What to look for when choosing an IT contractor

Steve Nuelle, president of ABM Federal, offers advice on the characteristics of a good industry partner.

There are thousands of companies that want to sell federal agencies IT solutions. Prospective contractors range from large, traditional firms to those who may literally work out of their garage. How does your agency decide upon the best fit for your particular need? Experience? Size? Trust?

The issue of selecting the “right” IT firm is particularly important in today’s federal IT climate. Choose the wrong firm and you may expose your agency to a cybersecurity problem or end up with counterfeit equipment. The “best” outcome from picking the wrong company is that they simply never fulfill your order.

Simply put, in today’s market, where you get your IT from matters.

Here are seven key factors every federal IT buyer should look for.

Steve Nuelle, president of ABM Federal

Knowledge and trust are often at the top of the list for risk-averse federal buyers. You want a contractor who “speaks federal,” someone who understands your agency’s mission and who can be a reliable partner in helping you meet it. You simply don’t have time to educate someone on how you do business in the middle of a mission-critical acquisition.

Federal workers also want current technology. Knowledge and trust aren’t enough. Feds see the new tech that their commercial counterparts have and want those solutions for their own work. New technology, properly implemented, can make your agency more efficient, tighten-up security and save money over time. Whether it’s a manufacturer or a reseller, feds expect the company they’re working with to be able to provide sound technical advice and deliver the most current technology — and at reasonable prices.

Accessibility is another key factor. How easy is it for me to buy from my IT partner? In today’s federal IT world, about half of all transactions are conducted using indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts. Since the Office of Management and Budget recently stated that agencies should use only three of these contracts when buying laptop and desktop computers, you want to make sure your contractor is on one or more of these: the General Services Administration’s IT 70 Schedule, NASA’s SEWP V or the National Institutes of Health’s CIO-CS governmentwide acquisition contract. Not only does having the right contracts ensure ease of access, it’s also an indication that your contractor is responsible, responsive and can be trusted to stay in the federal market for the long term.

Responsiveness (being able to move at the speed of need) is also important. Your agency has critical missions to execute. Your partner needs to meet your schedule so that mission fulfillment is flawless. Speed isn’t helpful, though, if you get the wrong items. Your partner needs to fill your order accurately the first time, every time. A contractor partner committed to speed and accuracy is someone who shares your sense of mission urgency. They’re part of your team, a part you can rely on to be with you whenever, wherever.

A similar and important characteristic is agility, your partner’s ability to think creatively in tough situations, and their willingness to be flexible and “turn on a dime” when others are not. Companies with this mindset can be instrumental to your success.

Scalability means your partner has the resources and financial capacity to expand its support structure to keep pace as the size and scope of your projects increase. You need contractors who can scale-up rapidly and meet your growing needs as seamlessly as possible.

Many agencies also look for a small business partner. While all agencies have small business goals, some may be hesitant to use such a firm for all but the most basic projects. Wouldn’t it be great to have a small business partner that possesses all of the traits listed here, though? A small partner that is knowledgeable, provides the latest IT solutions, has great contract vehicles, moves with speed and accuracy, and can scale-up as needed is a rare commodity.

Such companies, however, do exist. Finding and partnering with them can solve your agency’s IT issues and get you back focused on meeting important missions.

Steve Nuelle is the president of ABM Federal. ABM Federal has specialized in providing information technology products and services to the federal government across the U.S. and worldwide since 1978.

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