New reader A. Grande of New York, NY writes, “I’m a contract
administrator for a mid-size IT re-seller.
The training classes I’ve been to say that my company should be
reporting errors and delivery problems, but we don’t. My senior vice president says it will all be
ok and that I shouldn’t worry. The
pile of things we haven’t done, though, seems to be really adding up? Can you suggest something?” Great question, A. It can be tough to see potential contract
violations go unaddressed in a company. At
best, your company is making a bet with their own, or their investors’,
money. At worst, they’re potentially
exposing both themselves and the company to significant fines if problems are
uncovered. It can be tough to be
heard sometimes as a lower-level employee.
If your SVP won’t listen, try another route. Most contractors should have
anonymous hotlines where potential problems are reported. They’re usually set up so that people in legal
or compliance get the information, not people in a specific business line. This is definitely a best practice. If your company doesn’t have one, though, try
your contract manager or legal counsel’s office. While there is a tendency to put off potential
problems so long as business is coming in the front door, ignoring problems
won’t make them go away. They can and do
get worse. It’s good to be concerned. Sing out to someone who will hear you.
Funding for the federal CIO office would go down
by nearly half, to $15 million under a bill passed by House appropriators this
week, a surprising potential cut from a Democratically controlled body that
has traditionally favored overall IT investments in the federal space,
including centralized IT management. In
the meantime, though, the House bill would fund the Technology
Modernization Fund at $35 million, a boost of new money that could enable more
projects to proceed. These are
among the early signs of where Congress may allocate funds for IT and related
spending next fiscal year. Not
surprising was the withholding of any money that would allow GSA to merge with
the Office of Personnel Management. Although
some functions have already been transferred to GSA, Congress is skeptical overall of
placing the two agencies together.
This area may shape up to be a fight later in the appropriations
cycle. In the meantime, contractors
should pay closer attention than usual to where Congress allocates federal IT
money as it is likely to differ more than usual from the President’s budget
request submitted earlier this year.
Expect Congress to assert more of its own priorities. GSA contractors, meanwhile, should not see
too much of an impact in the day to day workings of the agency from the
uncertainty surrounding its status with OPM.
There is only a small cadre of people working on the project and
involvement outside of that group only at the senior-most levels of the agency.
Even as GSA moves ahead with its e-commerce
portal project, individual agencies have either initiated pilots or are
thinking about it. The ease
of use and real-time buying capabilities of these portals offer strong
incentives for agencies to use them. In
addition, each platform offers substantial spend analysis features,
enabling agencies to better manage their budgets and make smarter buying
decisions. Sounds like a no-brainer,
right? Peel back the cover, though, and there
are some plot twists to this story.
First, agencies must consider how they want to compare pricing available via
platforms. Is it enough that
prices on commercial e-commerce platforms are likely lower than the open market
prices agencies obtain today when they make micro-purchases, or will pricing
have to match or beat prices available through standing contracts like the GSA
Schedules program? One answer may be
that slightly higher prices are seen as acceptable when the near-real-time
availability of spend analysis is factored in.
Some agencies, though, may insist on the lower price. Second, secure supply chains must be addressed. Commercial e-commerce providers vary widely
in how they vet the items sold through their platforms. Some pay more attention to the authenticity
of goods than others. At a time when
secure supply chains are viewed as essential, how will agency leaders manage
e-commerce platform acquisitions to ensure that only the items that should be
purchased are? It is already an
established fact that most agencies use E-Bay to obtain replacements for items
that are out of production. Whether it’s
that platform, or another, the risk must be appropriately managed. E-Commerce offers many potential benefits to
the federal market but, like any other acquisition option, this tool must be
used responsibly and under the right circumstances.
Government agencies get criticized for not
moving quickly enough to adopt new technologies or processes. Indeed, “agile” has been a watchword in
government acquisition for several years now.
You’d think that contractors, themselves, could bend in any direction
and run a sub-4 minute mile based on their advertising. How agile really, though, is your
organization? How many layers of
approval do you have to get to respond to a customer, send out a press release,
or speak with a potential partner? Too
often contractors can be just as bogged down by internal processes as their
government clients. It’s great
to send out a press release on the contract award you got on June 1st,
but not so great if you can’t get it out the door till June 10th. By then, the news cycle has turned several
times. Similarly, you’ve just gotten an
e-mail from a prospective customer. They
want to see you next week about an actual project. You look at your calendar and see almost no
white space, with much of the calendar being devoted to internal BD
meetings. Putting the customer off can cost
you an opportunity, ironically while you’re sitting in a conference room
talking about opportunities. Yes, processes can exist for a reason, but if
your organization is a slave to process, it’s a cinch you’re not adept enough
at moving at the speed of your customer’s need.
Getting out the scissors to cut through internal red tape might be the
best thing you can do to boost your chances of closing federal business this
to the third quarter of the fiscal year. The heat is up in both the market and
outside. It’s time for your company to
shift strategies and tactics now that we’re moving closer into the federal busy
season. Here are a few tips to put your
company in the best position to win:
1. Don’t expect a lot more “meet and greet” meetings this year. Federal customers are increasingly defining
project scopes and doing acquisition planning for what they’re going to
purchase for the rest of the year. That
leaves little time to talk with newer entries.
You may be better off focusing on agencies with which you have existing
contacts. 2. Coordinate your marketing and sales efforts.
The Washington, D.C. airwaves
are already full of contractor advertisements.
That’s earlier than normal, but it shows the importance of being able to
get your message across in broadcast mediums so that it coordinates well with
sales efforts. There’s still time to conduct a
coordinated strategic campaign.
Tactical marketing can come later.
3. Strengthen your partner relationships. September is not the time to go looking for a
company that has the contract vehicle your prospective customer “has” to
use. Now is. Make sure you have good relationships with
companies that hold Best In Class and other contracts, small businesses, or
niche players with unique solutions.
Q3 isn’t pre-season, but building a strong team now ensures that you can
go deep into the September playoffs and win.
With so many agencies likely playing catch up for the rest of the year,
business shouldn’t be dull. Make sure
you’ve laid the groundwork for your own success.