Biz opportunity knocks online

"This type of thing is not unusual in industry,'' said Michael O'Hara Garcia,
chief information officer for the Commerce Department agency. "We wanted to get a
system to match contracts with minority businesses that could fulfill them.''


In the past, local minority development offices would try to find out about contracts
and alert businesses, Garcia said.


But the lack of any centralized system meant many opportunities were lost. Often,
Garcia acknowledged, minority companies that could perform the work did not find out about
contracts.


In April, the agency began a program to create a centralized database of pending
contracts. MBDA was in the middle of an upgrade project at the time, so Garcia said he
thought it would be the perfect opportunity to create the program.


The agency bought Compaq ProLiant 2500 servers running Microsoft Windows NT for each of
its five regional centers and hired Management Technology Inc. of Clinton, Md., to create
the database application, which came online last month.


The system has more than contract information. It has an interface with MBDA's
information database, Phoenix, which has data on about 27,000 minority businesses across
the country.


The new app runs a match of incoming contract information against the MBDA vendor
database and then notifies potential vendors via e-mail or fax.


The process begins with Fortune 1,000 companies e-mailing or faxing contracting
information to the main MBDA office in Washington.


An employee enters the information, such as location of the contract work, into the
database.


Garcia said the software is advanced enough that it catches some of the common mistakes
made when the process was manual.


"Say you are a South Dakota company that makes nails, but you sell nationwide,''
Garcia said. "Before, you would have never known about a contract for nails in South
Florida. Now, you would get notification.''


Besides notifying likely bidders, the system also sends a list of the vendors it found
to the company with the pending procurement.


Companies can fax and mail their contract information to Commerce or upload the data
directly, Management Technology Inc. technology director Frank Clark said.


"We have some Hypertext Markup Language pages for a front end that lets minority
companies apply to get into the database,'' Clark said. "A Virtual Basic application
lets companies enter all the information about a contract they are issuing. The whole
thing is maintained by three MTI employees.''


The system also has a post-award module to do follow-up with minority vendors.


"If the company, for instance, could not get financing, it will send them
information about how to get financing information in their area," Garcia said.


MBDA built the system for $1 million, Garcia said. It spent $700,000 on hardware and
$300,000 on software development.


Although the program is in its infancy, Garcia said he has received positive feedback
from minority businesses and Fortune 1,000 companies.


"We wanted to create an application to show that the tax money was being put to
good use,'' he said. "I think we have done that."


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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