CSRA has a passion for bringing innovation to government IT and, as a federal prime contractor, we partner with smaller companies to build innovative solutions that advance agency missions. For its part, the U.S. government wants the benefits of innovations that reside within entrepreneurial companies, but recognizes that becoming a successful federal contractor is daunting for small businesses.
Addressing that challenge, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operates a Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) to pair large federal contractors with qualifying small businesses for three years, to help the protégé firms strengthen their contracting capabilities and encourage the mentors to deliver more innovation to DHS.
Obsidian Global is a DevOps and cybersecurity provider that had provided solution architecture services under CSRA contracts. In 2014, through meetings between Obsidian and CSRA’s Small Business Growth Team, the two companies decided to participate in the DHS MPP, with CSRA as Obsidian’s mentor.
Over the next three years, CSRA worked with Obsidian to help it expand its reach and improve its business model. CSRA associates coached their Obsidian counterparts in identifying federal contracting opportunities, proposing and obtaining federal small business contracts, and gaining security clearances. CSRA provided guidance for business plans, reviewed accounting systems and helped Obsidian develop a sales pipeline.
DHS benefits as well from the program through access to more innovative and agile solutions. For example, CSRA and Obsidian worked together to help the DHS Transportation Security Administration (TSA) address and mitigate passenger and baggage delays at airports due a surge of travelers. CSRA, with the support of Obsidian employees at airports across the nation, executed a rapid response project that delivered hundreds of secure tablets in one week to provide TSA access to resources that accelerated screening and helped to reduce lines. In addition, as part of an integrated IT support team, CSRA and Obsidian reduced the number of incidents and significantly exceeded user support service level agreements in the field.
To maximize collaboration, CSRA provided office space for Obsidian in CSRA’s headquarters. “Several employees could spend a big part of their day there, and the face-to-face contact was immensely valuable,” said James Fallen, vice president and CIO of Obsidian. CSRA’s small business team facilitated networking opportunities between Obsidian and the CSRA team, and the two companies maintained continuous contact.
The partnership was a two-way street—Obsidian contributed strengths to the partnership through its work, not only in IT services, but in business development. “The protégé should look to bring value to their mentor, whether that be within business development or program delivery,” Fallen said. Obsidian identified business opportunities that the two companies could pursue jointly, and the MPP program gives mentors credit for their participation when evaluating contract proposals.
DHS noticed the especially strong relationship between CSRA and Obsidian, and it awarded the pair its 2016 Mentor-Protégé Team of the Year Award—an unusual honor for companies just two years into the three-year partnership. The pair excelled in categories such as financial management, business planning and technical assistance. “The award highlights the effort that both invested in their partnership,” Fallen stated. “Often, companies enter these programs but experience limited value because they don’t invest in the relationship. Obsidian and CSRA each saw MPP as a growth opportunity if we worked together closely.”
The success of the partnership goes beyond awards. Aided by their CSRA partnership, Obsidian grew from eight employees in 2014 to 110 employees in 2017. Even after their formal MPP relationship ended in October 2017, CSRA and Obsidian continue to work together. “The most satisfying outcome is our ability to pay it back to CSRA. We can come back now with opportunities as a prime contractor, which is really the benefit of the two-way street,” Fallen said. “The benefits both parties realized have created a close, ongoing relationship.”
The Obsidian relationship is just one example of CSRA’s commitment to working with small businesses. When asked how other small businesses should approach these types of partnerships, Fallen suggests that they view the partnership as an investment opportunity—not a one-way leg up. “Small businesses must be the primary drivers of the relationship, and aggressive mindsets are often rewarded,” Fallen added. As Obsidian shows, small businesses that fully engage and demonstrate their capabilities can find a strong partner in CSRA.