Dell draws in small-biz partners

Making the team: Feedback creates close ties with small businesses

Dell Inc.'s federal unit

Number of small-business partners:

Dell Federal supports 17 General Services Administration letter-of-supply partners plus about a dozen Dell value-added resellers. Dell also has hundreds of small-business partners for various tasks.

Key agency customers:

Homeland Security Department, Sandia National Laboratories, Army, Veterans Affairs Department, U.S. Courts.

More Information:

Troy West,

Vice president and general manager of Dell Federal.

Tracy Pavillard,

Manager of Dell Federal alliances, sales and support for federal resellers, integrators and solution providers. (866) 931-3355 or fed_reseller_

Dell is developing an online opportunity registration tool but has not launched it yet.
Supplier diversity information is available at Dell's Web site.

When do subcontractors become involved?

Participation varies by the project. Dell Federal tracks the skills and capabilities of each partner, looking for team members on specific projects.
Subcontractors are brought into projects at various phases, from pre-bid to ongoing projects.

Troy West

Rick Steele

Troy West sprinkles his descriptions of Dell Inc.'s federal small-business alliances with terms such as focus, keep it narrow and onboarding. As vice president and general manager of Dell Federal's small-business program since its creation two years ago, West looks for ways small companies can help build and shape the program.

"We're relying heavily on their input to focus on the right set of priorities," West said. "The rationale is that we can establish good relationships with those companies and understand their capabilities to support the needs of our customers."
Dell originally teamed with 10 small firms that it deemed best in class, he said. The program now has 17 Dell-authorized General Services Administration letter-of-supply holders plus another dozen value-added resellers.

West wanted to keep the fledgling program intimate, using customer feedback to improve it, he said. In its two years of existence, "we have scaled the program to include more participants, [but] have not had a desire to make it a large program," he said.

The small-business partners collectively have wide-ranging responsibilities. They handle help-desk support, imaging, managed deployment, data migration, and the configuration, installation and overall integration of projects, said Tracy Pavillard, Dell's manager of federal alliances. One of Dell's biggest projects involving the small businesses was a supercomputer installation for the Energy Department, using Dell servers.

Dell is developing a new Web site for small-business partners. It will include an online system allowing them to register for opportunities. However, companies that want to become partners must personally contact Dell.

"They're going to have to speak to a human," Pavillard said.

Dell's field account employees will respond to the contacts and start discussions, she said. During the qualification process, Dell runs a two-pronged review, which starts with due diligence of the company and usually includes site visits to potential partners' facilities.

Dell Federal has a sales team dedicated to small businesses. It manages the relationships and acts as a liaison to ensure that Dell can count on the smaller firms to meet contractual obligations.

"We're constantly evaluating all the participants in the program and scanning the horizon for future business partners," Pavillard said. "We're interested in expanding the program where it makes sense."

When a project requires small-business participation, Dell begins by "looking to our long-term, committed small-business partners within Dell Federal," West said. Its small-business team manages these relationships and tracks the skill sets and capabilities of each partner to determine appropriate matches.

"We also look to some of the industry tools that are available," such as the federal contracting registration rosters, he added. "Those are invaluable."

Climb aboard

Dell has established an on-boarding process to evaluate small businesses and determine which would be good fits for the program. The process also allows
Dell to focus on its core corporate objectives, such as on-demand order tracking, West said. Partners in the program can always check on order status, he said.

"When we have a new program participant, [we] help them assimilate and understand our product training and road maps," West said. New partners need to have access to Dell employees and resources, he said.

"Generally, prospective companies come to us," West said. "Because of that, we have a very long list of strong partners with various capabilities to pull from. Some are partners we've done business with for a long time; some are new partners."

Dell is always interested in working with new partners to expand Dell's own business, he said. Many of its government information technology partners also work with Dell on commercial projects.

Arlen is president of Arlen Communications in Bethesda, Md. He can be reached at

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