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Starting any new business is difficult! Starting and growing a government contracting business is made even more difficult by the maze of requirements and regulations unique to government contracting. Jump start your business by utilizing managed services to get access to a team of accounting, HR, contract, and projects experts that can implement the required processes and systems. In this post, we provide answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) that provide information on the how to jumpstart your GovCon Business using managed services. You'll discover the processes, systems and experts you'll need to get started quickly as a federal contractor. We explain how to build the infrastructure needed to grow from a "start-up" to "prime" contractor, and include additional requirements for SBIR awardees. We explain the benefits of investing in an ERP system as well as utilizing outsourced resources to augment existing staff. Managed services can create a significant jumpstart for your GovCon business.
The GovCon Journey from Startup to Prime Contractors
As the diagram illustrates, to manage more complex projects or to become a prime contractor, government contractors need to put in place many standard processes and solutions beyond just Accounting.
Most government contractors address these requirements by following a similar pattern. They implement a patchwork of manual processes and siloed solutions which increases their cost and inhibits their ability to scale. Even worse, many often invest too early or too late in the solutions needed to run their businesses efficiently.
What are the advantages of a managed services approach?
There is a lot of hard work that needs to get done to grow from a startup to a prime contractor! As a start-up you need to do the basics well - getting customers, building excellent past performance and managing your finances. As a prime contractor, you need to focus on being competitive, managing more complex contracts, managing subcontractors and making sure your infrastructure is secure.
As a prime federal contractor, you'll need to make a strategic investment in an ERP system. An ERP system provides the processes and systems needed to successfully manage government contracts. However, implementing an ERP system can be expensive, risky and disruptive. Implementing an ERP is even more risky and disruptive without the people with the requisite skills to make it all work. And it takes time to train the people.
A managed service approach allows a service provider to provide both the people and the system using an outsourced model. For firms that are new to government contracting, employing the services of an outsourced provider can be the best approach. Managed services allow contractors to augment their "back-office" team and gain access to professionals with the accounting, HR, contracts, and projects expertise that can implement the required processes and systems needed to mature their operating model.
What back-office subject matter expertise is required to support government contracting?
Every federal contractor needs a back-office support team with the experience in government contracting and subject matter expertise in areas, such as, cost accounting, HR, contract and project management and security, including:
- Human Resources (HR): SMEs (HR Specialists) with a background in human resources management. The HR specialists have expertise in all aspects of HR from recruiting, developing HR policies, and have worked with DOL to understand the details of compliance.
- Accounting: SMEs (CFO, Controllers & Bookkeepers) with a background in government accounting to ensure the funds provided by the government are properly managed and that accurate record keeping is in place to support government audits.
- Procurement & Vendor Management: SMEs (Procurement Managers & Analyst) with a background in government contracting involved in purchasing supplies (products, materials), and services needed for efficient business operations. This includes identifying and selecting suppliers, negotiating teaming agreements and contracts, placing purchase orders, receiving supplies, invoicing, and processing payments.
- Contract Management: SMEs (Contract Managers and Administrators) with a background in managing the entire lifecycle of government contracts, including tracking and managing deliverables, funding and modifications.
- Project Management: SMEs (Project Managers and Analysts) with a background in developing project plans, including budgets, schedules and generating project job cost reports.
- Security: SMEs (CISSO, Policy and Security Analysts) with a background in cybersecurity, requiring an understanding of emerging security requirements such as CMMC.
Not all of the SMEs listed above will be required on day one. As a "start-up" you may only require accounting and HR support on a part-time basis. Prime contractors responsible for managing more complex contracts, that also require subcontractors, may need support from all of the SMEs listed.
What back-office processes and systems are required to support government contracting?
Listed below is a summary of the key processes and systems needed to support government grants as well as more complex contracts.
Workforce Management (HR): People are most companies' greatest asset. This is especially true for federal contractors who are in the "start-up" stage as they often lack the capital and market reputation to attract and retain the resources needed to support their growth. In fact, the necessity to implement policies and processes that support the lifecycle management of their human resources is a critical success factor. To successfully grow, all businesses must develop effective policies, processes and systems for recruiting, assessing, onboarding, training, evaluating, compensating, retaining and off boarding their people. In addition, their systems must be effective at managing all the changes required during their employment. If these processes and systems are done well, it will go a long way in helping the business to develop a reputation as a great place to work. Conversely, if done poorly the company will struggle to grow!
