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How to level the field for small businesses competing in the federal marketplace
Lou Giglio is head of federal sales at Zoom. A former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, he has nearly two decades of experience leading public sector IT and security sales teams.
The federal government has a long history of promoting the interests of small businesses in America. Dating back to the passage of the Small Business Act in 1953, and the creation of the Small Business Administration, Congress and federal leaders have recognized the importance for the federal government to “preserve free competitive enterprise” by ensuring that small businesses receive a “fair proportion” of federal contracts.
Over the years, Congress has approved a variety of programs to increase federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, which have proven especially helpful to those owned by women, minorities and service-disabled veterans, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. And most recently, the SBA has taken new strides to help small businesses gain easier access to capital and federal contracts through the SBA’s Equity Action Plan, announced in April.
But as small business owners gather for SBA workshops during this week’s annual National Small Business Week (May 1 –7) — a tradition begun during the Kennedy administration — part of the discussion will likely turn to a key question: How to turn opportunities into face-to-face time with federal procurement officials.
The reality is, most small business owners don’t have the staff, the resources, or the travel budgets that larger and more government-savvy contractors maintain to manage and bid on government contracts. Consequently, even though part of the government procurement playing field is reserved for small businesses, the field is hardly a level one.
One solution that would benefit agencies as much as small businesses involves making it easier for small businesses to meet with agency program and procurement leaders virtually.
It would seem after two years of holding all types of meetings online, the ability to meet virtually instead of in-person has become almost second nature. But as with most tasks when doing business with the federal government, it’s not quite that simple.
In order to comply with federal security and risk management requirements, agencies must rely on secure, enterprise-grade video communications and collaboration platforms to conduct virtual meetings. That includes having the capabilities to control access, connect securely, limit file and screen sharing, and maintain the latest versions of applications.
For government contractors doing business with the government, the annual enterprise licensing costs for those types of platforms are just the cost of doing business. But for smaller businesses, the costs associated with those licensing commitments can appear too high to justify and lead to choosing either less secure or less capable platforms.
The good news is small businesses no longer have to make that trade-off. Zoom for Government is now available to small businesses with all the enterprise capabilities larger firms rely on, but at prices that work for small businesses. That gives 8(a), minority-owned and other small businesses the means to conduct business virtually with federal civilian and defense agencies using a video conferencing platform that is FedRAMP-certified, and now meets Department of Defense Impact Level (IL) 4 security standards.
That not only puts them on a more level playing field with federal agencies, on par with larger contractors, but it also gives agencies access to a wider circle of potential business partners and innovative ideas. One leading federal health sciences agency Zoom supports reported that by facilitating virtual meetings to promote grant writing workshops, it saw the participation of women- and minority-owned businesses nearly double.
Contrasting the typical costs of air travel and hotel expenses that small business owners must consider incurring to participate in in-person federal contracting sessions, it is easy to see why many qualified small businesses opt to pass up on federal opportunities.
Since its inception, Zoom has always been driven by the desire to foster inclusivity. That’s inherent not only in Zoom’s low-bandwidth, high-performance design but also in the way Zoom’s platform allows individuals to collaborate from virtually anywhere, using a wide range of devices. But Zoom is also committed to helping government and businesses work smarter and more effectively.
Providing affordable, secure, enterprise-grade video communications to small businesses is just one of the ways Zoom is trying to help level the playing field for companies seeking to bring innovation to government — and extend the type of fairness Congress and the SBA envisioned in support of small businesses in America.