6 keys — and a caveat — to winning bigger contracts

Contractors lured to task-order contracts by the promise of a big payoff

In sports parlance, it’s known as going for the gold. The term also applies in government contracting, as more and more companies are seeking the gold to be found in the large federal indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract vehicles.

“Come July and August, the IDIQs light up like Christmas trees,” said Paul Strasser, senior vice president and general manager of Dynamics Research Corp.’s federal group. “There are task orders going out like crazy because, with the continuing resolutions, agencies are trying to spend the money they have allocated. The IDIQ has become by far the vehicle of choice. So you have to prepare.”

“The smarter smaller companies are looking at the vehicles earlier and seeing what resources it’s going to take to win,” said Mark Amtower, co-founder of the Government Market Master certificate program at the George Mason University School of Management and a Washington Technology contributor. “The large companies have two avenues. They can buy a company that owns the IDIQ or wait until the recompete and try to win it. However, there are no guarantees for the recompete.”

1. Consider M&A to open doors

Paul Bell, president of Dell Inc.’s Global Public and Large Enterprise sector, makes no bones that Dell is taking the mergers and acquisitions route.

He said Dell is still in the early stages of its M&A activity even though the giant hardware and services company has acquired nine companies in just 18 months.

“We think this has been a really good approach for Dell,” Bell said. “Our integration of our very biggest platform, Perot Systems, is going incredibly well compared to a lot of people’s experience in that [government provider] space.”

Dell’s marketing strategy is to serve its federal clients with the unified face of one company, Bell said. “That won’t change even if we add 25 more companies, which is likely in the coming years,” he said but declined to go into specifics about future M&A targets.

DRC’s capture strategy always includes IDIQ contracts. “If you’re not playing on certain IDIQ contracts, you’re really left out in the cold,” Strasser said.

Next: Focus on key markets

2. Focus on key markets

Strasser said DRC has been successful because it concentrates on its five core market segments: homeland security, health, cybersecurity, intelligence and Defense Department strategic programs, and financial and regulatory agencies.

Its IDIQ wins include the Internal Revenue Service’s Total Information Processing Support Services contract, General Services Administration’s Alliant contract, the Army’s Program Management Support Services and Homeland Security Department’s Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions (EAGLE) contracts.

Strasser said DRC identifies new targets at twice-yearly strategic planning sessions during which the company determines the government’s needs and its funding levels.

Company executives also attend independent analysis sessions and participate in a number of industry associations.

“We have people in key positions to not only be aware of changes in the industry, the legislation and how the money is being budgeted but also to sort of influence those [groups],” Strasser said.

DRC’s fastest-growing market is health care, an area in which the company had virtually no business just five years ago.

Next: Invest wisely in targeted sectors

3. Invest wisely in targeted sectors

Strategic investment discussions, off-site company assessments and peer reviews that began about five years ago led to action plans for DRC to target federal health care contracts.

“Today in the federal group that I manage, we’re going to do over $30 million this year in health-related services and solutions,” Strasser said.

As an example, he cited the $19 million Tricare Evaluation, Analysis, Management and Support, a Military Health System Category 2 acquisition contract that DRC won last year thanks to its management consulting expertise. DRC is helping the Walter Reed Army Medical Center manage its Base Realignment and Closure movement.

“We identified that [opportunity] three or four years ago,” Strasser said. “We said we’re committed to that market. We identified a vehicle we thought we had an opportunity to win. We put resources and investments against that to identify the capture of that vehicle. Once we won that vehicle we invested additional resources to pursue task order opportunities there.”

Although DRC does not have a chief medical officer, its staffing does include clinicians and doctors.

Next: Plan ahead

4. Plan ahead

About a year ago, American Systems Corp., which historically sought smaller contracting vehicles, introduced a plan to create a business development system and pursue some of the larger prime contacts, including IDIQs, President and CEO Bill Hoover said. “And the good news is we’ve actually followed through on that plan.”

Hoover said that after he joined the company in 2006, ASC instituted an infrastructure investment plan to strengthen its five key market targets: command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; acquisition and logistics; readiness; homeland security; and national intelligence.

“We also expanded our recruiting function significantly as well because we knew that was going to be important, too,” Hoover said.

