By Heather Seftel-Kirk, FedHealthIT Magazine Contributing Author
Denise Rainey, President and CEO of Rainmakers Strategic Solutions, LLC, is a dynamic leader who applies her practical experience with national health plans and consulting experience with major firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton, KPMG, BearingPoint, and Perot Systems to provide thought leadership and guidance to Rainmakers’ clients.
FedHealthIT: What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned?
Denise Rainey: One lesson we take very seriously is that small business contractors frequently need to outperform large businesses in areas such as subject matter expertise, flexibility, and innovative approaches, in order to gain the client’s confidence. This is true during the procurement and delivery phases. Large businesses have the advantage of leveraging national brand exposure, public mindshare, and abundant personnel resources to build confidence during the proposal evaluation phase, yet these factors don’t automatically translate to exceptional performance in the delivery phase. To achieve the same level of confidence and credibility, we have found there are a number of successful strategies including standing out in the delivery phase.
Whether your business size, repeat business must represent the vast majority of your portfolio, so we consider mediocre delivery anathema to good business. Exceeding client expectations within the contract scope and budget, without sacrificing profit, goes a long way toward winning re-competes. Often, this only requires following through on what was promised in the proposal. We know from interviewing many government executives that one of their major pet peeves with contractors is not getting what was promised, especially the level of subject matter expertise.
Proposal writers often use words and themes like “innovation,” “state of the art,” “strategic,” and “proactivity” to win awards. However, the project delivery teams rely on the government then to tell them what to do and how. Our view is 180 degrees different – we deliver on our promises of innovation, proactivity, and flexibility. We pride ourselves on preoccupation with historical and current problems that must be solved by the SOW tasks. We spend a great deal of time during the proposal development phase and throughout the life of the contract thinking about novel approaches to addressing those problems. We know that “innovative” doesn’t necessarily mean complex. A new process, technology, or sometimes expert analysis can be innovative and may be a best practice developed for another customer. That’s why we invest heavily in research, talent acquisition, and subject matter expert brainstorming to make sure we “proactively” propose approaches that are efficient; consistent with current regulations and agency policies; reflective of political climate and organizational cultures; and support the advancement of program/client objectives.
FedHealthIT: Is the real success then in securing and delivering on what was promised in the RFP?
You also need to identify your niche. That’s another term people don’t fully understand. Finding a niche is about becoming focused on a manageable but important piece of the demand. That way you limit and direct your investment to deliver something needed. It’s no accident that our company focuses on four very specific areas: outreach and education; program integrity; HIT program management; and policy implementation support.
In seeking your niche, you have to identify demand, areas where funding is increasing, and where multiple agencies are arriving at that same focus. Then you can address building your company with people who have key knowledge and related technical skill. You will do really well if you can invest in talent that understands the focus areas from all dimensions. For instance, when we realized the trend toward stakeholder engagement, we began to reinforce our team with communications professionals and certified trainers who also have strong commercial and government healthcare experience (health plan, provider, and biomedical experience). For Health IT, we sought out people with hands on experience working on health plan systems, as well as an understanding of the business and policy issues that drive them. Right now, we are focusing our recruiting efforts on senior professionals who understand the intricacies of healthcare reform to support our technical experts, as well as our clients. Without that combination of key knowledge and technical skill within the market area, it will be a challenge to convince government that you understand their problem and have a solution that will be unique to them.
FedHealthIT: Are there any tips for finding that niche?
Denise Rainey: A good starting point is looking at agency forecasts or awarded contracts to understand what they are buying, or creating your own surveys that can be directed to potential clients to understand their needs. Agency contract issues are very public through Inspector General reports, GAO studies, and Congressional hearings. Do your homework. Strategic plans are also published and offer insights into where future agency leadership priorities are heading. Every agency has a website that includes information or training opportunities for stakeholders. Industry days offer a larger understanding of their mission and an opportunity to meet the players. These offer insights into trending topics and what government thinks is important. It’s valuable to look across agencies for duplication or similarities because if you invest in something that is transferrable, that can be leveraged from one project to another, you reduce the overall investment on an individual project.
It’s also critical to look at budgets – both those coming out of the Administration and those from Congress. If there is money to spend or a mandate to spend money, these are indications your investment is worth the risk.
More agencies are understanding that to get innovative ideas they need to be open to meeting with industry, so look to the Chief Technology Officer as a source of video or in-person forums and an opportunity to present your ideas.
The final piece of the demand puzzle is timing. Even a small business can’t fully turn on a dime so you want to be at least a year out to allow time to develop and perfect the offering.