Matchmaker IBM brings together agencies and small contractors
Making the Team
- By Gary Arlen
- Nov 09, 2006
Small-business liaison officer for IBM Corp.'s public sector programs Lillian Karuri-Magero
Lillian Karuri-Magero likes to solve problems. As small-business liaison officer for IBM Corp.'s public sector programs, Karuri-Magero recently stopped by the Agriculture, Defense, Education and Interior departments as well as the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments. Her objective: Help agencies match IT projects with IBM's small-business providers.
One of her tactics is to invite agency procurement officers to IBM's office to learn more about their needs and how the company can help them meet their goals.
She also works from the other end of the equation ? learning about small businesses that have approached those agencies with little success, but might have a better chance of landing federal work under the umbrella of a larger contractor.Roads to Big Blue
Among IBM's initiatives to recruit small-business partners is its Public Sector Edge program, launched less than a year ago and run through the IBM Partnerworld Industry Networks. Karuri-Magero works with Public Sector Edge Program Manager Bill Bohm, who helps small businesses develop marketing, technical support, training and other skills. IBM partnered with a small company to develop tools in the program.
IBM recently also agreed with Veterans Affairs' Center for Veterans Enterprise to provide procurement and technical assistance to support veteran business owners, including service-disabled veterans.
IBM small-business partner Collins Consulting Inc., a service-disabled, veteran-owned company in Schaumberg, Ill., in 2002 became a second-tier supplier to IBM and subsequently brought in similar small companies.
By investing in business development and partnerships, Collins has seen a 50 percent annual growth rate during the past five years, Karuri-Magero said. Much of that growth she attributed to the company's relationship with IBM. Collins Consulting won the Small Business Administration Region V "Prime Contractor of the Year" award in March.
Among IBM's other small-business partnerships is AEEC LC, a woman-owned company in Reston, Va. AEEC, which specializes in software and environmental services, has brought IBM into "opportunities that were not even on our radar," Karuri-Magero said. AEEC "really knows how to do it right," she said. The company "invested heavily in understanding our technology," she added.
IBM closely monitors its partnerships to ensure that any business with which it does a significant amount of work has a small-business plan with goals for small, disadvantaged, HUBZone, veteran-owned and women-owned partners, Karuri-Magero said.
Other companies in IBM's Business Partners program have access to listings in IBM's government supplier database. That opens the door for more work when companies need special skills for specific projects.
IBM's "Sales Connections" portal at its Web site lets partners find missing skills for specific projects. Any partner can search for those skills at IBM or at partners that are in the database.
"We're encouraging our business partners to look at that," Karuri-Magero said.
She tries to bring partners into the contracting process as early as possible "to lay the foundation for mutual growth and greater profitability," she said.Word of mouth
In some cases, small companies "put a bug in our ear" about large opportunities, Karuri-Magero said. Such awareness means that the companies "have their ears to the ground," underscoring their knowledge of specific projects and clients, she said.
Among the best ways that Karuri-Magero and Bohm identify new talent are through events that IBM hosts and that are listed on IBM's small-business Web site.
IBM puts past performance high on its list of criteria when evaluating potential partners. That has led to repeat business for a core group of trusted partners, Karuri-Magero said. "To be competitive, small and medium-sized businesses must identify what's core in their business and how their core competencies fit into the requirements of the specific opportunity," she said.
"Core" doesn't mean solely technical capabilities, but also includes partners that "invest in and focus on relationship building with prospective customers," she said.
Karuri-Magero's focus on building multi-level relationships among agencies and between small-business partners is part of her overall vision for collaboration.
"We are providing small business and the alliances we form ? the opportunity to compete on a global scale," she said. "In turn, small-business partners are fueling our innovation mission, increasing our competitiveness and giving us a discriminator that helps us win business."Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications Inc., can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com.