“I would say that probably our back office, which really is the infrastructure side of the business, was probably about 60 or 70 people. And we’ve probably increased that by about 50 percent or so,” he said.

Another goal was to strengthen ASC’s capture management program and establish a project management office to oversee the company’s IDIQ contracts and meet the needed quick turnaround on task orders.

“Although the bulk of the investment was probably back in the 2006-2007 time frame, we continue to invest in our infrastructure to make sure that we can be as responsive as we can possibly be on these opportunities,” Hoover said.

Next: Hire the right people

5. Hire the right people

In addition, ASC is aggressively expanding its pipeline of individuals “so that we have a living and breathing database of candidates for a variety of opportunities in the focused business opportunity areas that we’re interested in pursuing,” he said.

ASC uses that database to strengthen its proposals whether it is pursuing an IDIQ or a large single-award prime contract. To keep the database current and growing, executives attend job fairs and conduct informational seminars.

“We have that database of [potential contract and current] employees that we can very quickly pull together because, on the IDIQ side, you have a very rapid turnaround of proposals, and we can then provide the résumés to go after those faster-turnaround opportunities,” Hoover said.

“We’re constantly looking for individuals with the requisite experience, the requisite customer focus, the requisite capabilities,” he said, adding that this is particularly true when going after an IDIQ or task order from the intelligence community in which background checks and security clearances are critical.

“The name of the game has changed with the government predominantly using some of the larger vehicles,” said Shiv Krishnan, chairman and CEO of Indus Corp., who recently hired Terry Fitzpatrick as vice president to oversee business development and growth.

Next: Build your infrastructure

6. Build your infrastructure

Indus emerged from the small-business program about 10 years ago and positioned itself to go after large contracts, including governmentwide acquisition contracts, known as GWACs, he said.

“If you do not bid on these GWACs, then you’re shut out of opportunities coming through those [awards] and those [represent] billions of dollars of opportunities for the next seven or 10 years,” Krishnan said.

Indus set up the infrastructure to compete for GWACs by meeting government requirements, such as having an earned value management system, a government-approved purchasing system, Capability Maturity Model Integration certification, and positive past-performance evaluations.

“You need to be positioned; you need to be close to the customer,” he said. That’s what Fitzpatrick’s business development team does two to three years in advance, Krishnan added.

Indus was successful in 2009 when it bid for a spot on the 10-year, $50 billion Alliant contract. “That was a feather in our cap and the beginning of our [capture] strategy,” Krishnan said.

For several years Indus tracked the planned EAGLE II, Network Centric Solutions II and National Institutes of Health’s 10-year, $20 billion Chief Information Officer — Solutions and Partners 3 awards. When they finally were announced in 2010, the company was ready to bid on all three, Krishnan said. The company also is adding health IT capabilities.

GWACs and agency-specific enterprisewide acquisition contracts have been popular, he said, because the government does the upfront work of selecting qualified contractors, and the competition to perform the task orders is limited only to those companies.

Next: A word of caution

A word of caution

However, Kevin Plexico, vice president of research and analysis services at Deltek Input., a market research and intelligence firm, cautions against relying too heavily on GWACs, including Alliant and NASA's Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement.

“We haven’t seen them trend up in five years,” he told a gathering of contracting executives last month. “They’ve been relatively flat while those agency-specific task order-based contracts have been taking off.”

“What we’re seeing is larger agencies are establishing their own task-order based contracts,” he said. “We see that all the military branches have moved this way.”

That trend is expected to continue, effectively reducing the number of prime contract opportunities, Plexico said.

For example, he said, about half of DHS’ IT services go through the EAGLE contract.

“If you don’t have a position on EAGLE, you can effectively think about your opportunity inside DHS as being limited to the other 50 percent that’s outside the EAGLE contract,” Plexico said.

In addition, the growth of task orders has greatly reduced the time frame in which to pursue them compared to the traditional 30-, 60- or 90-day response time for traditional requests for proposals.

Plexico said a Deltek Input study of about 11,000 task orders from 18 contract vehicles found that more than half of them required contractors to respond in less than two weeks.

“So this will challenge even the most agile of contracting and bid proposal organizations to respond,” he said. “This is fundamentally changing how companies are organizing their proposal organizations.”

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