Alliant SB: Small businesses deliver big services
Small businesses thrive on Alliant set-aside contract
To people who question whether small businesses have the full range of capabilities to perform on complex information technology projects, Stephen Triplett points them to task orders awarded under the Alliant Small Business (Alliant SB) contract. Through March 2011, 58 task orders have been awarded under the Alliant SB governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC) worth $952 million, including many critical IT service programs.
“The Alliant Small Business contract offers agencies more than a small business credit,” said Triplett, who is director of the GSA's Small Business GWAC Center. “When you give small businesses the opportunity to compete, they are showing they can get quality work done and exceed expectations.”
As examples, Triplett cites TechFlow Inc., which recently won a $102 million task order to perform IT operations and maintenance services and provide program and applications management for the Office of the CIO within GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. Similarly, Janus Research Group Inc. won a $98 million task order to provide programmatic services, including systems engineering and technical assistance, supporting the Army’s Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) program. Also of note, Metrica Team Venture received a $70 million task order to provide IT and cyber support at the CIO’s headquarters for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), while OnPoint Consulting Inc. received a $52 million task order to operate the NNSA’s Information Assurance Response Center in Las Vegas. NNSA officials said the work performed by Metrica Team Venture and OnPoint will save the agency $22 million.
“We’re trying to change the mindset of people on what small business can accomplish, and we are doing it one customer at a time,” Triplett said.
Alliant SB was awarded in February 2009 to 73 companies who compete for task orders under the contract to provide IT services and solutions to all federal agencies. The 10-year contract has a ceiling of $15 billion. The Small Business GWAC Center manages Alliant SB and GSA’s other small-business GWACs, including 8(a) STARS, 8(a) STARS II, COMMITS Next Generation, and Veterans Technology Services (VETS).
Agencies pay a fee of 0.75 percent per task order to purchase IT services through Alliant SB, which is a self-funding program. Both Alliant and Alliant SB offer a fee cap of $150,000 annually per task order on orders in excess of $20 million per year. The fee covers the costs of the Alliant SB program and allows agencies to take advantage of the contract’s streamlined acquisition services and gives them access to small businesses that have already been vetted and qualified.
“The No. 1 reason people use the contract is its streamlined ordering and ease of use. The program has processes in place that make it easy for agency customers to compete and issue task orders,” said Jean Oyler, director of the business development division at the GWAC center.
As a result, the Alliant SB contract gets a lot of repeat customers, said Michael O’Neill, director of GSA’s GWAC Program. “Agencies use the contract and become believers, and so they want to use it again.”
Multiple customer services
The Alliant SB program offers numerous services to help agencies acquire the IT solutions they need and achieve their small-business goals. For agencies in the early stages of developing a project, Alliant SB will send out a capabilities statement request to its industry partners to gather information about the technologies and solutions they might bring to the project. The process allows agency officials to remain anonymous while their project is still in the early planning stages, while enabling them to obtain valuable market information to guide the project. “We receive the results and package them up for the customers to review,” said Lee Tittle, an Alliant SB contract specialist.
When agencies are ready to move forward and have created a statement of work (SOW), the GWAC center offers a scope compatibility review to ensure that the requirements fall within the scope of the Alliant SB contract. The center’s panel of experts reviews the SOWs twice a week, and if necessary, they will help agencies refine the work statement to ensure their needs are met. After the review, the center issues a written statement certifying that the planned project is within scope of the contract.
The center also offers a set of templates to help agencies plan and execute their acquisition. For example, one template enables agencies to submit their SOWs online at the Alliant SB website, while other templates help agencies conduct research and determine whether their requirements are appropriate for a small business. “We certainly don’t try to steer everyone toward small business, but we try to arm them with the tools they need to make a decision,” Tittle said.
Outreach and training
Triplett attributes a large part of Alliant SB’s success to the strong partnership between industry partners and the Small Business GWAC Center. “We share responsibility with our Alliant Small Business industry partners to grow the contract,” Triplett said.
Key to their success has been a unique program created by the Alliant Small Business Industry Council to spread awareness of the contract among federal agencies. Small teams of Alliant SB contractors meet regularly with potential customers to educate them about the contract and the capabilities of all the contract holders. When meeting with agency officials, team members promote the Alliant Small Business contract but not their own companies.
“They have a mentality that if an agency uses Alliant Small Business, then it gives all of them an opportunity to compete. A rising tide floats all boats,” said Greg Byrd, a contracting officer for the program.
For agencies that do become interested in using the program, Alliant Small Business offers multiple venues to train contracting officers and other acquisition officials to use the contract. This includes self-paced online training, webinars, teleconferences, and on-site training at a customer’s office. In addition, the Alliant website makes available a 50-page Alliant SB ordering guide with step-by-step instructions for those who have never ordered through a GWAC.
The GWAC center has also been working more closely with the Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization within different agencies to train their staffs. “We want to help them be successful,” Oyler said, adding that this effort “has helped open doors to other offices within those organizations.” Thus far, the Alliant SB program has trained more than 1,500 people and issued nearly 500 delegations of procurement authority (DPA).
High customer satisfaction The GSA GWAC Program scores consistently high in surveys of customer satisfaction, achieving an overall rating of 77.3 on a 100-point scale in the 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual rating of government agencies — about 10 points higher than the federal government average. The GSA GWAC Program’s customers gave it a very high score of 88.8 for the likelihood that they would use its services again and 88.6 for the likelihood that they would recommend the center to other agencies. This high satisfaction rate can be attributed to a number of factors, program officials said. Alliant Small Business officials are committed to serving their customers: phone calls and questions are answered promptly; the SOW scope reviews are thorough and swift; and the templates and experts help guide agencies through the acquisition process.“When you work with us, small-business contracting isn’t complicated,” said Matt Verhulst, contracts branch chief at the center.Because the Alliant SB program has 73 contract holders, potential customers sometimes worry that they will be inundated with proposals if they use the program. But this does not happen. On average, Alliant Small Business receives four bids for each task order that is competed through the contract. “We consider this to be healthy and very manageable competition,” Tittle said.The Alliant SB program couldn’t be successful without a strong lineup of industry partners, said Triplett and his staff. These companies are demonstrating that they have the capabilities to perform at a high level and deliver the IT services agencies require. Consequently, the Alliant SB program is propelled forward by its combination of strong industry partners and commitment to customer satisfaction.
“We realize that our agency customers have a choice and that we are just one of those choices,” Triplett said. “So it’s very important that when they come to the GSA Small Business GWAC center, they feel that they receive value that they don’t get in other places.”