Tag Archives: small business opportunity

Special Operations Command Opens Doors for Small Firms

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Special Operations Command

Photo:  USSOCOM

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Unique technology needs mean more opportunities for small businesses and startups to get their foot in the door with SOCOM, program managers have said.

The command has become known as an organization that has come up with some inventive ways to speed up traditional military acquisition regimes.

I would rather play a lot of blackjack than play roulette,” James “Hondo” Geurts, the chief of Special Operations Command’s acquisition, technology and logistics organization said recently.

The analogy spells out his philosophy when it comes to procuring new technologies special operators need to carry out their unique missions. Small, carefully placed bets on niche technologies have a better payoff, in the long run, than spending a lot of funding on any one big program, he said at this year’s National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference.

He wants to fund the technologies “that will transition quickly, then keep moving on,” he said.

“Things are changing so fast we don’t have three years to figure out what we want to do to support an operation. I’m happy if I have three months to figure out some of these things,” he said.

“We want new voices and new ideas,” Geurts said.

One practice SOCOM uses to acquire and discover new technologies is “technical experimentation” venues.

It invites technology developers to bring their works in progress to a hosted event three to four times per year. Each event has a specific theme. Special operators with experience in the field are on hand to assess the technology and provide feedback, which helps them to improve their products, said Kelly Stratton-Feix, director of acquisition agility at special operations forces’ acquisition, technology and logistics office. 

A request for information is posted through FedBizOpps, and advertised on LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Technology providers reply with a white paper, which is then reviewed by users such as components, theater commands and program offices. The users identify the experiments that they are interested in seeing, and the technology provider then receives an invitation to participate, she said. 

Technical experimentations “provide a win-win environment because technology providers can get insight into what’s important to the user early in the development cycle and we get to see technology early on, and often identify additional use-cases that haven’t been considered by the developer,” said Stratton-Feix. 

For those who cannot make it to one of these events, the command launched a web-based technology repository/scouting platform called “Vulcan.”  

This tool, which is searchable and accessible to any government employee, enables technology providers to quickly describe technologies they are offering and to upload supporting documentation to a secure, shared, searchable central database, Stratton-Feix said.

A registered Vulcan user who sees an interesting technology can issue a one-time use “token” to the technology provider who can then upload a scout card containing further information about the product.

“Vulcan is a work in progress,” she said. There are currently more than 1,500 scout cards loaded, with more than 700 registered government users, she added.

There are two other means to initiate contact with SOCOM.

One is the director of small business who provides guidance and information to industry and commercial partners on how to get their foot in the door with the command.

“This office should be one of a small business’ first contacts when initiating communication with USSOCOM,” Stratton-Feix recommended.

The technology and industry liaison office is another conduit to present information on capabilities to the various PEOs, directorates and others responsible for the research and development, acquisition, production and sustainment of materiel and technology platforms. It has a web portal where ideas can be submitted.  

Another high-profile effort to reach out to the larger technology community is SOFWERX, an unclassified, open collaboration facility designed to bring non-traditional partners from industry, academia and the government together to work on the command’s most challenging problems.    

The building located in Tampa’s historic Ybor City district was intentionally chosen so those wanting to collaborate with SOCOM didn’t need to go through onerous security checkpoints at nearby MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, where SOCOM headquarters is found.  

The facility, and a nearby workshop known as DirtyWerx, conduct design thinking sessions, technology sprints, rapid prototyping and other events with government, academia and innovators in the commercial marketplace. It is also the central node in the command’s efforts to push advanced manufacturing and 3D printing technology to operational units, Stratton-Feix said.

Geurts warned that SOFWERX is not intended to be a “bypass” facility to get around traditional ways for the command to acquire technology. It is intended to be “way left” of that process, he said.

Along with these facilities, events and web portals, SOCOM employs some contract vehicles to speed up the traditional acquisition process, which is normally subject to the time-consuming Federal Acquisition Regulation regime.  

“Velocity is our competitive advantage,” Geurts said. “That is what we bring to the fight,” he added, speaking of the command’s acquisition enterprise.

He returned to the roulette analogy. The four services spend a lot of time writing requirements then they “throw the ball on the wheel and let it ride.”

Cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA) have been used by the military to provide some seed money to potential vendors and kick start technology development.

The command established ways to make that process even more streamlined by creating an “Overarching CRADA,” which has already been signed by Geurts. If firms find the CRADA acceptable they simply add their corporate information and sign the document.

“This process now allows for [Overarching CRADAs] to be established in weeks to months compared to the year-long traditional process,” Stratton-Feix said. 

In addition, CRADA partners can now enter in individual work plans with any of the command’s program executive offices or directorates. There are currently 156 CRADAs and 10 active individual work plans with several more in the works, the command said.

SOCOM must comply with the same statutory and regulatory measures required of the military departments. However, the SOF AT&L team “aggressively utilizes the inherent freedom and flexibility of the DoD 5000 series of directives and instructions by streamlining processes and tailoring documentation in developing and managing SOF-peculiar programs,” said Stratton-Feix.

That directive includes such vehicles as “urgent operational needs” and “immediate war fighter needs,” which allows for more rapid technology acquisition, as long as solutions are not developmental and can be acquired off the shelf with few changes.

Other transaction authorities, or OTAs, allow in certain circumstances for program managers to go outside traditional contracts to rapidly acquire prototypes and forgo FAR requirements as long as the agreement is with a “nontraditional defense contractor” and there is some cost-sharing, as the regulations stated.   

“Non-FAR contracts are a great device but not a panacea,” Geurts said.

Geurts wants small businesses and startups to use these various portals to kick off the process of putting their ideas and products in front of SOCOM. 

He meets regularly with vendors, but “don’t come selling me a widget,” he warned. He wants to hear from potential suppliers when they are having a hard time with the process, or if they have ideas on how the command can be a better customer.

“What keeps me up at night is somebody has an idea that can’t get to me,” he said.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/4/20/special-operations-command-opens-doors-for-small-firms

 

Introducing Federal Government Contracting Into Commercial Small Business

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INTRODUCTION 

Many inquiries have been received from commercial firms and startups regarding entering the small business federal government contracting market. Topics relevant to the issue have been posted at this site since 2006, but a comparison has not been made between the commercial and government environments to benefit readers. The purpose of this article is to compare small business federal government contracting as opposed to selling commercial products and services. The comparison may be useful for those who are considering melding commercial and federal government business or starting an enterprise involving both venues.