Procurement: Procurement includes all the processes involved in purchasing supplies (products, materials), and services needed for efficient business operations. This includes identifying and selecting suppliers, negotiating teaming agreements and contracts, placing purchase orders, receiving supplies, invoicing, and processing payments. If government contractors are purchasing $50M or more in supplies and services for their contracts, they must understand the compliance requirement imposed on them by the government.
Vendor Management: Vendor management includes functions that ensures that third-party relationships are nurtured, and risks mitigated. Processes are put in place to eliminate risks that include selecting qualified vendors, tracking the funds awarded to vendors, and evaluating vendors' performance. Well-defined and repeatable workflows, transparent and efficient communication are important features that are available in modern ERP systems.
Managing Payroll: Paying employees timely and accurately is a critical task that must be performed by all businesses. For federal contractors executing grants and contracts this requires putting in place timekeeping systems for tracking all hours spent working on government projects by employees, consultants, and subcontractors. Whether processing payroll in house or utilizing an outsourced provider, accurate timekeeping records must be used when processing payroll.
Learn More: JumpStart Your GovCon Payroll System - Selecting a Payroll Provider
Cost Accounting: Long term success in government contracting requires the ability to perform on "cost" type contracts with the federal government. Cost contracts reduce risk for businesses by ensuring adequate compensation for work that may involve some uncertainty. The government requires the most stringent accounting standards in cost contracts to ensure fair and reasonable usage of public funds. Implementing cost accounting processes and practices in a small business is challenging, especially for a firm conducting an SBIR contract, because the employees have a bias toward delivering excellent products and services rather than focusing on building the business. It is difficult to develop innovative technologies while trying to implement home-grown or cumbersome software solutions to capture direct and indirect costs like labor, travel expenses, utilities, material costs, employee benefits, etc.
Current solutions to the problem of implementing cost accounting systems range from manually using spreadsheets to expensive customized software development. Spreadsheets are inadequate solutions for long-term growth and many software options either demand too many resources or narrowly focus on only one aspect of the business, such as human capital management.
Learn More: JumpStart Your GovCon Accountng System - Getting the Right Accounting Help
Managing Contracts: Contractors that begin to gain traction in government contracting find that a key element of successful growth is to be able to manage multiple contracts. In many cases, each contract requires different management techniques. For example, the profit and loss associated with a Time and Materials contract differs from a Firm Fixed Price contract or a Costs Plus Fixed Fee contract. Poor management of the costs and activities associated with each type of contract can result in leaving money on the table by not invoicing properly, or incurring cost overruns.
Technology Commercialization: One of the main objectives of the SBIR program is to develop commercially viable companies that contribute innovative products to the US industrial base. The primary customers of SBIR Phase III projects are government program managers. Government PMs are busy people who manage the introduction of innovation into their programs risk. The PMs generally will tolerate technology risk because they can manage its impact. However, PMs cannot tolerate business process risk inside the operations of a contractor because they have little control over it. Poor business processes that cannot meet government contractual requirements will stifle commercialization regardless of how promising a new technology may be.
Learn More: JumpStart Your GovCon SBIR Contract - Getting Commercialization Help
Subcontracting: Many technologies developed through SBIR grants and contracts become attractive to government prime contractors who need innovative solutions to challenges faced in large government programs. For example, a robotic paint arm developed through the SBIR program improved the accuracy of applying special radar-reflective coatings on military aircraft, while doing it at a lower cost and removing the safety risks associated with manual application. The prime contractor manufacturing the aircraft inserted the robotic painting capability into the assembly line.
Subcontracting to a government prime contractor can be a tremendous opportunity to gain traction in the government market and mature an organization. However, the government often requires prime contractors to pass many contractual requirements down to subcontractors in their supply chains. This requires the same standards of performance for subcontractors in areas like cost accounting, cybersecurity, and reporting as those expected of prime contractors. Prime contractors will not jeopardize their contractual relationship with the government by introducing risk into their supply chain. Subcontractors must deliver reliable performance.
