A few weeks ago I wrote about the Department of Homeland Security’s Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland procurement—a $1.5 billion IDIQ for agile software development services. DHS attracted about 100 vendors to participate in a “tech demo,” where each came in to work on an actual project for half a day, which replaced proposal writing. The FLASH award was protested by some of the losers, and DHS eventually decided some of the criticisms had merit—though they represented honest mistakes—and canceled the procurement.
What followed, however, was an unusual event. This may have happened before, but I had never seen it: Eight of the 11 winners signed a joint letter to DHS chief procurement officer Soraya Correa.
“When the news of cancellation broke, we were shocked and disappointed,” the winners wrote, calling DHS’ decision a “punch in the gut.”
“But, this is not a letter to blame, second-guess, or complain,” they continued. “This letter is to say ‘Thank you’ to DHS. Thank you for taking a risk in the
After the cancellation, the letter explained, “the winning vendors reached out to each other, and ultimately decided to meet up informally. The firms, once prospective competitors, became united in moving the industry discussion forward. We offer whatever help we can in sharing our perspective and advancing agile procurement practices.”
The letter itself shows a new group of IT contractors making their voices heard. (I am guessing this is the first time the slightly hip expression “meet up” has been used in a document presented to the government.) None of the signatories that I was able to contact has more than 300 employees; most have far fewer.
These are not your grandfather’s IT contractors. They represent a very different world from the large legacy IT contractors, four of five of whom are the IT divisions of defense contractors.
I contacted some of the winners to learn more about this new face of federal IT contractors.
One of the winners I spoke with is a firm called Navitas Business Consulting, which has 100 employees and entered the federal marketplace only in mid-2014. CEO Srini Bayireddy, now 43, was born in India and came to the US after graduating from
Bayireddy started working for
Navitas initially did only commercial work, counting among its clients Volkswagon and a number of banks. Bayireddy moved into the federal marketplace via his earlier association with IBM, which knew Navitas’ commercial work and needed help with an IT modernization task order at USCIS.
Bayireddy said that an attraction of the federal marketplace for him was that engagements were relatively long, providing a more secure cash flow for a small business like his. (I am frankly surprised that this point doesn’t get mentioned more often in discussions of attracting firms into the federal marketplace.) Half the company’s business is still commercial.
Bayireddy said three things distinguish his company from traditional federal IT contractors. The first is its commercial market presence. Working for commercial companies gives Navitas employees access to the latest commercial innovations both in terms of technology and process management that they believe traditional IT contractors often don’t have.
“This is our biggest advantage,” he said. “We know the latest and greatest in technology.”
I asked Bayireddy whether the company’s commercial business helped it make government sales (because of more knowledge) or hurt (because of suspicion Navitas didn’t understand the government well enough. On balance, he said, he felt it helped. “They are sometimes hesitant about adopting the very newest
Agencies value Navitas’ commercial experience, he said, “but not to the extent that they buy in completely. … I think the commercial experience gives us a head start to talk, they think these guys can bring some experience we don’t have. But they want to feel comfortable that we know how to implement in a government environment.”
The second thing Bayireddy said distinguishes the company is its philosophy of “do, not just say.” Navitas wants to get business by demonstrating before award that the team already knows how to do important things the government is asking for. The philosophy is constant learning and prototyping, so the firm has a development lab that works on data analytics and DevOps.
“Showing what we can do before we get the work is a shift from the norm,” he said. This is also why the tech demo approach DHS used for FLASH was attractive for Navitas—a sentiment shared by every FLASH winner I spoke with, who all said they prefer this kind of solicitation.
Traditional IT contractor competitors, Bayireddy said, seldom do development before getting business. “They mostly don’t have the resources
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He said the smart and innovative contractor managers — like smart, innovative government managers — are open to learning from new commercial practice. But often the traditional contractors, especially if their own subs come out of other government contractors, stay mired in outdated practices.
Bayireddy said he’d always believed that eventually, the firm must graduate from being strictly a sub. In the last year, Navitas has won its first prime contracts, the 8-A STARS program and an IDIQ at the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as getting onto the General Services Administration’s Schedule 70.
“We initially hired some companies who claimed they are experts in drafting a winning proposal,” Bayireddy said, “but we had no success. Later on, after working on several responses, we felt comfortable preparing it ourselves. We now have a small but great proposal response team managing the effort.” They still have not won any work as a prime, however.
Meanwhile, I am overjoyed that the government is getting the advantage of new players such as Navitas. The letter to DHS and the firms behind it are a sharp—though friendly—jolt for the system. May
Republished from fcw.com with permission of the author.
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