WHAT FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING IS – AND IS NOT

Small business federal government contracting is not rocket science – to succeed you must take what you do well in the commercial market place or what your experience leads you to believe you can plan successfully as a commercial enterprise and then apply it in a slightly different manner from a business perspective to accommodate federal government contracting requirements. Very few companies enter federal government contracting without some commercial experience and success. Very few startups entertain contracting exclusively to the federal government without commercial work to sustain operations while the more lengthy government procurement process is being pursued.

Federal government contracting is controlled by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Bid and proposal types are driven by the nature of the supply or service being procured. No one reads the FAR cover to cover – It is a source book for when you need it. The FAR and associated regulations are taught in only a few colleges, such as the Defense Systems Acquisition University at Ft. Belvoir and the George Washington School of Government Contracting. Very few CPA’s are familiar with the US Government FAR Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) and I am not aware of any questions regarding CAS on current CPA exams. In general one must grow to understand these requirements and that usually happens by doing business under them.

BUSINESS DRIVER COMPARISONS

The following are some common driving business factors and a commercial versus federal government comparison for each:

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The above are not all the driving factors you should consider when weighing the differences between commercial and government work, but they are some of the most significant. Becoming a government supplier may not result in the highest profit-making product/service line in your enterprise but the venue has the potential to pay the bills and be a major platform for stability and long term growth. It should not be your only endeavor but it could be a major element of your total business plan.

Please see the  Table of Contents  at “Smalltofeds” and the free downloads of books and materials there for further details.

Defense Companies Courting Startups: Fad or Lasting Trend?

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Image: “Forbes.com”

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The aerospace and defense companies are “getting the message that we need to spend more time outside of our world and participate more broadly in the technology ecosystem,” Ryder said.

There are products out there that defense contractors don’t even realize exist.

During a closed-door meeting with top industry executives last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter once again sought to drive home the message that companies need to break out of their cocoon to help the Pentagon bring the next wave of innovation.

The conversation touched on familiar topics, according to participants, but Carter seemed especially animated by one executive’s comments about a recent industry “speed-dating” event where commercial startups were invited to hear about business opportunities with defense contractors.

“His eyes lit up when Raanan talked about this,” recalled Bob Edmonds, vice president of Elbit Systems of America.

Elbit CEO Raanan Horowitz gave Carter a brief account of the matchmaking event, hosted by tech startup SwitchPitch, where major defense contractors sought to attract commercial innovators that typically do not do business with the government.

This sounded like the type of outreach Carter had been wanting to see in the defense industry as Pentagon officials have grown increasingly worried about the military’s eroding technology edge and the cultural divide between the commercial and defense sectors. The most innovative industries in decades past were embedded in the defense establishment, but they now live in separate worlds. Carter and others fear that the Pentagon and its top contractors have built walls around the sector, keeping out innovators and creative thinkers.

The SwitchPitch model is one of many avenues that defense contractors are pursuing to “see what’s out there,” Edmonds told National Defense.

A four-year old venture, SwitchPitch was created to offer scrappy startups and small businesses an opportunity to break into corporate America. The meeting the company hosted in September in Arlington, Virginia, was the first one that focused on the defense and aerospace markets.

About 50 startups attended from across the country. Seven projects were pitched by BAE Systems, Harris Corp. and Elbit Systems, and 98 speed-meetings were held between large contractors and startups. Jerry McGinn, the Defense Department’s principal deputy director of the manufacturing and industrial base policy office, spoke at the event about the Pentagon’s desire to create new paths into the defense market.

Everyone seemed pleased by the results, said Michael Goldstein, president of SwitchPitch. The positive reaction speaks to the vast appetite for innovation in defense and aerospace, he said. The company provides a software-as-a-service platform for large companies to manage their startup and small-business engagements.

Glacier Point, a defense industry consulting startup, was hired to help organize the meeting and vet the participating startups. “We were seeing a major demand signal for non-traditional sources of technology,” said CEO Jeff Ryder.

The conventional wisdom that the defense sector is not appealing to the tech world does not apply in this case, Ryder said. “Startups were thrilled to be able to get into targeted conversations with multibillion dollar companies. It wasn’t abstract. They asked for specific things.”

Beyond the initial “discovery” phase, the next step is to figure out the business model for injecting startups into a “repeatable process in a defense company,” said Ryder. “That part is still in development.”

In the wake of Carter’s initiatives to court tech firms around the country, Ryder sees a huge opportunity to spread the SwitchPitch matchmaking model across defense agencies and military services.

BAE, Harris and Elbit pitched projects that were grouped in several major categories: precision navigation in GPS-denied environments; detection, identification, tracking and presentation of battlefield data coming from multiple sensors; tracking and classification of commercial drones; reducing size, weight, power and cost of electro-optics devices; public safety communications; cockpit and avionics solutions to reduce helicopter crew workload; and machine learning algorithms for radio-frequency spectrum analysis.

These are areas where the Pentagon is seeking “discriminating advantages in the future,” said Edmonds.

After hearing the presentations, the startups introduced themselves to the large contractors in a round of nine-minute “speed dating” sessions.

It was an eye-opening experience, said Elbit’s Chief Innovation Officer Doug Sandklev. “We heard about technologies we didn’t know were available.”

One such surprise was a product to help identify legitimate 3D-printed parts from counterfeits. A company named InfraTrac offered it as a solution to the aerospace industry’s growing anxiety about the proliferation of rogue components. A chemical “fingerprint” is inserted into the layers of material, and companies can detect it using a commercial chemical analyzer.

Sharon Flank, founder and CEO of InfraTrac, said the company has worked primarily in the medical devices and athletic footwear sectors, and is now becoming aware of promising opportunities in aerospace and defense. “I’ve seen printers that print circuit boards and connectors,” she said. “Counterfeit electronics is a big issue.”

Following the SwitchPitch event, Flank was invited to follow-up meetings at Elbit and BAE Systems, she said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Sandklev said many of the startups are wary of working with defense companies for fear of inadvertently giving away trade secrets. “Intellectual property issues are a top concern,” he said. There is no clear-cut answer to protect small businesses from the “big integrator taking his idea and running with it.”

The solution is probably a combination of teaming and licensing arrangements, Edmonds said. “We try to create a win-win.” There are times when large defense contractors will decide to buy a company so they can take ownership of the IP. “Do we look for targets to buy? Yes,” he said. “If there’s a conversation where the company entertains acquisition, it can happen.”

Ryder agreed that, of all the headaches that startups try to avoid in pursuit of government contracts, none is more daunting than the protection of IP. “Depending on the level of engagement, the barriers are not that bad,” he said. “Government contractors could do a better job articulating how they could work better with commercial companies.”

