of Health's staff augmentation

» Special requirements:

Many projects need technical personnel with secret and higher clearances.

» When do subcontractors become involved?

Partners are selected early in the proposal process.

Susan Zeleniak (left) and Gail Freeman-Parker of Verizon Business Federal are on the hunt for partners as the company prepares for a bevy of upcoming contracts.

Rick Steele

During the month of October, Verizon Communications Inc. will participate in eight supplier diversity events from Sacramento, Calif., to Tulsa, Okla., to Philadelphia. That twice-weekly meeting crunch encompasses a search for partners for the telecommunications giant's entire operations.

The newly reshaped Verizon Business Federal unit has embraced the program as a tool to recruit small-business alliances for its projects.

"I have attended some events, but it's more about the team," said Gail Freeman-Parker, director of federal contracts for Verizon Business Federal. The company's "subcontract management team" is "the filter when small businesses are brought to us," she said.

The subcontract management team handles the prequalification steps as part of Verizon's due diligence process.

Partner recruitment is critical as Verizon prepares for contracts such as the $20 billion Networx communications procurement, said Susan Zeleniak, vice president of civilian networks at Verizon Business Federal.

"We ran two business fairs on the East and West coasts [Virginia and California], with a total of 250 small businesses attending," Zeleniak said. From that group, Verizon selected about 25 companies to participate in the Networx contract.

Welcome through Web

Most of the partner processing starts at Verizon's Web site, which generates a database of subcontractors. Prospective partners should be as specific as possible when they fill out the online registration form, Freeman-Parker said.

"We conduct due diligence on all companies, including small businesses," she said. "We require some personnel to have a security clearance. Some bids require a technician within a certain distance from a site for emergency maintenance."
In addition, General Services Administration schedule, minority preferences and other information are important in the review process, she said.

Within its roster of potential allies, Verizon maintains some tier-one partners with which it has exclusive relationships, Zeleniak said. However, most small businesses do and should team with as many prime contractors as they can, if "that's the strategy they need to follow," she said.

Freeman-Parker declined to name Verizon's exclusive subcontractors.

Verizon usually requires a small company to be certified in at least one of six categories: small business, HUBZone small business, small disadvantaged business, women-owned business, veteran-owned business or service-disabled veteran-owned business.

"At a minimum, each firm is evaluated on its ability to perform on federal contracts and on its financial viability," Freeman-Parker said. Beyond that, the company should indicate how long it has been in business, its annual revenue, past performance, number of employees, products and services, and government experience. All due diligence findings are shared internally.

Starting early and often

Small businesses often participate during the initial stages of some Verizon projects, Freeman-Parker said, "to help develop strategies and formulate proposal responses."

The companies frequently join the site survey process and bidders' conferences. In such cases, Verizon issues a request for proposals or a request for quotes based on predetermined criteria and a detailed statement of work.

Prospective partners should build relationships with Verizon sales or engineering teams, so they understand that the partner has the ability to support the team, Freeman-Parker said. They also should develop direct relationships with Verizon Business Federal customers ? that is, government agencies, which opens another avenue for connections, she said.

When Verizon identifies a needed skill, it goes to its database of registered companies and solicits input from appropriate suppliers. Often, it is looking for competitive offerings.

"Just registering with the database is not going to gain you a lot of new business," Zeleniak said. Her advice is to keep selling to the Verizon unit.

Freeman-Parker also said that the company's federal contracts unit constantly deals with other Verizon groups. Prospective partners also should take advantage of the database's availability to other divisions in the company.

"Go through every door you can," she said. "We assess our needs on a contract-by-contract basis, and we seek companies based on projected requirements. We look for small businesses with the skill sets needed to meet the requirements of the specific project. We issue solicitations to three or more qualified potential vendors. We grant awards to vendors that respond with the technically acceptable offers that reflect the best value."

Verizon looks at the track record of potential partners, including "strong work and financial stability," Freeman-Parker said. In some cases, vendors must demonstrate that they are bondable.

Verizon's contract managers review Dun & Bradstreet reports and contact current and former customers for past-performance references as part of the due diligence process.

For both its civilian and security projects, Verizon uses subcontractors in program management, inventory and asset management, software development and other tasks, all of which are listed on its supplier diversity Web site.

Verizon Business Federal itself is a relatively new venture, formed early this year after Verizon Communications acquired MCI Inc., both of which had sizeable federal contracting businesses. The combined company ranks No. 14 on Washington Technology's Top 100, with nearly $1 billion in prime contracting revenue.

Many of the group's small-business relationships stem from ones that were in place before the merger, including projects such as the Washington Interagency Telecommunications System and FTS2001.

Verizon looks for companies that can bring advanced, emerging technologies at "fair and reasonable costs," Freeman-Parker said. "If a vendor's performance is acceptable and its prices remain competitive, the vendor will remain on Verizon Business' list of eligible vendors."

"We're always looking for companies with new and innovative ideas," Zeleniak said. She cited Viack Corp., a provider of video collaboration systems, as an example of such a company.

"Viack came to us," Zeleniak said. "Now we're going out to do joint calls. Their collaboration capability is what we find the most valuable."

Verizon is "not stuck on a 'not invented here' mantra," she said.

"The innovation of small business helps us be quicker to market," she said. In the future, she added, small business alliances will become even more important

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

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