We received a great tip from TechRepublic member Jess Parmer, who warned that consultants might be paying for information they can get for free. Parmer, an administrative research associate at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Bowling Green, OH, described a free alternative to paid bid-match sites through the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs). PTAC is a network of counseling offices that offers free help to small and medium-size businesses that want to market their products and services to federal, state, and local government agencies.
This information builds on advice in a recent IT Consultant Republic article on three steps for beginning your government procurement process that featured industry experts Stephen G. Charles, the cofounder and executive vice president of immixGroup, Inc., and Matt Price, a principal consultant at NOC Builder. Price said he uses Web sites like GovernmentBids.com, Pro-Net, and the Texas-specific Qualified Information Systems Vendor (QISV) program site to find RFPs that may match his Dallas-based firm's qualifications. TechRepublic member Benjamin Woelk told us he uses two paid services to find RFPs: RFP-Finder and Onvia.
Find free help in your area
American consultants can use these two sites to find PTACs in their area:
- Selling to the Government.net is the site of the Association of Government Marketing Assistance Specialists.
- The Defense Logistics Agency administers the Department of Defense (DOD) Procurement Technical Assistance (PTA) Cooperative Agreement Program on behalf of the Secretary of Defense.
Charles’ and Price's three steps will provide a solid start for an IT consultant in doing business with the federal government. However, Woelk may be paying for what he can get free from DOD-sponsored Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, which serve experienced small and medium-size businesses.
PTACs are located in all U.S. states, except Hawaii, and provide services that aid businesses in narrowing their searches in the thousands of RFPs and RFQs published weekly. At BGSU, we set up an e-mail filter, based on keywords and codes, to help small to medium-size businesses find bid matches from among the hundreds of RFPs that are sent out each day.
However, finding the proper codes may be a challenging endeavor for IT consultants because they're in a service industry, whose codes are less clearly defined than those of products and services. To compound the confusion, a wide variety of codes from various entities may define a service provider. Some of these classification codes include the following:
- North American Industry Classification System codes (NAICS 1997, rev. 2002)
- Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes
- Product Service Codes (PSC)
- Research and Development (R&D) codes from the Federal Procurement Data System's Product & Service Codes (which differ from traditional PSCs)
- Federal Supply Codes (FSC)
Because each of these codes has a distinct function for which it was created, it can often be difficult to determine which classifications fit your firm's services.
In some senses, services and R&D providers are orphans of the DOD system. Since FSCs for goods consist of four digits—which form the first four numbers of the 13-digit National Stock Number (NSN)—they're fairly easy to identify. There's no such convenience for service providers and, often, considerable effort is required to identify a firm's PSC or R&D code.
The reason these are important—perhaps the key to all such e-mail filters—is the language used to describe each PSC. In fact, our experience at BGSU suggests that, for DOD solicitations, the only really necessary words or roots of words are those to be found in PSC descriptions, and so they should form a large part of any keyword-search file.
If you know your SIC codes, you can find your NAICS codes easily by using a free online conversion table. NAICS codes are already spreading into solicitations as a required descriptor. For example, we at BGSU-PTAC now enter NAICS as keywords in our e-mail filters.
PTACs can provide help in filtering RFP and RFQ e-mails, usually without charge. They can help you define your firm's capabilities in terms presented in the text of e-mail RFPs and RFQs and may offer other services that often dovetail with the service’s Small Business Development Centers.
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