7 business groups to consider joining

Companies value federal-oriented business groups for building relationships

Joining trade groups and associations is a type of investment for Shirley Black, president of the consulting firm JB Management Solutions, who likes to meet other business owners. “I was making an investment to get out and build relationships with other businesses in the area,” Black said. In return for that investment, she has gained many training and coaching opportunities important to her business and clients, she said.

Black advises other business owners to decide what they want to gain from membership in a trade or professional organization before becoming a member. “Know what you want to get out of it,” she said. The returns on investment in a trade group membership hinge on the business owner, she added. It all depends on how active you want to be in the group, she said.

Trade associations offer programs in different areas of interest. Many groups have their own constituencies, and business leaders must find groups that are the best fit for them. Several information technology business officials said they find the following business groups worthwhile to join.

1. American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council

The American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council offers business professionals plenty of occasions to attend panel discussions and briefings from which they can learn about business opportunities in the federal government. The groups also share industry information with government officials. By joining ACT/IAC, businesses become better informed about the federal IT marketplace, said Bill Piatt, chairman of IAC’s Executive Committee.

“IAC aims for open and frank dialogue between government officials and members of industry,” he said.

The association has nine shared interest groups in which members can focus on topics that have an influence on their business. The SIGs focus on topics such as workforce and homeland security issues. “The greatest value comes from participating in the various activities, in particular the shared interest groups,” Piatt said.

The SIGs create a forum for discussions among government and industry. They allow for networking between members and government executives. The SIGs also develop white papers, but they refrain from making specific recommendations to government leaders. ACT/IAC wants to achieve insight and understanding, not wield influence, Piatt said.

2. Government Electronics and IT Association

The Government Electronics and IT Association’s signature products are its government spending forecasts. Company representatives meet with government officials for open and candid discussions. From those talks, GEIA gathers data to create its forecasts.

This year GEIA will release its 42nd annual 10-year Defense and NASA Forecast and the 18th annual five-year Federal IT Forecast. The 2006 GEIA Vision Conference to make government spending projections for fiscal 2006 to 2016 will be held Oct. 18 and 19 in Falls Church, Va.

Businesses derive great value from the meetings and forecasts, said Mike Dooner, GEIA’s director of member relations. Larger companies help small businesses and advise them of opportunities in the federal marketplace, he added. Through GEIA’s Small Business Advisory Committee, business leaders can voice their opinions about issues of concern.

3. AFCEA International

AFCEA International has 134 chapters that hold meetings in which engineers, programmers and managers meet with government officials and military officers to exchange ideas.

The organization sponsors several committees that focus on a variety of issues, including a Business Committee that devises strategies and programs to create opportunities for small businesses.

Harold Youra, vice president of programs at the AFCEA chapter in Bethesda, Md., said some chapters focus solely on the military services, but others have a broader reach. The Bethesda chapter, for instance, often looks at IT issues, such as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which requires federal agencies to issue uniform identification cards to employees and contractors to enter federal buildings.

“We are geared toward helping individuals understand government and making it more efficient,” Youra said.

AFCEA chapters have another appeal, he said. For less than $50, members can attend panel discussions. “We do it very inexpensively.”

4. Association of IT Professionals

The Association of IT Professionals has transformed itself from its inception in 1951 as the National Machine Accountants Association to today’s AITP. In its new form it works to broaden members’ understanding of IT principles and methods.

The Chicago-based association has chapters across the country that offer networking opportunities at national and local chapter events. Members have access to white papers on technology and IT management practices, and to research and development and vendor solutions.

5. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has more than 365,000 members in more than 150 countries who are engineers, scientists and allied professionals in electrical and computer sciences and engineering. The group’s members create and share knowledge about electrical and information technologies and sciences.

6. Association for Service Disabled Veterans

Started in 1982, the Association for Service Disabled Veterans provides information about qualified businesses owned by service-disabled veterans and promotes the growth of those businesses.

7. American Small Business Coalition

The American Small Business Coalition is a private organization that offers its small-business members opportunities to form relationships that will prepare them to win business from the government and its prime contractors.

A group that goes to bat for IT

Among the numerous professional organizations for federal industry officials, the Professional Services Council is one of the more broadly based groups, with members from various segments of the professional and technical fields. PSC members offer many services to agencies, including information technology guidance and high-end IT consulting. About 70 percent of PSC’s members work in the national or homeland security markets.

A PSC official said the group’s broad membership base is one of its greatest strengths. “This gives PSC a uniquely broad scope of involvement and context from which to execute its advocacy agenda,” said Stan Soloway, the council’s president. “It also gives the association a unique leadership position on matters affecting the industry.”

Because PSC analyzes the federal market exclusively, it has the targeted focus and expertise to respond to rapid changes in the policy and business environment, Soloway said.

PSC is also a recognized advocate on Capitol Hill for businesses and acquisition reforms. One of its key interests is addressing concerns raised by the General Services Administration’s schedules and governmentwide acquisition contracts.

— Matthew Weigelt


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