Most small enterprises must undertake some form of business process augmentation when entering federal government contracting.
A previous article at this site addressed an overview of this challenge:
The natural inclination for small business is to immediately jump to buying computer software tools in an effort to expedite the business system growth process. That propensity is often enhanced by software companies who maintain their product is “DCAA Compliant”, has been “Validated by the Government as an Earned Value Management System (EVMS)” and other similar claims.
This article will address cautions and tips regarding an immediate jump to software as a means of growing a government contract business system. It will recommend some rules of thumb to insure wise business system development decisions, specific to your company and managing the associated risks.
UNDERSTANDING THE REQUIREMENTS
The US Government learned decades ago that it cannot impose specific business systems on contractors. One of the last great attempts to do so was the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). It was abandoned in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and replaced by a set of industry criteria now known as Earned Value Management Systems (EVMS).
Similarly, the Federal Government Cost Accounting Standards Board (CASB) determined that job cost accounting systems could not be imposed on contractors. Over the years they have developed and maintained a set of Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) which governs requirements for accounting on government contracts.
The GSA and similar agencies maintain policies on travel, human resources and wage/rate determinations that are not specific systems, but minimum standards as well. A small business entering federal government contracting should research the above and similar requirements in such areas as quality assurance, inspection and acceptance and export management.
PROCESS COMES FIRST – MAXIMIZE WHAT YOU HAVE
Given a thorough understanding of the requirements for a government contract business system that fills the need for your specific product or service delivery, the next step is to examine existing processes to determine if they can meet the need or be minimally supplemented to do so.
Finding a need for major process changes or enhancements in the existing business system is the beginning of a requirements analysis to determine the labor, process change, planning, costs and eventual selection of new automated tools that fit the company and that need.
Many start-ups and small enterprises find they can crutch their existing job cost accounting system for service contracts with spread sheets instead of buying an expensive, data base oriented, COTS software package initially. As the company grows into government contracting and the number of transactions and associated revenue warrants the expense, the firm can then evaluate more expensive packaged software tools and ease into them with a plan to minimize disruption.
A government contract award drives many things in government business, but small firms cannot wait until that event to position at least the minimal processes necessary to perform, price new business, function lawfully in the human resources area and submit supportable detail in billings.
Please see the following articles for guidance on minimal business system requirements for small business federal government contacting.
RULES OF THUMB FOR SELECTING AUTOMATED TOOLS
From strategic planning to marketing, from forward pricing to job cost accounting, from subcontracting and vendor/contractor management to human resources policies, the small firm finds itself undergoing a business system design project upon entering the government contracting venue.
Understand the requirements first, review existing processes and tools next, develop a thorough requirements statement of what must be done in the way of enhancements and then consider automating. While performing your analysis keep the following 5 rules of thumb in mind:
1. An electronic computer software package is not a system. One cannot acquire a system by acquiring computer capability.
2. One acquires a system by conducting systems analysis, achieving a design and processes by working with the people who will run the system. This is hard work and time consuming. Processes are improved and made more efficient by modifying user behavior not by automating it.
3. Once system and analysis and system design are complete one chooses tools to assist in running the system. The adequacy of a computer tool is driven by the requirements of the most efficient system design.
4. The biggest mistake implementation teams make is to believe they are buying a system when they buy a software tool or let the software drive the systems analysis process. That is like asking a mechanic to drive a wrench from New York to St. Louis. It has resulted in millions of dollars wasted and plummeting efficiency in many organizations, large and small.
5. It is necessary to design a system and processes unique to the company to meet user requirements before going shopping for computer tools. If you do not you will be pigeon-holing your company into a COTS mentality and become a slave to the company that owns the source code. If you want anything changed it costs a big buck.