Ready to play

Networx partners look to fill gaps, support their primes

The roster of companies holding Networx contracts is well-known by
now, months after the General Services Administration awarded the
two contracts to a total of five telecommunications companies.

Less visible are the partners that each of
the prime contractors will bring to individual
engagements under the multibillion-dollar
program. The partner companies
have specific skills and relationships, but
unlike the prime contract holders, they are
not steering the ship.

Making the most of the Networx opportunity
requires companies to be aggressive,
creative and accessible. Partner companies
have to know what task orders are
in the pipeline that the prime contractors
might bid on and at the same time ensure
that their primes remember what talents
and domain knowledge the partners have.
NetStar-1 LLC, for example, an information
technology services company
based in Rockville, Md., decided to treat
the Networx prime it works under, Qwest
Communications International Inc., like a

Qwest is "a partner, like a typical vendorpartner
relationship but also like a vendor-
customer relationship," said Les
Rosenthal, executive vice president of
sales and operations at NetStar-1. "We
decided to market to Qwest the way we
would market to a customer with great

That means NetStar-1 leaders meet regularly
with Qwest officials to discuss customer
requirements, company capabilities
and potential opportunities. NetStar-1's
director of sales talks to counterparts at
Qwest weekly, and the two companies'
technical experts talk a couple of times a
month. Those phone calls will become
more frequent as agencies moving to
Networx from FTS 2001 kick transition
efforts into high gear next year, he said.

Another key for NetStar-1, Rosenthal
said, is to keep the emphasis on what his
company can do rather than what it
wants. To make that more than words,
NetStar-1 has helped Qwest get involved
in one or two federal opportunities, he

"We clearly do not want to be looked at
with our hands outstretched, saying,
'What can you bring to me, Qwest?' " he
said. "We want to be saying, 'This is what
we can bring to you.'"


Some of that value comes from narrow
domain knowledge. The prime contractors
are large companies competing against other large companies, and that means
they may not have the in-depth knowledge
of specific agencies that their smaller partners
sometimes do, Rosenthal said.

"As a small company, we don't have the
sales footprint that Qwest has," he said.
"But we may have a level of relationship
and understanding [within a particular
agency] that they don't have today."

The two companies had not worked
together before the Networx program, but
Qwest added NetStar-1 to its team early in
the bidding process, Rosenthal said. The
company tried from the start to manage
the relationship at a staff level but quickly
found that it needed high-level executive
involvement to flourish.

Bechtel Systems and Infrastructure Inc.,
a partner to AT&T Inc. on Networx, had a
similar situation. Although the two companies
had worked side-by-side on many
commercial projects, "I was not surprised
to find that AT&T Federal didn't know
that much about us," said James Payne,
president of the Federal Telecoms division
at Bechtel.

To remedy that, Bechtel officials had
some informational meetings with AT&T
Federal leaders and took part in customer
meetings. Those meetings have recently
become more frequent. They are usually
meetings of peers: sales, technology and
business development specialists in one
company meet their counterparts in the

Bechtel, which specializes in building
infrastructure, has experience in disaster
recovery and network redundancy. "I
think Bechtel is uniquely positioned on
this team," Payne said. "I don't believe
anyone else has a large engineering construction
company on their team."


Networx has opened opportunities for
companies that have long track records in
federal network services and also for newcomers.
Companies with some history do
have advantages, though, partially because
they know the other long-timers in the

Hughes Network Systems LLC wanted
to become a subcontractor to several of
the Networx primes, and it succeeded with
three of them partly because of its history,
said Tony Bardo, assistant vice president
of government solutions at Hughes.

"I knew many of the right contacts
because these had been both friends and
competitors over the years," he said. On
Networx Universal, Hughes subcontracts
to AT&T and Qwest. On Networx
Enterprise, it is also a partner to Sprint.
Hughes also won a spot on SATCOM II,
GSA's contract specifically for satellite
communications services. The strategy
was to offer agencies the broadest possible
range of routes to buy Hughes' services.

"A number of agencies, I believe, will
turn to the Networx provider and say, 'Get
me everything I need,' " he said. But some
will use the more specialized vehicle for
satellite communications.

Hughes meets directly with potential
customers, Bardo said. "We make sure we
let the customers know we're a definite
player on Networx. Customers want to
know that. That's a question they ask."

Hughes has a less common problem in
subcontracting to multiple primes. "You
have to make sure you firewall discussions,"
Bardo said. "We have to make sure
to keep the details of the bids proprietary."
When Hughes is angling for work that
could go to more than one of the prime
contractors it works for, Bardo will assign
different teams to ensure people do not
inappropriately share information about
each company's bid, he said.

Viack Corp., a subcontractor to Verizon
Inc. on Networx, provides collaborative
services, primarily instant messaging and
related audio and video services. Senior
Vice President Amy Fadida said one side
benefit of being part of a Networx team is
that other opportunities for teaming come
to light.

Although the first priority is the
Networx program, Fadida said that in
talking to some other companies on the
team, "we've been able to start discussions
about how we might work together outside
of Networx. This has been with
Verizon's encouragement," she said.


The interaction between prime contractors
and their partners flows two ways,
said Susan Zeleniak, vice president of
Verizon Federal.

"Whenever we have a statement of work
from one of the agencies, we share that
with our partners so they can determine if
there's an opportunity for them," she said.
"We have our partners work our proposals
with us. We sometimes have the partner
come to us and say, 'We'd like to talk to an
agency,' and then we can get them in the

The teams will not remain fixed. New
companies are already asking for appointments
to try to get on the teams, and that
will continue through the life of the
Networx program, she said.

"We're finding that we didn't think of
every hole we have, so we need some new
players to come and join us," said Diana
Gowen, executive vice president and general
manager for government services at
Qwest. "But then, we've also found that
there are lots of systems integrators that
didn't join a team, and they're now out
trying to figure what team they're going to
position themselves with."

Any company seeking to join a Networx
team should be prepared for a thorough
examination, Gowen and Zeleniak said.
The prime contractors will look at a company's
financial soundness, past performance
record, skills, technologies and also
the potential clashes with other companies
already on the team before signing a
teaming agreement.

The prime contractors will always need
the subcontractors, said Jeff Mohan,
AT&T's director of business development
for Networx.

"Small companies in many cases are
more nimble than large companies," he
said. "They're able to do things that a large
company can't do cost-effectively. If we
need someone with a security clearance to
go to a site, and it needs to be done by the
end of the day and I just found out about it
10 minutes ago, we have a couple of companies
that can do that."


About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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