He expects more of the Pentagon’s large contractors will be motivated to work with startups, not only because of potentially lucrative IP but also to help change established companies’ culture and business models, Ryder said.

“Startups can move very quickly,” he said. “Having startups in your portfolio should have a cultural impact in terms of learning how to do things more quickly.” Commercial tech companies, unlike what some analysts have speculated, are not a threat to defense contractors, said Ryder. “A lot of contractors need to think about fundamental changes to their business models.”

John Kelly, vice president of business development at BAE Systems, said he found the SwitchPitch approach “quite effective.” What they offer are not “exquisite DoD needs” but technologies that the military is eager to acquire to modernize aging systems. “I went looking for three things and found five.”

He does not see IP issues as deal breakers. “We can license the IP, perhaps we can acquire the company. There are legal frameworks for that. Those problems have been solved.”

There are however unresolved questions about how the defense industry will integrate commercial technology and whether companies are truly committed to an “open systems” approach.

The issue was raised recently by Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “For those of you in industry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked the following question: ‘Will your widget subscribe to an open architecture?’ Answer is always, ‘Oh sir, of course.’” But when the government asks for a new upgrade to make the system more useful to the military, the response is, “Oh, sir, we can’t do that. It is an open architecture but only inside of our company or only inside of our proprietary IT,” Selva said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.

The innovation sought by the Pentagon, said Selva, requires “resilient open architecture to which all of our systems can subscribe, and we’ve only scratched the surface on that.”
Kelly said the industry is well aware of these demands, and he cautions that commercial startups are just as leery of open systems as defense firms because they want to protect their IP. “DoD doesn’t want proprietary systems any more,” Kelly said. “But small companies, as they transition from commercial to defense, have to understand DoD doesn’t want to buy significantly IP-restricted systems.”

The massive flow of private investment into startups has created expectations in the Pentagon of faster, less costly development, Kelly noted. “But some of the constraints in the federal acquisition regulations are challenging when it comes to leveraging commercial technology,” he said. “DoD is trying to work through those issues.”

The push for innovation that Carter has championed, meanwhile, has spawned a broader debate about the Pentagon’s rigid ways and whether change also needs to happen from within. That has been the theme of an annual gathering of military officers and industry executives at the University of Chicago dubbed “Defense Entrepreneurs Forum.”

The forum’s executive director, Jim Perkins, is an Army engineer who has long been frustrated by what he describes as hidebound thinking across the Defense Department that stifles innovation.

“Our mission is to change the culture in the military,” he said. “We are incredibly bureaucratic and risk averse.” When the military is overseas fighting wars, commanders are allowed to take risks with technology if it might help win or save lives, he said. “But when we come back to the United States, no matter what your idea is, we categorically tell you, ‘No.’”

One encouraging development was the creation of the Defense Digital Service, he said. A Carter initiative, the DSS was set up to fix technology problems and was given authorities to cut through the bureaucracy. “It’s very empowering, and has made a lot of impact so far,” said Perkins.

In the grand scheme of things, the key is to develop leaders who are not afraid to innovate, he said. “We are not cultivating ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2016/december/Pages/DefenseCompaniesCourtingStartupsFadorLastingTrend.aspx

 

 

YOUR GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING BUSINESS PLAN

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Your SBFGC Business Plan

INTRODUCTION

When visiting the SBA website on business planning, there are major topics in the business planning process which, when addressed in a plan, will insure the success of an enterprise and assist  in determining and supporting the amount of funding needed. Such topics as marketing, advertising, competitor analysis and financing are covered there. There are presentations and examples that can be followed to improve a plan or generate an initial plan. The link to the site is below:
SBA Write a Business Plan

Articles on strategic planning and developing a marketing plan are at the “References” Box Net Cube at this site. They address evolving an operations vision for an enterprise showing its potential to present to a banker or to an investor.

Here is a site with free business plan samples:
Business Plan Samples

It may assist in visualizing business growth to look at an example of how someone else addressed a given topic.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The purpose of this article is to supplement the above business planning guidance with suggestions on principal unique aspects of federal government contracting that will yield a successful plan and more importantly a successful execution of that plan in the federal contracting venue.

NICHE DEVELOPMENT

Product entrepreneurs all face the same challenges. Those who succeed recognize they need to visualize themselves in the product development business, structuring an enterprise, generating a business plan, protecting intellectual property and then seeking industry partners and investors to bring the product to market.

In the process, copyrights, patents and royalty issues may come into play and development and distribution agreements are formed. Pricing is finalized based on cost and expense projections and competitive factors unique to the company as negotiation results are achieved with industry teaming partners, developers, manufacturers and distributors.

Product Development Insights

Service contracting to the federal government is a natural venue for small business. It does not require a product with a niche market or capital intensive manufacturing facilities. Service contracting does require skilled management and labor resources capable of performing a scope of work for which the government has identified a need and for which outsourcing to an industry contractor has been selected as the means to fulfill that need. The venue demands strong human resources management, industry teaming and an enhanced business system to price, account and bill on a job cost basis under government service contracts.

Service Contracting Insights for Success

REGISTRATION

Utilize the below link to register your company.  It provides excellent guidance and background, as well as access to the PDF file on NAICS Codes which are critical for you to choose before you begin the registration process.  Give these some careful thought when selecting them.  If there is a chance your firm may wish to be involved in a field, put the code in your registration.  No one will question your qualifications at this point.  That comes later during proposals.

Note the requirement for a DUNS number up front.  You may already have one.  If you do – use it.  If you do not, follow the instructions on obtaining a DUNS free at the Dunn and Bradstreet web site.

When you have completed your registration at the link below you will received a Government CAGE Code, uniquely identifying your firm and its location as a government contractor.

Registering for Government Contracting

MARKET RESEARCH

As a small business becomes known in the federal government contracting community, successful marketing of sole source or group-designated business becomes easier, but it is always a challenge due to the need for taking early action in windows of opportunity.

Find those windows and communicate capabilities to the decision makers and industry team members who can help you.

If you are eligible for set aside designations make small business set asides or sole source procurements key elements in your marketing plan.

Marketing to Achieve a Federal Contract

TEAMING

Be straight-forward and honest with  industry teaming partners.

Do not violate share arrangements, teaming agreements or non-disclosure agreements. Such violations are a death knell for your reputation in the business.

Do not become known as a resource raider by hiring away from other firms with whom you have teamed.

Give it a best shot as a prime or a sub but involve the government contracting officer to resolve industry teaming disputes that may damage a past performance record.

Exclusivity is the practical way to go on any given program. Team early and exclusively and be a winner.

Reputation is key, ethics count and  customers as well as the industry are observing.

