What the movie War Dogs got right about government contracting (among the many wrongs)

Last week, our Marketing team at Onvia organized a deserved Friday decompression. We hit the movie theatre to watch War Dogs, a story that depicts two childhood friends who partnered in a money-making scheme by bidding on US military contracts to supply guns, ammunition and combat accessories to U.S. military; it's based on the true story of now famous defense contractor AEY. I would recommend it. I am a fan of Jonah Hill (who plays Ephraim Diveroli), especially in his underdog hustler roles.

Aside from the entertainment value, the movie struck a chord with me for depicting a line of business close to what I do - and no, I don’t run guns for a living. I am talking about the business of connecting buyers and sellers in business-to-government (B2G) commerce.

Let’s for a moment set aside the motives, lack of values, and con-artistry of the characters depicted in the movie to focus on the few aspects that the movie reveals about this B2G space. Don’t worry about reading before watching the film, this post is free of spoilers.

FACT: The Government is a Major Buyer in the US Economy, Opening Tremendous Opportunities for Businesses of All Sizes

Government agencies at multiple levels mobilize $2 trillion in annual spending on bids, RFPs and long term contracts. The movie centers on Federal government defense purchases, but the truth is that the majority of that purchasing volume - $1.5 trillion, to be more explicit – takes place at the state, local and education levels (also known as SLED).

FACT: Government Contracting Matters to Vendors in Virtually Every Sector of Our Economy

Think of Federal agencies plus states, cities, municipalities and public schools buying goods, services, supplies, equipment, and technology. Now think about how these purchases enable agencies to run schools and hospitals, build bridges and energy plants, equip police and fire departments, maintain vehicles and monuments, clean rivers and parks, and innovate with digital technology and smart urbanization.

The effect of B2G commerce is all around us. If you are in business, chances are the government is contracting from your vertical. The only question is will you hustle to get your slice of the pie, or leave it for your competitors?

FACT: Despite the Sheer Size of Opportunity, B2G Commerce is Fragmented and Cumbersome

There are around 90,000 agencies in the US in state and local government that issue more than 550,000 contracts each year. There is no standard for how those agencies author bids, define specs, and publish RFPs. And many opportunities go under the radar in the form of multi-year term contracts, budgets and spending plans, cooperative purchasing contracts and more.

FACT: Data and Search Technologies are Indispensable for Vendors Selling to Government

The movie depicts FedBizOpps as the eBay for government contracting. Eventually the protagonists’ company AEY hires a team of operators to scale their search activity, mainly because they needed more eyes to go through the painstaking process of manually sifting through thousands of RFPs to find opportunities matching their line of business and expertise. There are indeed a number of websites like that. The issue with most of them, however, is that they aggregate only perishable short term bids, and do not provide powerful search functionality.

At Onvia, we offer a B2G Intelligence System that not only organizes the vast and fragmented volumes of B2G commerce data, it also makes it extremely quick and convenient to find the opportunities that businesses in multiple industries have to offer. We also have direct connections with government agencies that supply contract information directly into our system.

FACT: Winning Deals Takes Some Hustling, But More Importantly, Proactive Preparation and Forward-looking Planning

Watching the movie one would notice the characters are taking a reactive, opportunistic approach to the bids they stumble upon. As a consequence, they scramble to get proposals written, supplies organized and (occasionally shady) alliances formed. The most successful contractors grow their sector business in a much more proactive way. They look at B2G market trends and at government activity, agency by agency, to target multi-year term contracts and derive future spending intelligence through capital investment spending plans and budgets.  

Our B2G Intelligence System provides our clients with that far reaching line of sight. It provides visibility even into past awarded contracts, so vendors can analyze agency activity, competitors’ presence, and ideal pricing strategies.

FACT: When the Private and Public Sector Connect, it Brings Civic Dividend to Communities, Citizens and Tax Payers

In one scene where the movie’s anti-heroes dramatically low-ball the price of a contract bid, David Packouz (played by Miles Teller) ironically rationalizes that the low price would at least bring some good to the American taxpayer. In fact, for the companies that do stand for a purpose, an efficient B2G marketplace truly can bring tangible civic good to communities, not only because of the resulting improvements in infrastructure and services, but also because of the agility brought to government agencies as they purchase goods and services.  

FACT: B2G Opportunities Extend all the Way to Small Businesses, Including Entrepreneurs and Minority Owned Businesses

In the film, AEY briefly succeeded by taking advantage of the Federal government being encouraged to offer contracts to small business. In real life, governments do actually assign contracting quotas to small businesses and to minority-owned businesses, including business owned by veterans, women and the disabled. Onvia offers access to our B2GIS to small businesses. We serve a wide range of clients from those who offer janitorial services and cleaning services, to construction services, information technology consulting and everything in-between.

Commerce Intelligence for Trusted Connections in B2G

And that is why the movie resonated so much to us here at Onvia. Our purpose is to help the honest hustlers in this B2G commerce space. We apply data science, search and intelligence technologies to curate B2G commerce information, making it accessible, meaningful and actionable for buyers and sellers to navigate B2G commerce efficiently.

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