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As government contractors try to navigate confusing federal procurement systems, other companies are developing software to aid them in their quest.

Company officials are finding that such tools to help contractors locate new government opportunities or to manage the process of developing and submitting proposals, are hits. Procurement is complicated enough that specialized tools are increasingly necessary, according to some analysts.

Managing the process can be complicated, but the first step is locating opportunities, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. Checking the FedBizOpps.gov Web site periodically is an inefficient approach, he said.

"The No. 1 thing people want to know is where the business is — who's got the money, honey," Allen said. "Things move so quickly today, and much of the work that goes into business is done in advance of any [request for proposal] coming out."

Contractors are also interested in compliance tools, Allen added. "A lot of companies are looking for [those] to make sure they don't inadvertently do something that will run afoul of procurement rules or accounting rules."

Everyone can benefit from the help, he said, both at the beginning of the process and during the steps along the way.

"It's an interesting juxtaposition," Allen said. "On the one hand are companies who are already well established and trying to keep their pipeline full, and on the other hand are those who are the newest of the new and trying to get a pipeline established."

Corvis Government Solutions Inc. is a new division in Corvis Corp., an older network technology firm, and its officials are using technology from a company called MAP ROI Systems Inc. to augment their access to information about new opportunities. Rick Slifer, a former MCI official who is now vice president of sales and business development for Corvis Government Solutions, said the software tools help the sales and marketing staff maintain consistency.

MAP ROI's product, G-Force, adds automation to the process of finding and qualifying opportunities and developing and submitting bids, said Christopher Stahl, the company's founder and chief executive officer.

At Corvis, "we're using it to supplement other sources of information that we might have," Slifer said. "We felt like we should provide [the sales and marketing team] with tools, since there was not an infrastructure already here."

G-Force builds consistency into the proposal process, he said. "Otherwise, everything would be a one-off."

Technology is especially useful for younger sales people who are not as familiar with the procurement process and for those coming from a different work environment, Slifer added.

Founded in 2000, MAP ROI is fairly new, said Stahl, formerly a consultant. G-Force came out last October, and company officials announced their first venture capital round — for $2.6 million — last month.

G-Force gathers information on federal, state and local contract opportunities and grants, and the product channels it to companies, he said. MAP ROI sells the system directly to larger firms and government agencies that will in turn make it available to smaller companies under license. G-Force is available through an application service provider, or it can be installed at a customer site.

Some systems integrators have inquired about buying extra licenses to make the system available to their suppliers as well, Stahl said. He said he wants to make the system as useful as possible to customers.

"We recognize the hurdles that companies have in front of them," Stahl said. "Companies that are $25 million [in revenue] and under have a lot of need for expanded training, so we pair up with universities."

In addition, he is working to team up with more content providers to add niche content to the system to make it useful to government contractors in any industry.

However, Stahl emphasized that

G-Force is not only a content product. It also aids company officials in determining whether to pursue qualifying opportunities, connecting with potential partners and managing the bid process.

Florida was the company's first major buyer, he said. MAP ROI officials are working on a General Services Administration schedule listing now and will begin approaching federal agencies soon, Stahl said.

ManTech International Corp., a provider of security technology, is using software from Privia Inc. to manage proposal processes. ManTech officials will likely adopt a companion product for capturing information about new opportunities, said Bill Baker, senior vice president of ManTech's strategic planning center.

"We have a standardized and formal proposal development process, and it's based on certain industry standards," Baker said. "Our interest was to be able to enhance our implementation of that standard process and to better automate that process. We should be more productive and able to support more proposals and generate better quality proposals with the same staff and same resources."

Both ManTech and Privia use business development standards created by Shipley Associates, based in Farmington, Utah.

ManTech has long had a formally documented process but not proposal management software, Baker said. Now his team is preparing to deploy the Privia system.

Company officials decided to purchase the system as deals became more complex, he said. Most contracts call for multiple companies to form partnerships.

"Nowadays, it's not uncommon to have eight or 10 or 12 teammates," Baker said. "We hope to be able to use this to enhance our management process."

A typical deal of $100 million could call for 10 to 15 people to work on a proposal, some full-time and some less involved, he said. On a larger proposal, 20 people could be involved. The software helps such a large group stay organized and consistent.

The system is especially helpful for employees who are not procurement professionals and may not know the process as well, said Ronny Tey, vice president of products and marketing at Privia.

"These bid teams consist of dozens of people," he said. "The folks who are not full-time proposal people generally are not as familiar with the process."

As employees work on proposals, the system ensures that they get the information they need to do their part of the project but not information they don't need, Tey said.

Officials at Privia, which was founded five years ago, developed the product with ample input from customers, he said.

"Every organization will have its own unique way of developing proposals, but the fundamental flavor of it is very consistent," Tey said. "The state of the market today dictates an application like Privia. The complexity of the government contracting space is increasing."

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