Managing Industry Teaming Relationships

BUSINESS SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT

Waiting for a contract award to achieve a government contracting business process is not advisable. A win may not happen at all without addressing the structure and process requirements in your proposal to convince the customer  understand his business environment is understood.

If one is not prepared in advance and one is fortunate enough to win, then in a very short time frame one will have to evolve a business system to perform on the contract and submit a billing

This article will discuss a framework for a small enterprise to develop a business system in service contracting, which is the most frequent venue utilized to enter the government market.

Government Contracting Business Systems Development

PROPOSAL PREPARATION

Government contract proposal preparation is time consuming and can be costly. Meeting the agency Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements with a responsive proposal can be well worth the effort if a winning strategy can be formulated. When considering submitting a proposal to a given government solicitation, conduct a bid/no bid exercise.

By going through that process  a company  begins formulating your win strategy or it will discover that it should not bid this job for lack of such a strategy. The elements of the process are discussed below in the form of questions to ask  against topics for key consideration

This article offers guidance as a template to apply marketing operations for accommodating federal government contract proposal preparation. Proposals are special, sometimes exhausting projects, but a necessary part of doing business with government agencies. Like many other aspects of business, the more proposals that are prepared, the more that is learned and the more one can borrow from past practice for the next one.

Government Contracting Proposal Preparation

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Strategic thinking must be applied to structuring a government service contract project management capability in your company. It must involve long term planning and designing a business system as well as establishing rates and factors to bid new work and control it while interfacing with the customer.

When one plans in detail to define the product or the service one reduces performance risk.
The project management challenge is not to launch significant and costly resources before the specification for the product is sufficiently defined, obviating the need for costly revisions or abandonment, yet knowing when the product definition and plan are suitable for release.

Good project management starts early.

Vital Tips for Project Management

SUMMARY

Consider the advice herein when developing and maintaining your business plan. Overlay approaches unique to the company against the guidance offered and place it in the standard format for business planning.  It will yield a road map for success and can be further evolved for growth.

For additional  details on these topics and other important information in developing and executing a government contacting plan, download the free books and supplements available in PDF format at the first, vertical “Box” in the left margin of this site.

Seizing the Moment

DHS Small Business Chief Gives Insights into Winning Contracts

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DHSSmallContracts

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Newcomers are welcome,” Kevin Boshears, director of the office of small and disadvantaged business utilization, said at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association homeland security conference.

DHS exceeded its small business contract award goals in fiscal year 2014, he said. Thirty-five percent of DHS prime contract awards went to such firms, he said. It also doubled its goal for disabled veteran-owned company contracts by reaching 6 percent for the first time. Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones) contracts also reached an all-time high of 3.9 percent, he added.

About 13,000 companies had DHS contracts in 2014. Of those, 9,400 were small businesses with prime or non-prime contacts. And of those, almost 1,800 of them earned their first DHS award last year.

One of the key takeaways from these statistics is that: “You don’t have to have DHS past performance to secure a contract,” Boshears said.

“We have prime and subcontracting opportunities for small businesses. It’s not one or the other. It’s both,” he added.

Once a contract comes up, the office has to be convinced that small businesses are capable of serving as a prime contractor. If that is the case, it sets the award aside for them.

When moving on to full and open competitions where it expects to award the contract to larger companies, it facilitates a mentor-protégé program for the small businesses or paves the way for subcontracting opportunities.

For those companies that want to break into the DHS market, Boshears said it was no different than selling to any other agency or customer: they must understand the market and customer and they must put themselves in a position to compete.

As for the latter, he has queried thousands of small businesses to find out what steps they took to grab their first federal contract, and four answers have come up repeatedly.

The first hallmark is that they do their homework. Boshears recalled receiving a phone call recently from a small business owner who was trying to find out about an overdue contract award, which turned out to be from the FBI. He had to explain that the agency was not part of DHS.

“I didn’t see his face but he felt pretty sheepish when I told him,” he said. There is a wealth of information at the DHS small business website, he noted.

Secondly, successful companies understood the differences between all the contract vehicles, he said. Those include: General Services Administration schedules; open competitions on FedBizOps; and multiple award, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts.

“You have to understand the differences because it helps you position yourself,” he said. If, for example, a company offering a product does its homework and discovers that for the past five years DHS has acquired the same item through the GSA schedule, “that’s an automatic clue,” Boshears said.

The third step successful companies took was participating in various forms of networking. Industry conferences are an obvious example of this, but it can be less formal settings such as email exchanges.

“Some way or another, these firms participate in some kind of network,” he said. “The key is getting information that is of use to you.”

The last element is that they understand all the facets of teaming.

There are many ways to do this. A small business can ask a larger one for backup in case it wins an award. It can subcontract with a prime. Or it can form a joint venture.

In that case, Boshears recommended being very clear in the proposal as to which company intends to perform which tasks.

“When we review them, I can say that we truly are neutral. What we’re looking for is the best offer and the best value to the government that is advantageous to what we’re trying to do,” he said.

“These four things when all taken together leads to positioning yourself to participate,” he said.
The most common path for small businesses to put their foot in the door at DHS is to first be a subcontractor. “It’s basically finding a niche piece of work that you’re confident you can perform, and proposing what you have to offer to companies that anticipate submitting an offer.”

The small business office also posts on its website a monthly forecast of opportunities, and hosts a monthly outreach program, where companies can sign up for 15 minute pre-arranged meetings at the Homeland Security Acquisition Institute with small business specialists from the department’s 22 agencies, he said.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2015/April/Pages/DHSSmallBusinessChiefGivesInsightsintoWinningContracts.aspx

Spy Agency Poised to Solicit Industry for Capability to Predict Cyber Attacks

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hacker                                                         Image:  Culture Digitally.org

“Cyber-attack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment,” or CAUSE, project.

“DEFENSE ONE”

“The intelligence community is holding a contest to design software that combs open source data to predict cyber attacks before they occur.

Academics and industry scientists are teaming up to build software that can analyze publicly available data and a specific organization’s network activity to find patterns suggesting the likelihood of an imminent hack.

The dream of the future: A White House supercomputer spitting out forecasts on the probability that, say, China will try to intercept situation room video that day, or that Russia will eavesdrop on Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

IBM has even expressed interest in the “Cyber-attack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment,” or CAUSE, project. Big Blue officials presented a basic approach at a Jan. 21 proposers’ day.

Aims to Get to Root of Cyberattacks

CAUSE is the brainchild of the Office for Anticipating Surprise under the director of national intelligence. A “Broad Agency Agreement” — competition terms and conditions — is expected to be issued any day now, contest hopefuls say.

