SRA finds way to watch small biz by the bunch
- By Gary Arlen
- Jan 26, 2006
Michael Fox (left) and Bob Potter together work on bringing small businesses into SRA International's fold.
About 100 small-business subcontractors are working with SRA International Inc. on the large task order contract it holds with the National Institutes of Health called the Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners Innovations contract (CIO-SP2i).
Managing a team that extensive is part of SRA's culture, according to Michael Fox, senior vice president of marketing and sales.
"When we team with small businesses, we strive to give the partners end-item responsibility," he said.
Part of that approach stems from SRA's own start in the late 1970s as a two-person company.
In the CIO-SP2i deal, SRA set a goal to subcontract about 20 percent of the money to small businesses. So far, about 40 percent has gone to such partners.
Many of these subcontractors have expertise in fields such as enterprise resource planning, network management and enterprise architecture, Fox said.
"They have lower overhead and tend to be more competitive," Fox said.
When SRA finds a company with skills to complement its resources, he said, all kinds of other deals are possible ? it's how SRA found the three companies it acquired in 2005.
All hands on deck
SRA has more than 500 small-business partners. To keep track of its extensive relationships with small businesses and with other hardware and software suppliers, SRA maintains a vendor information compendium, which it uses within the company to share vendor capabilities.
Bob Potter, SRA's small-business liaison officer for about three years, also maintains a database of subcontractors, accessible by project managers who seek specific skills.
Potter is blending the vendor information compendium and small-business databases to create one source for SRA managers to find small-business partners, he said.
Companies that want to team with SRA should "start by studying the assignment of tasks," Fox said. "Pick your primes very carefully," he said, to be sure you find the right fit.
SRA, No. 31 on Washington Technology's 2005 list of large federal contractors, has about $881.8 million in annual revenue, split about equally between defense and civilian projects.
To recruit small businesses, SRA annually hosts two outreach meetings at its headquarters in Fairfax, Va. Potter, Fox and their teams visit small-business events such as those run by the Greater Washington Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Economic Bridge. SRA staff members also attend federal government-sponsored small-business conferences and fairs.
"We plan to increase our small-business outreach efforts to meet our ongoing need for partners," Potter said.
Prospective partners can register at the SRA.com Web site, where they are steered to the small-business section (smallbusi
ness.sra.com). Companies can enter products and services they bring to projects, although SRA encourages them to be as specific as possible.
"We use small businesses to augment our capabilities and to provide niche services," such as the emerging categories of network integration and Microsoft's .Net, Potter said.
SRA frequently comes back to small companies that it has used on previous contracts, Potter said, especially if they demonstrate a commitment to provide excellent service and quality work.
"As we continue to grow, our need to engage qualified, capable small businesses becomes increasingly important," he said. Small businesses "are constantly developing new and innovative solutions."
SRA is looking for such partners, he said, especially those that "lack the resources necessary to effectively present their solutions to government clients." Potter said that he and his colleagues want to find partners that can offer clients "the latest technology to meet their needs."
The business-capturing process that SRA has developed encourages early identification and qualification of opportunities. As Potter and Fox described it, the process moves systematically through seven steps from the qualification phase to post-proposal development.
"Ideally, this process leads to the development of creative, innovative technical, management and business solutions weeks or months in advance of a procurement," Potter said. "During this solution development phase, SRA seeks out small-business partners with specific domain or technical expertise to fill meaningful roles in the delivery of our solution."
How to score
When determining which small businesses should be part of a team, Potter said, SRA considers many factors. These include previous experience as an SRA subcontractor, relevant technical capabilities that meet the government's requirements, past performance, client knowledge or experience, and the potential subcontractor's labor rates.
To evaluate small-business partners, Potter and his team use a variety of tools, including Dun & Bradstreet reports, past performance evaluations for SRA employees and clients and, occasionally, site visits to subcontractors' venues.
SRA works with small-business partners to understand their financial needs and cost constraints. Because the alliances are built in the pre-request for proposal phase, SRA officials said pricing reflects "virtually every aspect of solutions development and delivery."
"In many cases, small-business partners present a pricing advantage in their ability to deliver key services and solutions at a lower overall cost, and can thus play a big role in providing a best-value solution to the client," Potter said.
SRA recently expanded its mentor-protégé agenda, adding Fairfax, Va.-based Command Decision Systems Solutions Inc. (CDS2) to its Homeland Security project for training Coast Guard personnel. Under this three-year agreement, SRA will perform developmental assistance and mentoring to CDS2, a woman-owned company, in areas such as marketing and business development, technical training and professional development, contract administration and human resources.
Other projects take advantage of SRA's task order contracts. These contracts let small businesses join a project in process, especially if they bring special skills to an evolving contract. The big Health and Human Services' CIO-SP2i is one such contract, which suggests there will be room for more small subcontractors on that procurement.
Gary Arlen of Arlen Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md., can be reached at GaryArlen@ columnist.com.