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What are the most effective ways for acquisition professionals to engage with industry in the early stages of the acquisition process?
That was one of the questions on our minds in a recent interview with Bill McNally, Senior Procurement Executive at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Based on our interview with McNally, I wanted to share four ideas for ways that acquisition professionals might consider engaging with industry.
1. Do your homework. One of the first steps McNally recommended was to conduct market research. “For instance, if you are interested in something that could be related to cloud computing, you could go and start doing some research in that area to define what is cloud computing, what is the technology behind it, what’s the capabilities behind it, who is doing what in it,” explained McNally. “You can do a lot of market research without having to talk to anyone…but it still does not replace communicating with industry.” In other words, the first step is to become educated on the solution, then reach out to industry with a baseline knowledge that enables you to ask better questions.
2. Engage early and often. McNally stressed the importance of engaging with industry as early in the acquisition process as possible. “If you have a complicated requirement, then you want to start showing industry some of your draft requirements on the document so they can take a look at it and have questions,” said McNally. Agencies want to make sure that industry really understands the requirements in order to elicit strong proposals and accurate pricing. “If a statement of work is well-defined, then industry will be interested in bidding on the job and won’t view it as too risky,” said McNally.
3. Host an industry day. The “Myth-Busting 2” Memo issued by the White House in May 2012 addressed industry days specifically, saying, “Industry days and outreach events can be a valuable source of information for potential vendors and are increasingly being used to leverage scarce staff resources.” While industry days are valuable, McNally did gave a word of caution: “Usually you have a gathering of companies, and a lot of times companies won’t say anything at these meetings because they don’t want to give anything away to a potential competitor.” Knowing this dynamic, it’s important to create an event where both government and vendors can gain enough information to prepare for the solicitation without overly relying on it for the lion’s share of an agency’s market research activities.
4. Schedule one-on-one meetings. Finally, McNally suggested that agencies should also consider conducting one-on-one meetings with vendors. McNally said that’s what they do at NASA, making sure it’s “a good, well-focused meeting that covers certain key elements and not very broad.” He continued, “We might define four or five key elements that we really want to have discussions with industry on and dial up with them before we finalize our strategy and then eventually send out a solicitation.”
The one restriction McNally noted in terms of communicating with industry was what he calls a ‘black out period.’ “The only restrictions we have in relationship to communication in a competitive environment is that after the RFP is released, communication can only be through the contracting officer,” said McNally.
Beyond that specific window of time, the default is open discussion. “You want to make sure that industry really understands the requirements they are going to propose on,” recommended McNally. “That way, you get a good proposal and a good price.”
How does your agency engage effectively with industry?
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