Industry profile: Keydata delivers

When the Food and Drug Administration announced that it needed 600 pre-configured notebooks with portable scanners and printers delivered to field investigators in five regions across the country by the end of November, a small Virginia-based firm jumped into action.

The computers not only arrived on time, but they were delivered two weeks ahead of schedule, allowing for quick redelivery to the FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs' (ORA) resident posts, and ensuring that the computers and the accompanying equipment would be operational before the end of the year.

Keydata International Inc. has been supplying the FDA with similar services and custom computer solutions for the past three years. It is one of many small, computer companies that have been approved to do business with the FDA as part of an effort that began three years ago to pre-qualify small computer businesses in order to negotiate the best price for large orders, said Bob Hoffa, deputy director of the ORA's office of resource management, division of information systems.

"Of the companies we have tried, Keydata is the first company I have received universal [positive] responses on from the information resource managers for the quality of equipment and the quality of service," Hoffa said. "I've given Keydata large orders with very short turnaround dates, and they have met or exceeded every single one of them." Hoffa added that his department is responsible for supplying 3,500 agency employees nationwide with IT products.

The need for the equipment was based on a primary initiative of Jane Henney, the FDA's commissioner, who was sworn in last December, and Dennis Baker, the associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, who assumed that post in March, Hoffa said. "From checking food establishments at border crossings to assessing drug companies on public-safety compliance, the investigators need the proper equipment to do the job, and that means notebooks with portable scanners and printers," he said.

Hoffa said his department still works with Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp. for certain projects, but he said he has been equally impressed—if not more—with Keydata's service. "With small companies, until you have some experience with them, you don't know what to expect," he said. "Keydata has matched—and a lot of times exceeded—the service we've received from some of the larger companies."

The November shipment to the FDA of 594 notebooks with accessories is one example of what the company does best, said John Saling, Keydata's director of federal sales. "They wanted an integrated package that supported their field inspectors in a bundled configuration," he said. "We pre-configured it, ran tests and supplied a bundled product...and we set it up so that it was basically plug and play."

Saling said Keydata's business model is set up the same way "Tier One manufacturers are for selling directly to the federal government market," but the fact that the company is small—it currently has about 50 employees—allows for greater flexibility and shorter turnaround times on orders.

"We can change on a moment's notice, and we're basically putting products out there on the fly," Saling said. "Our aggressive planning allows for delivery two or three weeks ahead so that the government user can log-in in advance and still meet their deadlines."

The company has been an approved vendor with the FDA since 1997, but the ORA has far outpaced other departments in purchases, Saling said. The ORA purchased more than 1,100 PCs and more than 1,000 notebooks in fiscal 1999, with a total value of about $4.6 million.

The company also has been approved for blanket purchase agreements in the General Services Administration's Heartland and Rocky Mountain regions, as well as for separate deals with the Army and Navy.

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