Small Business Grows Within DISA

June 1, 2017
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Its penchant for innovation draws agency attention.

Adapted from an online report

The very qualities that define small businesses—agility, flexibility, inherent innovation—are driving the Defense Information Systems Agency to increase its efforts to bring those capabilities under the big tent of defense network services.

Small businesses provide the agency, known as DISA, with the opportunity to access technologies and services it ordinarily would not receive from large companies, states Sharon Jones, director of the DISA Office of Small Business Programs. She elaborates that small firms own proprietary data and software that have provided capabilities unavailable elsewhere. Also, small businesses have more flexibility to tailor their goods and services to suit DISA’s needs, she notes.

“Small businesses show up willing to customize and wanting to work with their customers,” Jones relates. “They show up wanting to give the best possible products and services they have to ensure our mission success. They bring in leading technology trends, they have more of a pulse of what’s going on in the community, and they bring that talent and information to the agency through their products and services.

“They do have access to innovation, whether they’re in the SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research] program or whether they’re in the Rapid Innovation [Fund] program,” she continues. “They have become an integral part of how we do business here at this agency. And, at the end of the day for us, it really comes down to, ‘Are we doing everything we can to support that warfighter?’”

For multimillion-dollar procurements, DISA usually has a small business suite for firms with leading technologies, strong performance accountability and access to innovation. “Those contracts are going to be right in their sweet spot to pursue,” Jones says. “Having our large procurements with a separate suite for small business really opens up our door to innovation in ways that it never had before. [Small businesses] can bring in smart solutions and services that can support all of DISA’s endeavors.”

Jones views her office as the primary gateway for small business involvement with DISA. She urges small firms that have not done business with the agency to reach out to her office rather than contact individual program managers. Facility clearances, certifications and apps are just some of the capabilities that companies should bring to the table as part of their value proposition for a contract, and the office can direct small businesses to the appropriate program managers.

DISA is striving to engage more Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) small businesses within its contracting opportunities, Jones reports. Her office seeks to achieve DISA’s HUBZone small-business goal of providing enough contracting opportunities for HUBZone companies to attain the $100 million level. Other small and disadvantaged business categories have reached that level, but HUBZone firms have not, she admits.

DISA has begun to engage more HUBZone companies in its contracting process to achieve its goal. This effort includes new marketing research techniques to identify and reach out to these HUBZone firms. Jones cites a recent HUBZone business showcase in which 29 eligible companies met to learn DISA’s needs and determine if their technologies and capabilities could be a good fit.

The agency also is pushing its large prime contractors to include more small businesses in meeting government-mandated targets. Efforts include establishing small-business participation plans so that prime companies can commit to using small firms within their own large contract awards.

One outreach thrust is an agency leadership speaker series known as Leaning Forward. Jones will ask a DISA senior leader to have a conversation with small businesses about what his or her part of the agency is doing. Such insights into DISA’s technical direction helps firms provide better proposals, she says. A separate monthly orientation session features agency guest speakers to improve small business knowledge.

In the future, Jones wants a better website for the agency’s Small Business Office. Her wish list includes a more interactive site with more information—a My Own Small Business Website approach to companies.

Social media may play a greater role. Jones wants to use Facebook as a means of becoming more involved with small businesses. Her office also will implement small business webinars using DISA’s YouTube channel.

Federal regulations restrict her office’s activities, so it must work on different ways of outreach rather than types of contracting. “We’re going to do everything we can to highlight small businesses within our environment,” she says.

She urges small businesses to review DISA’s November 2016 Forecast to Industry for key updates on upcoming acquisitions. In addition, they should check the Federal Business Opportunities website for contracting opportunities, she adds, if for no other reason than to become familiar with DISA’s small business requirements. “It is critical, for small businesses to really pursue opportunities here, that they understand what the agency’s needs are,” Jones declares.

In addition to conference presentations, DISA is offering small businesses insight on programs by appointment at DCOS 2017, being held at the Baltimore Convention Center June 13-15.

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