New products to market

Unleashing industry on federal applications

Over the years, the federal government has been buying commercial products. Large private corporations, with technology budgets that are considerably smaller than those of many individual federal agencies, buy these products yet continue to invest in new initiatives to gain a competitive advantage.

In the private sector, if you continue to be a follower, the path to bottom-feeding is inevitable. Lower profit means less consumer support and possibly acceleration toward bankruptcy. Successful, aggressive corporations continue to invest in new ideas, new technology, and research and development.

The profit motive may not be a driver for federal agencies, but increased emphasis on achieving missions is part of today's expectations by citizens, agency managers and lawmakers. A review of — and renewed investment in — new technology to meet these expectations is in order.

How can we convince businesses, particularly small businesses, to participate in the early addition of new technology that is needed to enhance government services?

As background, an apparent pent up demand for new ideas exists, as evidenced by the Homeland Security Department's recent call for commercial technologies.

DHS received 3,300 responses to its request and another 500 unsolicited proposals through e-mail.

But why limit this request to commercial software? The war on terrorism demands employing our best innovations to stay ahead. Ask any vendor how long it takes to achieve commerciality. A quicker procurement model may be in order.

If an unsolicited proposal merits consideration and is selected for procurement, the submitting firm would receive a sole-source contract for a pilot or prototype contract to prove value or feasibility. If the pilot were to succeed in meeting the initial objectives, the first production run would again be a sole-source procurement. Subsequent procurements would be open and competitive.

The terminology may be slanted toward products, but service businesses can also offer innovation and should reap benefits.

To make the process somewhat manageable, all unsolicited proposals should be limited in size to the equivalent of two letter-size pages, 10-point font, on one side, with no attachments or enclosures.

Use the following format:

* Describe the uniqueness of the proposed activity and its result and end product.

* Predict its value to the customer.

* Report current status.

* Estimate the scale of effort to prove value.

* Lay out how the proposal will proceed; for example, are the next steps a pilot, prototype or deliverable?

A small internal team could review each submission.

If value is apparent, more information may be requested for further review.

Kane is a consultant who has worked in the federal market for more than 40 years. He can be reached at rkane@infonetic. com.

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