Current plans call for a four-year race to develop a totally new way of detecting cyber incidents — hours to weeks earlier than intrusion-detection systems, according to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

IARPA program manager Rob Rahmer points to the hacks at Sony and health insurance provider Anthem as evidence that traditional methods of identifying “indicators” of a hacker afoot have not effectively enabled defenders to get ahead of threats.

This is “an industry that has invested heavily in analyzing the effects or the symptoms of cyberattacks instead of analyzing and mitigating the — cause — of cyberattacks,” Rahmer, who is running CAUSE, told Nextgov in an interview. “Instead of reporting relevant events that happen today or in previous days, decision makers will benefit from knowing what is likely to happen tomorrow.”

(RelatedWhy the US Needs More Than Just $59 Billion for Cyber Defense)

The project’s cyber-psychic bots will estimate when an intruder might attempt to break into a system or install malicious code. Forecasts also will report when a hacker might flood a network with bogus traffic that freezes operations – a so-called Denial-of-Service attack.

Such computer-driven predictions have worked for anticipating the spread of Ebola, other disease outbreaks and political uprisings. But few researchers have used such technology for cyberattack forecasts.

At Least 150 People Interested — No Word Yet on Size of the Prize Pot

About 150 would-be participants from the private sector and academia showed up for the January informational workshop. Rahmer was tight-lipped about the size of the prize pot, which will be announced later this year. Teams will have to meet various minigoals to pass on to the next round of competition, such as picking data feeds, creating probability formulas and forecasting cyberattacks across multiple organizations.

At the end, “What you are most likely to be able to do is say to a client, ‘Given the state of the world and given the asset you’re trying to protect or that you care about, here are the [events] you might want to worry about the most,’” David Burke, an aspiring participant and research lead for machine learning at computer science research firm Galois, said in an interview. “Instead of having to pay attention to every single bulletin that comes across your desk about possible zero days,” or previously unknown vulnerabilities, it would be wonderful if some machine said, ”These are the highest likelihood threats.”

His research focus is “advanced persistent threats,” involving well-resource, well-coordinated hackers who conduct reconnaissance on a system, find a security weakness, wriggle in and invisibly traverse the network.

Imagine that CAUSE was all about the real-world analogy of figuring out whether some local teenagers are going to knock over a 7-Eleven. That would be really hard to predict. You probably couldn’t even tie that to any larger goal. But in the case of APTs — absolutely” you can, Burke said in an interview. “The fact that APTS are on networks for a long period of time gives you not only the sociopolitical pieces of data or clues but you have all sorts of clues on your network that you can integrate.”

It’s not an exact science. There will be false alarms. And the human brain must provide some support after the machines do their thing.

The goal is not to replace human analysts but to assist in making sense of the massive amount of information available and while it would be ideal to always find the needle in a haystack, CAUSE seeks to significantly reduce the size of the haystack for an analysts,” Rahmer said.

Unclassified Program Will Trawl for Clues on Social Media

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s stance on surveillance, National Security Agency intercepts will not be provided to participants.

Currently, CAUSE is planned to be an unclassified program,” Rahmer said. “We’re going to ask performers to be creative in identifying these new signals and data sources that can be used.”

Participants will be judged on their speed in identifying the future victim, the method of attack, time of future incident and location of the attacker, according to IARPA.

Clues might be found on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, as well as online discussions, news feeds, Web searches and many other online platforms. Unconventional sources tapped could include black market storefronts that peddle malware and hacker group-behavior models. AI will do all this work, not people. Machines will try to infer motivations and intentions. Then mathematical formulas, or algorithms, will parse these streams of data to generate likely hits.

(RelatedWhat Happens When Spies Can Eavesdrop on Any Conversation?)

One research thread Burke is pursuing examines the “nature of deception and counterdeception, particularly as it applies to the cyber domain,” according to an abstract of his proposers’ day presentation.

Cyber adversaries rely on deceptive attack techniques, and understanding patterns of deception enables accurate predictions and proactive counterdeceptive responses,” the abstract stated.

It’s anticipated that supercomputer-like systems will be needed for this kind of analysis.

For example, “if you were able to look at every single Facebook post and you processed everything and ran it through some filter, through the conversations and the little day-to-day things people do, you could actually start to see larger patterns and you could imagine that is a ton of data,” Burke said. “You would need some sort of big data technology that you’d have to bring to bear to be able to digest all that.”

Still Nailing Down Specifics on Supercomputer Use

The final rules will indicate whether companies can or must use a supercomputer, and whether they can borrow federal computing assets, Rahmer said. “We definitely want innovation and creativity from the offerers,” he added.

Researchers at Battelle, a technology development organization, said they might harness fast data processing engines like Hadoop and Apache Spark. They added that the rules and their team partners will ultimately dictate the system used to amp up computing power.

We have already recognized as both the rate of collection and the connections between data points grow we will need to move to a high-performance computing environment,” Battelle’s CyberInnovations technical director Ernest Hampson said in an email. “For the CAUSE program, the data from several contractors could push us towards the need for a supercomputing infrastructure using technologies such as IBM’s Watson to support deep learning,” or, hardware such as a Cray Urika “could provide the power to fuel advanced analytics at-scale.”

According to IBM’s January briefing, the apparatus currently used to solve similar prediction problems “runs on x-86 infrastructure.” However, IBM’s x-86 supercomputer hardware was spun off to Chinese firm Lenovo last year. It remains to be seen what machine IBM might deploy, a company spokesman said.

In theory, the government could say they are going to own the servers,” IBM spokesman Michael B. Rowinski said. “We don’t know ultimately that we would participate or what we even would propose.”

Recorded Future, a six-year-old CIA-backed firm, already knows how to generate hacker behavior models by assimilating public information sources, like Internet traffic, social networks and news reports. But the company’s analyses do not factor in network activity inside a targeted organization, because such data typically is confidential.

Doing this successfully is not simply the sociopolitical analysis applied to current flashpoints,” Burke said. “You also have observables on a network: signs possibly of malware or penetration because many campaigns that take place go on for weeks or months. So you also have a lot of network data that you are going to end up crunching.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/02/spy-research-agency-building-machine-predict-cyber-attacks/105951/?oref=defenseone_today_nl

What Should a Wounded Veteran Value Most – Disability Pay or Civilian Professional Opportunity?

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Image by Nathen Brooks for NY Times“New York Times” 

Lt. Col. Daniel Gade is not your typical messenger. He is a combat veteran who lost a leg while serving as a tank company commander in Iraq in 2005.

