LEWISBURG - Technology is taking on a greater role than ever in the world of procurement and government contracts.
New online programs allow companies to more easily enter the procurement system, if firms know how to use them, and as government agencies seek to learn more about companies, they're looking for comprehensive websites to get the information they need.
Last summer the federal government introduced SAM, the System for Award Management, which combines several procurement programs.
"SAM is intended to eliminate the input of redundant data while improving the capability of government procurement staffs and, ultimately, cutting costs and saving money," said Robert Brown, director, SEDA-COG Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC),
Once a company is in the system it only needs to update its data once a year, but the initial entry can be cumbersome, particularly for firms unfamiliar with online registration programs. Because SAM is essentially a merger of several other databases, registration can be a confusing process.
"For instance," said Brown, "the first step is obtaining a Dun and Bradstreet number and that can take several hours."
More and more, the SEDA-COG PTAC is assisting companies with the initial set-up to become a government contractor.
"Companies with only three or four employees can't devote the time to complete the one-time registration. But we've been trained, we've gone through the process several times, and we're available to help companies get started with SAM registration," he said. "In addition, many of the federal small business certifications must be completed online and we can assist companies, if they qualify for the certification."
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has a separate online vendor registration process and small businesses must now self-certify their business status, using the state system, in order to be considered for state contracts. The state recently rolled out its Small Business Procurement Initiative (SBPI), and SEDA-COG can instruct companies on what they must do to take advantage of SBPI.
Brown also stressed the need for company websites.
"It's one more step in marketing yourself, to prove you're a viable, serious contractor," he said.
SEDA-COG has nearly 400 active procurement clients, and Brown estimates that 30 percent have no credible online presence.
"Remember," said Brown, "your website is always there, presenting the image you want potential customers to see, whether the commercial or government market. Printed communication has its place, but it can be filed away and forgotten, lost, or just thrown away."
There are numerous private and online web development services, offering a range of fees. SEDA-COG's Information Technologies Group (ITG) can also develop websites for private companies, as long as the company is referred to ITG by another one of SEDA-COG's programs.
"In the procurement world," said Brown, "nearly everything today is done electronically - marketing yourself, learning about opportunities, accessing technical data, bidding on contracts or participating in online reverse auctions. "Obviously companies need to know their business, whether it's construction, manufacturing or providing a service. But familiarity with the various online systems is a must if companies want to actively pursue and secure government contracts, and we can help."
Small businesses may contact the SEDA-COG PTAC at 570-524-4491, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.