Coalition attacks fed market
Small firms join forces to bid on <@SM>bundled IT contracts
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Apr 17, 2003
"A lot of the big guys form large teams, but we are intentionally focusing on small companies." ? Jim Bogaty, vice president and chief operating officer of American Information Technology Solutions Corp.
Henrik G. de Gyor
Dominic DeAngelo joined to give his company, Sonic Telecom Ltd., an entrée into the federal IT marketplace. Walter Hillabrant joined so his company, Support Services International Inc., would have more opportunities to win federal work.
Sonic and SSI, along with 12 other firms, are charter members of the New United Coalition, or NuCO, a consortium of small and midsize companies that came together to bid on contracts they wouldn't be able to pursue alone.
The consortium is spearheaded by Jim Bogaty, vice president and chief operating officer of American Information Technology Solutions Corp. of Reston, Va. The firms Bogaty brought together span a range of small-business designations, including 8(a), HUBZone, disabled veteran and woman-owned. They also span the United States geographically and offer a range of IT capabilities, including multimedia design, network design, software development, systems integration and IT security.
"A lot of people form partnerships and do channel management, but it is usually one on one or a small group. A lot of the big guys form large teams, but we are intentionally focusing on small companies," Bogaty said.
Hope Lane, a consulting director with Aronson & Co. in Rockville, Md., said the NuCO approach is fairly unusual. Usually, companies come together to pursue a single project, she said.
NuCO companies already have bid on one small-business set-aside contract, the Federal Aviation Administration's Broad Information Technology Services II, also known as BITS II. Worth up to $1.25 billion, the indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract is due to be awarded in June, according to IT research firm Input Inc. of Chantilly, Va.
"By banding together, we can advertise to FAA that if they come to us, we can provide a broad range of capabilities far beyond any of the individual firms," said Hillabrant, president and chief executive officer of SSI of Silver Spring, Md. "We think the team will get multiple task orders out of BITS II."
Bogaty got the idea for the coalition as he scanned the federal marketplace and saw opportunities dispersed all over the country, and also saw contracts getting bigger and bigger because of the bundling of requirements.
"As I looked at FedBizOpps.gov, I'd say: 'This is a great opportunity, but it takes a company in Peoria, Ill. We can do that, but we don't have anybody there. So is there anybody really responding to this?' Also, when you look at FedBizOpps.gov, you see them bundling a bunch of odds and ends together. [They] want you to do data security as well as physical security, so you've got to find ways to satisfy these requirements. You either do all of it, or you don't get any of it."
The coalition approach has been endorsed in the administration's contract bundling plan. The plan calls for the facilitation of small-business teams to compete for bundled contracts when bundling cannot otherwise be avoided.
"As agencies develop their requirements, they need to start working early with the [vendor] community to determine when teaming may be possible. Many agencies are doing that at pre-solicitation conferences," said Linda Williams, associate administrator for government contracting at the Small Business Administration.
An Office of Management and Budget official said small businesses should contact agencies' Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization to express interest in teaming before acquisitions get publicized. Agency officials should be able to provide advice on forming a team that will be competitive, he said.
Small businesses have had trouble winning large indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts, Hillabrant said.
"In my view, the federal government has wisely moved large amounts of work into these contracts. They enable the government to do just-in-time purchasing, just like it is done in the private sector," he said. "Those requirements, because they are so large in scope, have fit better with larger firms. [But] in the last year, there seems to be a real effort to set aside all or part of these contracts for small businesses."
Lane said that to be successful, a group such as NuCO must have clear leadership and must target certain agencies and types of IT work, rather than approaching the federal market broadly.
"There always has to be an owner to a team," she said. "If you know where your combined expertise and agency relationships exist, and you form a collation to get those agencies, it will be effective. If you're generally approaching the market, what reason does anyone have to take you seriously? People buy from who they know."
NuCO would do well to target IDIQ contracts, Lane said, because they present fewer opportunities for power struggles among coalition members.
"They may have needed all the partners to get on a IDIQ, but a task order [under that contract] may only involve two partners, so it will be a lot easier for them to see where the responsibility will lie," she said.
Within NuCO, Bogaty serves as the point man. He said the coalition will target primarily opportunities in the departments of Homeland Security and Transportation, and will go after contracts worth $10 million to $20 million. Bogaty's company typically manages contracts of that size, he said.
"If I find the opportunity, I pick the members that I feel best suit that. If another company in the coalition finds an opportunity, they would go through me, and we'll put together the right team to respond," Bogaty said.
AITS won't always be the prime contractor, however, and not all coalition members will take part in every bid.
Bogaty also said Fairfax County, Va., is interested in the coalition's services.
The NuCO effort was announced April 8 in Washington at FOSE, an IT trade show serving the federal marketplace. FOSE is owned by PostNewsweek Tech Media, publisher of Washington Technology.
Coalition members who joined together at the AITS booth at FOSE said people are reacting positively to the consortium idea.
Chris Parker, chief executive officer of 4Front Security Inc., a Reston, Va., IT security firm, said: "We are able to bring a high level of expertise into the various groups within homeland security in a way that we could not do alone because it is such a huge task."
Sonic Telecom of Chantilly, Va., provides videoconferencing solutions, but has focused on large commercial companies in the United States and abroad. Company officials said they believe their solutions are ripe for the government market, but they need to be a part of an integrated solution.
"What makes NuCO so neat for us is that they are integrating applications and selling them to the government," DeAngelo said. "We're looking to NuCO to be the underlying foundation, and we'll learn the government market along the way." *
Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at email@example.com.