Today he is a professor of public policy at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but he spends much of his spare time publishing essays and traveling the country pushing the idea that the Department of Veterans Affairs should move away from paying veterans for their wounds and instead create incentives for them to find work or create businesses.

Nearly 200 sick and wounded soldiers in a gym at Fort Carson last month listened silently as Lt. Col. Daniel Gade offered a surprising warning: The disability checks designed to help troops like them after they leave the service might actually be harmful.

As he paced back and forth in front of the soldiers, some of them leaning on crutches, Colonel Gade said that too many veterans become financially dependent on those monthly checks, choose not to find jobs and lose the sense of identity and self-worth that can come from work.

“People who stay home because they are getting paid enough to get by on disability are worse off,” he said. “They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to live alone. You’ve seen these guys. And the system is driving you to become one of them, if you are not careful.”

“It’s a difficult issue to broach. People immediately think you are trying to shortchange veterans,” he said in an interview. “But I’m in a position to do it because I have skin in the game, literally.”

Much like debate over Social Security, discussion of disability compensation is the third rail of veterans politics. It is a program with broad public support that has defied efforts at change even as it has consumed a growing portion of the $151 billion Veterans Affairs budget.

Since 2001, the number of veterans getting monthly checks for service-related disabilities, ranging from bad knees to catastrophic injuries, increased by 55 percent, and the overall cost of compensation nearly tripled, to $59 billion.

Despite the rising cost, revamping the program remains unpopular with both parties in Congress as well as with the country’s major veterans organizations, many of which employ large numbers of people to help veterans apply for benefits. Officials with those groups say the idea that disability compensation discourages work is unfair to veterans and potentially dangerous to a system that has helped many cope with the ravages of war.

“No one wants to be disabled; they want to work,” said Garry Augustine, the Washington director for Disabled American Veterans. Mr. Augustine was wounded by a land mine in Vietnam and lost the use of his left hand and foot. “I’m a perfect example,” he said. “I came back severely injured, couldn’t walk. I needed compensation because I couldn’t work. I went to school on the V.A., got job training through the V.A., and worked my way off disability. The V.A. gave me my life back.”

Some veterans’ advocates say that Colonel Gade is siding with fiscal conservatives who want to reduce federal spending, even if it comes at a cost to wounded veterans.

“It’s unclear what their end state is,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the chief executive and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Mr. Rieckhoff said his organization would support testing alternative strategies to disability compensation. But, he added, “The larger problem right now is not that too many people are getting paid. The larger problem is not enough people getting care and support.”

Colonel Gade’s ideas have won support from some conservatives. A pilot program, which would provide financial incentives to veterans who work, is being started by the Philanthropy Roundtable, a donor organization that has pushed other reforms focused on individual choice, such as charter schools.

And two former secretaries of veterans affairs under President George W. Bush — Anthony J. Principi and Jim Nicholson — said in interviews that they pushed for overhauling the disability system but could not overcome resistance from veterans groups and Congress.

Colonel Gade, 39, says he wants to avoid a partisan fight over his ideas, which he says are first about helping veterans and second about saving money. “I think we can show we have a no-kidding better way to help veterans that is cheaper and more effective,” he said.

He is not completely alone. Some new veterans groups say labeling so many veterans “disabled” makes it harder for them to rejoin society.

“When vets come home from war they are going through a tremendous change in identity,” said Eric Greitens, a former member of the Navy SEALs and founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that encourages veterans to volunteer in their communities. “Then the V.A., and others, encourage them to view themselves as disabled. We meet a number of veterans who see themselves as charity cases and are not sure anymore what they have to contribute.”

Colonel Gade sometimes uses his leg as an example of what needs updating in the system. A century ago, he says, he might have spent his life hobbling on crutches, dependent on government aid to provide for his three children. Today he has a lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber prosthesis guided by microprocessors that has allowed him to return to active duty. But the disability system still treats him as if he needs a crutch, he says.

He first noticed what he considers the misguided incentives of disability compensation while recuperating from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005. Many of the amputees in his ward, he said, had been there for years.

He left the hospital after five months and spent another six months in daily physical therapy. A year later, when a scandal over poor treatment of soldiers at the hospital erupted in 2007, he saw some of the patients he knew testifying before Congress.

His main goal is to reach young veterans who initially get modest compensation for less severe injuries, then seek a greater payout — a phenomenon critics call “the benefits escalator.”

He points in particular to a federal program known as Individual Unemployability, for which veterans become eligible when the government gives them a rating of 60 percent disabled or more. The program pays them as if they are 100 percent disabled, as long as they can show their disabilities keep them from maintaining “substantially gainful employment.”

The bump in benefits is substantial: Veterans getting $1,200 per month can receive up to $3,100 per month, as long as they do not work.

“From an economic standpoint, you would be crazy to get a job. It’s a trap,” Colonel Gade said.

At Fort Carson, he attempted to recruit people to test his alternative to that system. With funding from private donors, he hopes next year to give 100 participants $55,000 to use toward anything that will help them secure employment, such as equipment for a business, training or professional certification. The participants must agree not to increase their initial disability ratings or use the Individual Unemployability program during the trial.

Veterans in the group would get a 25 percent bonus on everything they earn up to $40,000, an incentive designed to push them into the work force. The program will also track 100 veterans that get only the bonus payments, and a control group of 100 that gets nothing.

“We are not taking away your benefits, but we don’t want you to ride the escalator,” Colonel Gade told his audience at Fort Carson.

It was difficult to know what the wounded soldiers thought, but some seemed receptive.

“The current system is just ‘Give me the money, who cares about anything else,’” a soldier from a military police unit told Colonel Gade. “Your idea says go out and work, be productive, feel good about yourself. There is where we do well. If we don’t have a mission, we don’t do well.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/us/iraq-veteran-now-a-west-point-professor-seeks-to-rein-in-disability-pay.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=1

Image Credit:  Nathan Brooks for NY Times

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Recruiting Startups and Innovators

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Under a new initiative by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, inventors will be able to send in proposals without having to trudge through miles of red tape as they would have to in traditional government contracts. For this particular project, the agency is taking a different approach with an “EZ BAA” that is written in layman’s terms…..”The biological technologies office accounts for about 10 percent of DARPA’s $3 billion annual budget. Responses to the BAA should be short, no longer than two pages, Jackson said. Under the terms of the BAA, proposals will be accepted until Nov. 6, 2015.

“The Pentagon’s technology arm is prepared to invest up to $700,000 in a promising idea in the field of biological sciences and technology. “EZ BAA is meant to be a gateway to follow-on funding through traditional mechanisms,” said [ Alicia] Jackson [deputy director of DARPA’s biological technologies office]. Her office estimated that $700,000 would be enough money to put together a meaningful “proof of concept” of a technical idea.

