WT Business Beat

Battleship tour offers lessons in communications

I’m back from spring break with my family, and a highlight for me was a visit to the USS North Carolina, a World War II battleship that is a floating museum in Wilmington, N.C.

I remember visiting with my parents when I was a boy, so taking my own sons was a chance to relive a bit of my childhood. You pretty much have the run of the ship. There are arrows to follow if you want to hit everything, but otherwise, you are on your own.

We climbed into turrets for both of the 16-inch guns as well as the five-inch gun. We went down into the bowels of the ship where the 16-inch shells and gunpowder is stored. We climbed through the engine room, the galley and the sick bay. The galley looked like it wouldn't take much to fire up the stoves and grills and start cooking.

Two things became clear to me. First, this ship was built to live up to the designation of a battleship – nine 16-inch guns, 20 5-inch guns, and 16 anti-aircraft guns. Another 46 single 20mm machine guns bristle from the teak decks.

That’s a lot of firepower.

The second thing, though, was just how important information was to the ship. There were radio rooms, fire control rooms, cryptography rooms, internal communications rooms, radar rooms, and a damage control room. There also was the system for sending commands from the bridge to the engine to control the speed and direction of the ship.

The damage control room had a large wall map of the ship where they would pinpoint problems such as fires, floods, broken pipes or backed up toilets. There also were panels of what I’ll call electro-mechanical controls which monitored the fire-suppression devices on the ship.

The fire control room was where the targets were tracked and trajectories of shells were calculated. The information would then be used to adjust the height and orientation of the guns.

Communications internally and with other ships took scores of people working in cramped quarters.

Touring the ship was an objective lesson on the critical link between communication and firepower.

The visit brought home to me how the challenges and needs of warfighters in World War II aren’t really different than what the needs are today. The guns are blind without the right information being delivered at the right time.

My oldest is 5 and was of course thrilled to be climbing on the guns and going up and down the passageways. But that night, he wanted me to explain cryptography to him.

So, we made a simple code by shifting the alphabet one letter and writing a message for Mom. He was proud that she couldn’t figure it out until we gave her some hints.

Maybe we have a future NSAer in the family. But the message was, “Mom, buy me chocolate.” So maybe not.

Posted on Apr 21, 2014 at 7:59 AM0 comments

Can you name the five critical factors for contract awards?

When we started to explore the critical factors in choosing a contractor as part of our latest Government IT Contracting Partnership study, we started with the assumption that five factors are most important:

  • Technical expertise
  • Teamwork
  • Customer knowledge
  • Industry perception
  • Process

The results of our survey of government executives confirmed our assumptions, with technical expertise being cited as valuable or highly valuable by 93 percent of the respondents. Teamwork was a close second with an 88 percent score.

Customer knowledge and industry perception also scored over 80 percent, with an 82 percent score for customer knowledge and 81 percent for industry perception.

Only process, which we defined as attributes such as invoicing, established process for decision making, human resources, ease of establishing contact and pricing, scored lower. Respondents put process in the valuable to highly valuable range only 63 percent of the time.

However, 28 percent describe process as somewhat valuable, and only 8 percent said that it was not valuable or not very valuable. So, it is still important, but perhaps not an overriding factor.

But we also knew that those five factors don’t encompass the whole of why government customers pick contractors, so we asked a couple open ended questions exploring this concept.

The responses to these questions gave us some great insights into what government executives value.

We asked the question: When price and technical evaluations are equal, what other factors, if any, do you consider when making a contract award?

Topping the list, by far, was experience, with 41 percent of the respondents citing it in their written comments.

Many of the verbatim comments used the words experience, past history, past experience, and other words to that effect.

“Past experience in what we are looking for and recommendations,” wrote one.

“Past performance listening to customer requirements,” wrote another.

Tied closely to experience and track record is reputation, ethics and integrity, which was mentioned by 16 percent.

From the written comments, it is obvious that government executives are asking for transparency and integrity from their contractors. They also want support, teamwork and value.

We also asked about critical attributes for proposals, and clarity -- at 33 percent -- and addressing the request for proposals with complete and appropriate detail -- at 28 percent -- were by far the most common responses.

