L-3's small-business partners roll with the changes
Making the team | how to land the right partners
- By Gary Arlen
- Jan 15, 2007
L-3 equips some Blackhawk helicopters with its A2C2S command system.
When a contractor changes its name three times in 18 months, something big is probably afoot. At L-3 Communications Corp., the $12 billion company that has been acquiring and reorganizing its government contracting units, the changes add to the challenges as well as the opportunities for prospective small-business partners.
"L-3 is in tremendous transition," said Holly Thomas, the small-business liaison manager who in December transitioned from that role herself.
Since mid-2005, when the L-3 Government Services Group was created from the consolidation of Military Professional Resources Inc., perhaps better known as MPRI, and three other L-3 units, the company has accelerated its business realignment. In 2006, the company shortened its name to "L-3 Services Group," reflecting further modifications in the parent company's structure.
The original MPRI unit remains the home base of the Alexandria, Va., federal consulting group, which focuses on training, security and safety projects such as aircraft modernization and maintenance. Although it avoids positioning itself as a purely IT contractor, L-3's $1.8 billion in federal projects place the company seventh on Washington Technology's 2006 Top 100 list of top government IT contractors.
L-3's transition has encompassed a shift from a pure services company to one that offers products and advanced applications such as vehicle and weapons simulations. It acquired companies that specialize in related vehicle and weapons simulation technology, adding to its inventory of offerings to build complete training systems, Thomas said.
Even the company's Web site is in transition: A new version is set to debut this month. The updated site will offer one-stop shopping for vendors, including a roster of all L-3 small-business liaison officers and the commodities and services they seek, Thomas said. At press time, contact info on MPRI's partnering representative was listed under "Doing Business, Partnering for Success" while marketing materials was lumped in with "Articles" under "Newsroom." The new design promises easier access.
Throughout this business migration, L-3 has continued to seek small-business partners for its projects. Two-thirds of the subcontractors on its AIMS (Advertising and Integrated Marketing Service) projects are small companies. Even the company's General Services Administration schedules were prepared by a small firm. Sharp Minds Inc., an Alexandria, Va., woman-owned company that creates business tools, specializes in federal contracting and legal services.
L-3 shares its small-business contacts companywide, opening doors to the parent firm's commercial operations as well as for government contracts handled in other divisions. When an operating unit needs a specific skill, it looks to the small-business office to initiate a connection with the appropriate provider.
"Our needs are so varied," said Thomas, who has not yet been replaced. Her group seeks to identify qualifications of small companies to more effectively match the companies to projects that fit their skills.
The Central Contractor Registration is L-3's primary resource. You can find it at www.ccr.gov.
"If [prospective partners] are not in CCR, they don't get the 'thumbs up,'" Thomas said.
L-3 also relies on the Small Business Administration, sometimes receiving information from SBA about companies that have capabilities matching L-3's interests. The company maintains a small-business team that shares information about potential partners. When a company impresses Thomas, she sends its information to L-3 headquarters and puts the qualifications on the company's internal Web site so that other units have access to it.
This dynamic business searching and sharing will be even more efficient on the new companywide Web site, she said.
L-3 looks at North American Industry Classification System codes and geographic location to evaluate potential partners for projects and identify small businesses with the appropriate credentials, Thomas said. "That's why you've got to be registered," she said.
The L-3 small-business team also relies on networking events and outreach programs such as business fairs that the Defense Department sponsors. L-3's small-business liaison officers also surf the Web to find companies suited for upcoming projects. Teaming agreements often are established during the proposal stage, as L-3 expects small businesses can help develop the plan.
In seeking partners, L-3 relies on past performance as a key criterion.
"If they have the skill set we need, we can do business," Thomas said.
Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications Inc., can be reached at GaryArlen@ columnist.com.