Jackson insisted that DARPA is not trying to replicate what other federal agencies already are doing in biological and medical research, but instead wants to help push the technology from labs into the marketplace.

“Many agencies focus on basic research,” she said. DARPA is looking to combine biotech with engineering and information sciences. “We are the only office focused on biological technology.”

Officials are hoping to hear from many startups and medical scientists who might be working on possibly ground-breaking projects but are not aware that DARPA could be a source of seed funding, said Jackson. “People don’t associate DARPA with biology … Or don’t know about DARPA.”

It is likely that many of the innovators DARPA is seeking have never worked with the federal government before, she said. Small startups are not equipped to do traditional federal contracting or apply for a conventional BAA. The EZ BAA should make it more attractive for them, said Jackson.

Once ideas are vetted, standout proposals might become candidates for additional funding under a more conventional DARPA contract.

“EZ BAA is meant to be a gateway to follow-on funding through traditional mechanisms,” said Jackson. Her office estimated that $700,000 would be enough money to put together a meaningful “proof of concept” of a technical idea. “All our proposals are held to clear milestones,” she said. “We don’t just throw money over the fence and hope a good idea comes to fruition.”

One area of interest is neurotechnology. DARPA has already scored key breakthroughs toward building more advanced prosthetics for military amputees, such as prosthetic limbs controlled by brain interfaces. The agency wants to push the “man-machine symbiosis,” said Jackson.

DARPA also is keen on advancing medical technologies that could help thwart outbreaks of infectious diseases. The Ebola crisis has spurred worries that the United States has been reactive, and there could be ways to better prepare for future biothreats, Jackson said. “We are trying to rethink that paradigm. We’re not just interested in solving the Ebola crisis. We want to be prepared for the next thing. We’re looking for a way to completely transform the way we’re attacking these problems, either with a vaccine or therapeutics or diagnostics.”

DARPA program managers will sort through the abstracts and identify those they believe hold the most promise, even those that seem too far reaching. “We don’t use outside experts to do reviews,” said Jackson. “A lot of ideas are unconventional and buck the party line.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=1662

 

 

 

 

Defense Program Taps Small Business Innovation

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“It’s not the innovation of the technology. It’s the innovative application of a technology,” said Smith. “It could even be an innovative process change. Sometimes it’s the disruption of the bureaucracy.”

“The RIF program is not about disruptive technologies, because these technologies are mature,” said Bob Smith, the Navy’s program manager for RIF.  “But it has created a disruptive way of doing business because it has accelerated the acquisition process much faster than the normal budget cycle.”

“Making the transition from research and development to acquisition by the military is hard. A Defense Department program called the Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) is designed to make that transition easier. It allows the military to collaborate with small businesses to provide innovative technologies that can be rapidly inserted into acquisition programs.

RIF is administered by the office of the secretary of defense, by the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering and the office of small business programs.

Initial proposals consist of a four-page white paper. If nominated by one of the services’ program executive offices and selected by the service, funding can be awarded for up to $3 million for two years to speed the insertion into a program of record. RIF doesn’t develop technologies; it validates that existing technologies will meet a requirement of a program of record.

A recent RIF success story involved a small Massachusetts company working with Brett Gardner, an engineer at the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southwest in San Diego.

Gardner is involved in the maintenance and repair of aircraft, such as the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. He saw an interesting product offered by Midé Technologies of Medford, Massachusetts, at the 2011 Navy Opportunity Forum that he believed could be adapted to help the Navy test aircraft.

“We sell a vibrational energy harvester for vibrating machinery that can be used to power sensors, microcontrollers, low power antennas or things like that. It has to be tuned properly to optimize how much energy you’ll get,” said Jeff Court, a company executive. “So we developed a small accelerometer to measure the vibrations. The result was the original Slam Stick.”

Gardner asked if the Slam Stick could measure G forces.  The answer was yes.
Instrumenting an aircraft is very expensive, Gardner said. “It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there has to be an engineer assigned to the project. The process takes a lot of time.”

If the fleet reports unexplained incidents of cracking in the avionics bay, Gardner said Slam Stick would help determine the cause.

”If the racks are breaking, and we don’t know what’s going on, we can put some two-sided tape on the Slam Stick; program the G loading, temperature or atmospheric pressure where you want it to go off — or it could be a combination of triggers; and place it near the area where you’re concerned about. You go out and do a flight test.” It records data that can help to make a determination if excessive G loading is causing the problem.”

The RIF funding will pay for the adaptation and validation of the Slam Stick for use as aircraft test equipment.

“It’s unbelievable how little it cost to get this designed, compared to some of the systems we’ve paid for,” said Gardner. “If it takes off, the benefits and the cost savings to the taxpayer are going to be off the charts.”

“The RIF program turned something that was sort of a useful novelty item into a real engineering tool,” Gardner said.

Slam Stick is one of 16 projects executed by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in the inaugural year of the RIF program. The remaining projects are on track for completion by the end of fiscal 2014, with anticipated transition shortly thereafter.

“NAVAIR’s success is due to the close relationship between the chief technology officer’s science and technology portfolio managers and the program officers,” said NAVAIR’s Chief Technology Officer James Sheehy. “The selection of topics was virtually effortless because contracting support was in place and ready to award while the program managers were poised waiting to accept the RIF project.”

Many RIF technologies have their origins in the Small Business Innovation Research program. Stuart Berkowitz of Out of the Fog Research in San Francisco said his company applied for RIF to take the technology it had developed previously under the SBIR program to build an engineering design model to evaluate for the Navy’s shipboard signal exploitation equipment program.

“With the RIF funding, we can test how well our technology performs, do shock and vibe testing and test responses to high and low temperature, electromagnetic interference and all of those things you might find out on a ship.  And that’s really the benefit of RIF. We’ve answered all those questions,” Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz has this advice for companies considering applying for RIF: “You can’t just propose this cool technology and have it transition. You have to have a program of record saying, ‘We will buy it if you can prove that it actually does what you say it’s going do, and that it’s actually deployable.’”

There are no guarantees that the program will be funded for acquisition, he said. “Perseverance is one of the key parameters to transition into the military marketplace.”
Smith said the first step to obtaining RIF funding is to watch for the next broad area announcement to come out.

“That’s your next funding opportunity, but you should start having conversations with the acquisition community now. Look at the websites, talk to the CTO’s science and technology portfolio managers, talk to the program manager and see what the challenges are. You can look at the most recent BAA, because most of those challenges will still be there in the next BAA. They are enduring challenges and we don’t have the money to solve all of them.”