Cybersecurity: The Department of Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) clause 252.204-7012 requires all contractors and subcontractors handling "Controlled Unclassified Information" to implement cybersecurity safeguards outlined in the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-171. Covered defense information includes personally identifiable information, contract sensitive information, military operational information and anything DoD may designate as covered. For example, social security numbers, troop deployment schedules and even building floorplans may be considered CUI. In addition, emerging personally identifiable information (PII) and other security requirements, place an increased demand on government contractors. Prime contractors or their subcontractors who are unable to implement cybersecurity safeguards risk being in non-compliance.
Learn More: JumpStart Your GovCon Cybersecurity – Hiring a Fractional CISO
Compliance: Federal contractors face a range of federal, state, and local regulations. In addition to the cybersecurity requirements, GovCon's will be subject to many compliance audits. Government contractors must often satisfy cost accounting standards defined by DCAA SF-1408 to meet accounting system compliance audits. Service Contract Act (SCA) requirements in contracts require adjusting the approach to managing hourly workforce, using geographically determined benefit and payroll policies. Contractors must focus on establishing compliant accounting, timekeeping, procurement, property management and data retention systems that can withstand the scrutiny of a government audit.
Conclusion - Benefits of Utilizing Managed Service
Federal contractors need a range of processes, systems, and subject matter expertise (people) to be successful. Trying to build required capabilities while also focusing on growing your contracting business can be overwhelming. There are significant advantages to utilizing a managed services approach. The table below provides a summary of the benefits of managed service powered by AtWork Systems' OneLynk SaaS platform:
|Service||Benefits of Managed Services powered by OneLynk|
|Back-Office SME Support||AtWork Systems provides federal contractors with the infrastructure needed to run a business through the SaaS platform, called OneLynk. AtWork also provides managed services supported by subject matter experts needed to design, manage, and optimize business processes. The powerful, holistic package - like an MBA in a box - puts a federal contractor with an SBIR grant or contract in a position to succeed. The impact will not only make the business well-suited for government contracts and subcontracts, but it will also make the company more attractive to investors and lenders, or, able to run a sustainable business|
|Workforce Management (HCM)||OneLynk provides the processes, systems supported by managed service resources to attract and retain talented people. OneLynk allows federal contractors to develop effective approaches for remote work. OneLynk has unique features that support the entire employee lifecycle from employee hiring to retiring.|
|Managing Payroll||OneLynk provides an electronic timekeeping system that tracks the labor details needed to accurately process payroll. OneLynk integrates the timekeeping, payroll system and accounting systems to provide a complete solution. Data collected using the timekeeping system is provided to the payroll system to allow employee paychecks to be generated. The gross wages and tax withholding resulting from processing the payroll are recorded in the accounting system to provide the audit trail required by the government. OneLynk can be configured to allow the payroll to be processed internally or outsourced to a payroll provider. OneLynk handles the integration with the market leading payroll providers, such as Paycor, Paychex or ADP.|
|Procurement & Vendor Management||OneLynk automates the entire procurement process from procuring to paying. OneLynk's Procure2Pay modules provide the functions needed to identify, select, and maintain vendor master list, as well as handling quotes to negotiate pricing, placing purchase orders, receiving supplies, processing vendor invoices, and making payments.|
|Cost Accounting||AtWork Systems developed OneLynk and professional services offerings to holistically address business operations that not only makes cost accounting a routine discipline, but also makes it become a competitive advantage through better rates and timely and accurate invoices. OneLynk creates a foundation for cost accounting by utilizing a central database that shares information throughout the business to enable timecards, expense reports, purchase requisitions, sales orders, and many other cost-related activities to unfold smoothly and efficiently. Employees, managers, and executives support the organization's business operating objectives by accomplishing their integrated and complementary tasks in a way that decreases overhead and increases performance of core activities, while complying with government accounting standards.|
