In the business of government contracting, as I am sure is the case in any industry, companies realize success and failure based on their ability to acquire, manage, validate and leverage information from various sources. Simply put, it takes good information in order to make good decisions, but getting information and connecting the proverbial dots can be a major undertaking, to say the least.
On that note, I was having an insightful conversation with a couple of Contracting Officers just the other day when the subject of market research was brought up. I decided to taunt them a bit and said I envied how easy they must have it for I couldn't imagine there would be anything but the most willing resources waiting to jump at the opportunity to help them with their market research (a/k/a market their companies and their wares).
Boy, if looks could kill, the ones they gave would have been all she wrote for me!
Knowing my motive they slowed their speech so I could keep up and capture the key points that would end up in a blog discussion. The following is paraphrased:
'What I rarely see from industry and what I have specifically asked for
is insight on contract types in addition to solution-related information. Many of my colleagues are from the
old school of SOWs (Statements of Work) and defined requirements. Many of
us, however, are embracing the Statement of Need and seeking industry input. The
competitive environment in the commercial marketplace creates the most
efficient, cost effective and advanced solutions available and the
government is embracing commercial practices to seek the best product at
the best price.
When I put out a request for information (RFI), I do it so I can tailor my
RFQs and RFPs more in line with industry. The problem more often than not is that contractors are afraid to
comment or afraid to invest the time to respond. They feel as though they need to give up their trade secrets. What
ends up happening is that we end up defining the requirement and
competition is severely restricted which causes angst within the vendor community.'
'What it seems a lot of vendors don't understand is that our technical people write
their requirements based on what they know and many times it's based on their
experience with the incumbent which creates an advantage for the incumbent and stifles innovation from potential competitors.'
'If competitors are involved
in the process and providing inputs (including the contract type), the
government can describe their need(s) to allow a broader possibility of
solutions which in turn, allows for more robust competition.'
One note I want to add is that neither of them is a fan of what I refer to as RFI TMI, those onerous and over-ambitious market research documents (both RFI's and Sources Sought Notices) that may as well be RFP's except there is no expectation of, well, anything coming as a result of responding.
Participating in market research activities like RFI's and Sources Sought Notices have become akin to the security clearance challenge. You know, you have to have the work to get the clearance but you need the clearance first to get the work? In the case of agency market research, if you don't respond to these requests you won't be able to help shape the requirement or in an increasing number of cases, you won't get a shot at bidding on it. Wait, you haven't seen the ones where only responding companies get the RFP? Yep, those are out there too!
Where is the middle ground that creates a more affable situation that doesn't create more than a reasonable burden for either side? And when exactly does "...agencies should not request potential sources to submit more than the
minimum information necessary." come into play? Some of the RFI TMI's I have seen lately completely duplicate the forthcoming RFP. What gives?
Peace.The Chief Visionary
"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."