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Secrets of Doing Business With the Intelligence Community

The overwhelming feeling among small business owners and industry overall is that winning a contract with one of the three-lettered agencies is not worth the effort. But IC insiders say the opportunities are out there, and companies should be taking advantage of them.

It's sometimes difficult to figure out what's the bigger secret - intelligence or the acquisition processes of the organizations that gather it. CIA, NSA, DIA plus 13 more agencies are collectively known as the intelligence community (IC), but that's where most of the similarity ends when it comes to these information hunters and gathers when it comes to purchasing goods, services or "carbon units." One fact is absolutely true and as open source as is possible: small businesses have advocates in IC agencies that fight tooth and nail in their interest. Some of these experts presented valuable secrets as well as common sense about how to capture the IC's business at the AFCEA International Small Business Intelligence Forum. All of the big hitters representing either an IC agencies, a small business and even a large companies agreed that by following certain guidelines, working for work from one of the IC organizations isn't any more difficult than business development with other government agencies or even other companies. Their advice in a nutshell? Be prepared, work diligently, meet deadlines, be aware of IC business opportunities and be true to your word. Yes, this all may seem simple, but the IC's experience with small and large companies alike has been that when just a minority of companies don't follow these rules, it is even more difficult to promote the idea of turning to small companies for solutions when even just one program manager has a bad experience. Word spreads. THE SPECIFICS -This is a $75 billion market. Go after it. -The ODNI has very little of its own money to spend. The bucks are in the individual agencies. -How do you navigate the beast? Follow the money. Government agencies want to spend the funds they've been granted because if they don't, next year's allotment is likely to be less. -Today, Congress is involved in intelligence funding decisions. Stay informed about what's going on in the intelligence committees on The Hill. -Each agency has its own sense of identity and makes purchases based on it. Find out about an agency's mission, vision and culture. -"Everyone's problem is the same: They have a ton of information, but they can't use it to make a better decision" because they need new ways to sift through it. -Oversight on the part of the government agencies is a problem and they know it. Often large companies bring small businesses onboard to win a contract but never actually use their services or products. This is an issue that is under increased scrutiny. -If a small business has the experience described above, report it to the agency's Small Business Advocate. The company's or individual's name won't be revealed, but the tip will be follow up on and could result in an instant change. -Get to know the Small Business Advocate at agencies. For example, e-mail Pam Porter at the NSA at smallbusiness@nsa.gov. -Do business with other companies that are already doing business with the IC. -"Be ready. Don't try to impress us; just make sure you can do the work."-Sandra Broadnax, small business executive, NGA Have you tried and tried some of these approaches and still not been able to crack the IC acquisition egg? Talk about it here, and look forward to Part 2 of this coverage on tomorrow's SIGNAL Scape.