Many people simply wrote in the word "clarity." Others mentioned how important is that the proposal respond to the RFP and be clear and precise.

The responses to this question pointed out to me how critical communication with the customer is. And you need to think of the proposal as the most important piece of communication you can carry out with your customer.

And that’s a great transition to a third, open-ended question we asked: What is the single most important thing a contactor could do to partner more effectively?

The most frequent response dealt with communication and transparency, which was cited 29 percent of the time.

Honesty and integrity were cited 17 percent of the time, followed by comments related to doing what you say you are going to do, which netted 15 percent of responses.

It may seem to be very basic advice – communicate clearly, be honest and do what you say you are going to do – but it is obvious that customers hold those things dear, and contractors need to focus on satisfying those needs.

The overarching need that this report throws a bright light on is that paying attention to the basics of good business, sound customer service and being honest and transparent are what carry the day with many customers.

It is excelling at those basics that can help one company stand out from another.

My hope is that this report will be a critical tool in discovering your strengths and weaknesses and uncovering the value that your customers are seeking.

Next week, I’ll be exploring more of the report, so stay tuned and let me know if there are insights you find particularly important, and I’ll be happy to look deeper into them.

If you haven't yet, I encourage you to look at the report, and let us know what you think.

Posted on Apr 17, 2014 at 8:18 AM3 comments

WT Insider report pits the best versus the rest

In my previous blogs analyzing our latest WT Insider report on Government IT Contractor Partnering, I’ve looked at some of the overall rankings of contractors given by their customers.

The conclusion is that the relationship is in OK shape, but there is definitely room for improvement.

And nothing shines a light on the need and areas for improvement like when we look at the scores government customers gave when asked to rank their single best contractor.

First, I want to revisit the stunning results of our question: Is there a single best contractor who stands out overall?

Nearly half – 49 percent – said that that they could not name a single best contractor. That’s alarming. To half of your customers, government contractors are just a vast group of average Joes. For these customers, no one stands out.

We used this question to kick off an exploration of the attributes of the single best contractor and compare that to the overall group.

The "between the best and the rest," as we call it in the report, is telling and is similar to what we found in our earlier reports that look the strengths and weaknesses of primes and subcontractors.

The gap points the way to where companies can make efforts to improve their positioning against their customers and be noticed by their customers.

We asked participants in the study to rank their single best contractor on five attributes -- technical expertise, teamwork, customer knowledge, industry perception and process -- on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent.

Not surprisingly, no one scored their best contractor as poor. The mean score ranged from 4.6 for technical expertise to 4.3 for each in customer knowledge, industry perception and process. Teamwork had a mean score of 4.4.

All of those scores are strongly in the very good to excellent range.

We also asked the respondents to score those five attributes from not at all valuable (1) to highly valuable (5) when choosing a contractor.

For technical expertise, 93 percent said it was either valuable (69 percent) or valuable (24 percent).

Teamwork scored an 88 percent, with 45 percent saying it was highly valuable and 43 percent pegging it at valuable.

Customer knowledge was next at 82 percent, with 31 percent saying it was highly valuable and 51 percent saying valuable.

Industry perception was nearly identical with 81 percent, with 31 percent picking highly valuable and 50 percent saying valuable.

The scoring for process was a bit of an outlier, with 19 percent saying it was highly valuable and 44 percent saying valuable. Another 28 percent said it was somewhat valuable.

What gets really interesting is when we take the scores for the single best contractor and compare it to the scores for the collective group.

I’ve pulled this graphic from the report. It shows the gap between best and the overall group is significant in each attribute.

But it also shows that except for technical expertise, the best contractor is outperforming the value the customers expect for each of those attributes.

That’s a huge lesson to me.

If you can outperform your customer’s expectation, you have a high likelihood of standing out in a very crowded field.

You’ll beat your competitors, and you’ll please your customers. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from this report.

Next, I’ll dive into other critical factors government customers said they look at when picking a contractor. We’ve got a wealth of verbatim comments from our study participants to draw from, too.

Posted on Apr 16, 2014 at 9:56 AM1 comments

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