|Managing Contracts||OneLynk helps growing SBIR firms deftly juggle their government compliance obligations with minimal effort to allow them to focus on their research and development. Several features make contract management painless. First, the holistic design of OneLynk enables firms to assemble well-crafted bids and proposals. OneLynk repurposes the work done on the proposal into the foundation of the internal contract management system. Contract and project managers use the system to perform the contracted work, manage contract modifications and conduct contract closeout. Second, OneLynk aggregates all contracts into a summary web page and assembles all of the information and associated contract documents. This puts managers on the same page and gives them easy and instantaneous access to key documents. Third, OneLynk's setup feature captures all the nuanced details of each contract to automate management activities rather than having to refer to the contract document repeatedly over time. Additionally, if there are specific Contract Line Items, OneLynk handles their requirements to ensure proper workflow and invoicing.|
|Technology Commercialization||A small business with breakthrough technologies needs a strong business foundation to shepherd the technology through all the R&D hurdles while complying with all government contractual requirements. Building both the technology and the business simultaneously are daunting tasks. AtWork Systems provides a powerful combination of software and professional services support to help an SBIR firm achieve its objectives. Teams that develop new technologies recognize the importance of subject matter experts for materials, engineering, coding, fabrication, etc. Business operations also require expertise in human capital management, accounting, contract management, finance, etc. AtWork Systems provides small businesses with the infrastructure needed to run a business through the web based OneLynk platform, as well as the subject matter expertise needed to design, manage, and adjust business processes. The powerful, holistic package - like an MBA in a box - puts a small business with an SBIR contract in a position to succeed. The impact will not only make the business well-suited for government contracts, but it will also make the company more attractive to investors and lenders, or, able to self-sustain.|
|Subcontracting||The best way to deliver reliable performance as a subcontractor is to have sound business operating systems that can grow with the company. AtWork Systems provides the infrastructure and services that undergird a sound business operating system. OneLynk structures business workflows powered by shared data to cover all business functions from affixing packing slips on the loading dock to graphing trend analysis in the operations center. As a web-based platform, OneLynk can share necessary and relevant data with prime contractors and subcontractors. This transparency assures the prime contractor that the status of the supply chain is always visible.|
|Cybersecurity||AtWork Systems built-in security module called CyberPlan that ensures OneLynk users are compliant with the DFARS cybersecurity requirements. The cloud-based system ensures there is no opportunity for unintended data leakage and that system security requirements are always up to date. While government contractors are responsible for their System Security Plan, the portions of NIST 800-171 related to the OneLynk platform will be fully compliant. Our Cyber managed services ensures the necessary resources are available to achieve and maintain a sound cybersecurity posture.|
|Compliance||Complying with these regulations requires federal contractors to fully understand the applicable laws and choose a system that helps put compliant processes in place. OneLynk leverages document management, workflow, and automated approvals to implement many of the processes needed to address these compliance requirements. The built-in documentation and auditability of ERP systems lay a strong foundation for business certifications such as ISO and CMMI.|
AtWork Systems designed OneLynk to enable GovCon businesses to navigate through the challenges of growing a GovCon business by providing the infrastructure to deliver exceptional performance. While a government contractor is maturing in the government market, as either a prime or subcontractor, OneLynk is there to instill the processes needed to help achieve government compliance. AtWork Systems offers subject matter experts - across functions like accounting, HR, financial, contract and project management - to help startups step out on the right foot or to help more mature firms transform ad hoc or inadequate processes into higher levels of performance. The combination of AtWork Systems' OneLynk and associated professional services is available as a comprehensive, secure and affordable means of gaining a competitive advantage.
Learn More About AtWork Systems
AtWork Systems is an Arlington, Virginia based software development company. Its principals have decades of experience doing business with and working for federal, state, and local government. They developed OneLynk as a configurable and scalable business operating platform that digitizes and optimizes processes while providing just in time business intelligence for decision making. OneLynk contains a suite of easily configurable web applications for automating and monitoring business transactions, including: human capital management, finance, timekeeping and expense management, procurement, contracts and project management, payroll services and more. Check it out at www.AtWorkSys.com and see for yourself!