NIE Successes for Small Businesses

February 28, 2014
By Rita Boland

As the U.S. Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) continues to build on its positives and address its challenges, progress is being made in acquiring more capability from small business through efforts at the event. An official with the service branch says the Army is aware of challenges faced by these smaller companies. With the recently established formal request for proposal (RFP) process in place, industry partners including small businesses can compete for contract awards to provide qualifying vendors with funding to participate in the evaluations.

The NIE touts three success stories with small businesses where capabilities have transitioned to program managers: a technology by Ringtail Design to enhance the common operating picture, a consolidated mobile mast platform by Blue Sky Mast and PacStar’s IQ Core software. The companies employ 15, 12 and 50 people, respectively. Overall, the NIE has received 44 small business submissions with eight chosen for evaluation participation.

Bob Dunn, the chief executive officer of PacStar, says that for his company, the NIE has proved beneficial. PacStar is now serving as the nodal manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1, the backbone of the Army’s communications network. The role means that IQ Core will capture data from whatever kit soldiers choose to deploy and send that to users who need it.

Dunn encourages other small businesses to become involved. “If you believe you have a technology that truly makes a difference, go through the evaluation process,” he states. “You have a shot—no guarantee—a shot at being part of the baseline architecture. In our case, it worked.”

PacStar familiarized itself with the goals of the NIE and made a decision 15 months prior to participating in NIE 13.1 that it would invest in bringing its software to the evaluations. “It did everything that NIE’s mission stated they wanted to do,” Dunn explains.

Beyond signing agreements with the Army, the success of the evaluation has brought other good results for the company as well. Dunn met with the White House’s science and technology advisers this week, and he has talked to other groups about whether the NIE not only saves money but also enhances efficiencies. The evaluation process has critics who claim it fails to do enough to speed procurements and bring necessary capabilities to the field quickly. Dunn believes the plan is working, and with personnel numbers set to decline in the coming years, technology and streamlining its deployment will increase in importance. One change he would like to see is set language in documents related to the NIE that ensures all players are evaluated in the same manner.

The NIE official says that the Army has listened to feedback from industry partners. It is implementing a new acquisition construct for the evaluations that make use of targeted RFPs. Companies will have additional time to respond to more focused capability gaps determined by periodic network baseline assessment geared toward validating capability sets. When fully implemented, the approach should allow the Army to synchronize the identified gaps with program objective memorandum planning so successful systems transition easier into Army portfolios.

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