The white papers are relatively simple, but the evaluators are looking for convincing opportunities.

According to Robert Parker, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command deputy CTO and assistant PEO for science and technology within PEO C4I, the RIF program has become an important way to rapidly introduce new capabilities. “It exposes us to a wide range of companies that we wouldn’t normally see, since we don’t typically have industry days on our more generic requirements. We can get an assessment of what’s mature and what provides us a pretty high value to our programs of record.”

The funding of up to $3 million, he said, “reflects the emphasis on transition for capabilities that are already pretty mature.”

For SPAWAR, the transition rate for RIF projects is 50 percent. “I expect it to go higher,” said Parker. “We’re taking less risk. The RIF white paper process allows us to cherry pick the best capabilities for our programs.”

His advice is to take advantage of the open communications period. “Every time a business calls us up, I pair them with a program office so they can have a much more detailed conversation,” said Parker. “I think companies have appreciated talking to us, even if the outcome isn’t what they hoped for.  If we tell them ‘Your technology isn’t something we can use,’ at least they know not to waste their time.”

RIF can involve something already planned for a program of record, but deliver it faster or make it better. A RIF-funded effort by Progeny Systems Corp. of Manassas, Virginia, to test the upgrade kit for the Mk-54 Mod 1 lightweight Torpedo to improve effectiveness in littoral and mine countermeasures environments, allowed the Navy to deploy that capability a year or so earlier than planned. “It was a modest investment to verify the capability,” said Smith. “The Navy was already planning to buy it, but now it can buy a better version of it. And it got enough fleet priority that it kind of moved to the front of the line.”

Janet McGovern, one of NAVAIR’s science and technology portfolio managers who is also the command’s RIF lead, emphasizes the importance of building relationships over time. “We don’t want to discourage small companies from submitting their good ideas, but I certainly recommend that they do their homework in advance. If it’s a continuation of SBIR, then there’s a relationship with the program office already in place. But I think that it’s harder for a company to break through the barrier if they haven’t done the legwork ahead of time. It’s much more advantageous if they’ve had that relationship built beforehand.”

Smith said it comes down to effective communication. “Successful RIF projects result from starting and continuing a conversation.  And it usually is a conversation about a solution, technology solution, to my problem.  That’s how you do it.  And a lot of talking is involved because it’s a complex world.”

The time and effort is worth it, for all parties involved, he added. “On the Navy side, if you get selected, your odds really skyrocket that you’re going places — because we picked you, because we want you to succeed, because we need you to succeed, we want to transition you to our program.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2014/November/Pages/DefenseProgramTapsIntoSmallBusinessInnovation.aspx

The Defense Health Agency – A Huge Opportunity for IT Systems Contractors, Large and Small

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“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”

“First and foremost is the upcoming rip and replace of its legacy electronic health record systems. This will be a 10-year IDIQ worth $11 billion.

Teams composed of Cerner/Accenture/Leidos, Allscripts/HP/CSC and IBM/Epic Systems have all announced their intention to bid for the contact, which will likely be awarded next spring and begin deploying in December 2015. The winning team will need a lot of help as requirements will involve a wide range of technologies especially identity management, security, visualization, and analytics. All signs point to DHA directly managing this effort after the contract is awarded.

Another initiative and one unbeknownst to many is DHA’s upcoming efforts to consolidate its internal infrastructure to improve health related information sharing and management.

A major aspect of this plan will be a standardized desktop that will deliver and sustain a common baseline across the Military Health System for both traditional and virtual desktops. The non-standard, decentralized desktop environment is hard to manage, expensive, less secure and inflexible, causing a negative impact on health care providers’ ability to do their jobs. This standardization will focus on release management, software licensing, hardware, data storage, and refresh strategies.

DHA will also consolidate its local and wide area networks to connect users to local and enterprise applications, network peripherals, network drives, and the internet/intranet under a single security architecture.

Almost one year ago the Defense Department completed the biggest overhaul of its sprawling military health system ever, highlighted by the creation of the Defense Health Agency.

While the military departments still have their respective medical commands, DHA brings together under one roof functions such as health IT. The massive reorganization comes after eight previously failed attempts to unify the sprawling defense health complex spanning over 1,200 locations and 10 million beneficiaries.

As DHA nears its first anniversary, all indications point to an agency slowly coming into its own. That’s because DOD didn’t stop at changing the organization charts and legacy responsibilities. Some of the biggest health IT projects the military has ever seen are taking place over the next few years and DHA is in the middle of what’s happening.

So where will these investments be?

These and other initiatives point to a standardized approach for regionally storing data and delivering applications and services in close proximity to the point of care or need. DHA’s goals efforts point to the core of the DOD medical’s inability to effectively share information, manage, and deliver standard business and clinical capabilities to providers throughout the Military Health System.

Improving availability and timeliness will save lives.

SUCCESSFUL SELLING

The last 18 months have not been kind. The debacle over the integrated VA-DOD electronic health record effort and the more recent, but more troubling, delays within VA’s system have put military health in an unfavorable light.

DHA has a mandate to, where applicable and possible, use technology to improve the timeliness, access, and quality of health. Also, with healthcare costs amounting to about 10 percent of DOD’s half a trillion dollar budget, the current rate of spending is unsustainable. Consequently, DHA leaders have been charged to find savings wherever possible.

It’s also important to know that DHA buys IT for the military health system. That is, not just DOD-wide systems and applications, but it is also chartered to address the needs of the service medical commands of which there are three: the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Army Medical Department, and the Air Force Medical Service.

Finding success within military health requires understanding the unique needs within each service environment. For example, some sailors will receive approximately 70 percent of their primary care onboard ships and there are significant bandwidth and mobility issues for soldiers deployed in remote locations.

Complicating the job of DHA are the multiple existing networks which not only result in redundant operations and maintenance but often constrain access to systems and information. DHA needs help. Industry has a once in a lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of military medicine.

It’s sounds like a cliche to say that technology saves lives. In this case, it’s true! What resonates with DOD health leaders when it comes to technical solutions? How do you synch your message with what DHA and all military health entities want and need? Here are some recommendations:

  • Focus on strategic IT infrastructure initiatives that support improved clinical care
  • Identify consolidation and rationalization opportunities
  • Recognize cost savings for critical infrastructure initiatives
  • Goal is to have clinical locations across the globe possess the same IT functionality
  • Understand that data must be aligned to national standards
  • Come armed with ways to improve infrastructure and performance monitoring
  • Increase access to interoperability tools”

http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2014/09/30/insights-mccoy-dod-health-opportunity.aspx