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Supplier Diversity

NYPA works with M/WBEs for maximum contracting opportunities

The power authority's annual purchasing exchange, now in its sixteenth year, is a good place to meet and greet. That's where NYPA and UCI first got together


NYPA's Debra White: $426 million+ in business with the M/WBE community.

NYPA's Debra White: $426 million+ in business with the M/WBE community.

New York Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, NY) is the largest state-owned electric utility in the U.S. It operates under article 15A, a law governing all New York State's agencies and authorities.

And that, says Debra White, NYPA's manager of supplier diversity, makes the difference between the approach the authority takes to supplier diversity, and the approach sometimes taken by commercial businesses and industries. "It gives us a few more teeth in getting things done because we have state law on our side, as opposed to a 'best practice.'"

Sure, bringing in and supporting diverse suppliers is good business for both private industry and the power authority, and of course for the authority's larger vendors and contractors as well. "But sometimes it just helps to have the law behind us," White notes. "It gives us a little more clout with the prime contractors as well as our own purchasing people.

"We say, 'We're not asking you to do this because it's nice; we're telling you to do it because it's the law!' It doesn't give them a lot of outs.

"We try to work with the M/WBEs to provide maximum contracting opportunities for them," White affirms. "To date we've contracted more than $426 million in business with the M/WBE community both directly and through subcontracts."

The purchasing exchange
You don't need to be located in New York State to do business with the NYPA. White has firms from across the country in her M/WBE directory. The authority's annual purchasing exchange is a good place for them all to get together.

This is the sixteenth year for the exchange, which NYPA sponsors each June at its White Plains office just north of New York City. An upstate venue is added every second year. The most recent upstate event was in Syracuse, NY this April.

The exchange is not just about contracting opportunities with NYPA. "We go the gamut of city, state, corporate and federal," White says. There are reps from other utilities like ConEd and Keyspan, the Port Authority, the Office of General Services, NYC agencies, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the NYC Department of Small Business Services, and from corporate firms like IBM, Colgate and Pepsi. "My counterparts at those organizations are there looking for opportunities with M/WBEs right along with us," White says.

The Empire State Economic Development Agency, which is the state's certifying body, is also part of the conference. "They're there providing information on state certification and how to go about getting it."

The exchange started as a one-time deal done in conjunction with the National Minority Business Council (www.nmbc.org). "When we saw how successful it was we just went on with the effort, and each year it continues to grow. It's evolved into something that the public sector, private firms and M/WBEs look forward to every year."

Winning by losing?
NYPA's contracting opportunities are listed on its website, www.nypa.gov, under "doing business with us," White explains. "We can direct likely vendors to the website where they can download current opportunities, supplier diversity information or general information about the power authority."

Both encouragement and learning by example can be important to a prospective supplier, White notes. "Sometimes not getting the contract can be a more valuable learning experience then getting it because you can learn where you went wrong.

"We try to make it a win/win even when they lose. We talk about the pricing, the proposal and the way the company markets itself. Sometimes they're just not ready to compete but they'll be better prepared for the next go-round and their odds of being successful can be significantly increased.

"All this is done by a staff of two, myself and Yves Rose Valbrun," White adds with a smile. "We're making it happen nonetheless."

The supplier diversity program is housed in NYPA's procurement business unit. "We have various facilities around the state that have their own purchasing departments, but the head of purchasing is in the White Plains office and I report directly to him. We work together, and we use the same NYPA supplier diversity policies and procedures here and at the facilities."

Doing business with UCI
UCI (Unique Computers Inc, Long Island City, NY), a sophisticated IT firm, has been working with NYPA for about three years. The first meeting occurred at one of the NYPA purchasing exchanges, White notes. "That's how we met Kalpana Patel, UCI's president. She's a valuable asset. At the time we were looking for an IT vendor with a specific skill set in SAP, and she was the perfect fit."

Launching the startup

Kalpana Patel, owner and president, at left, meets with some of her UCI team: Bansi Shah, Greg Levine, Gary Rado and Gautam Tooley.

Kalpana Patel, owner and president of UCI, was born in India, where she earned a BS in management and an MS in personnel management from the University of Baroda. She came to the U.S. on a Rotary International scholarship in 1980, studying business and CS at Adelphi University (Garden City, NY). She graduated with an MBA in 1982.

Patel worked in the trading rooms of several Wall Street firms between 1982 and 1997. "Basically I was handling their foreign exchange and treasury operations. I was an executive directing and managing my group that helped the traders manage their risk and portfolios," she says. "I also dealt with their systems and evaluated new technology products."

In 1997 she was approached by a group of entrepreneurs to join them in the acquisition and management of an established IT firm. Patel welcomed the idea as an opportunity to work closer to home and spend more time looking after her son.

But the acquisition never materialized, and the other members of the group thought developing a startup business would take more time than they were able to spend. Patel decided to go ahead and launch UCI herself.

"After a while I got the hang of running the business. An entrepreneur has to be an accountant, lawyer, sales manager, human resource admin and general manager at the same time!" she says.

While working on Wall Street she met Gary Rado, a technical expert who handled complicated system integration projects. When UCI needed to add new technology solutions to its offerings, Rado joined UCI as its chief technology officer.

The company currently has about thirty employees.

Enterprise-level solutions
At first the startup worked mainly with Wall Street firms, using Patel's existing contacts. "They are still important clients," Patel says. "They are comfortable with our subject matter expertise and IT skills.

"But after 9/11 the financial market was tough. When we went to local supplier diversity events we recognized a huge potential in state and local government agencies.

"Over the past two years we've reengineered and refocused the organization, become very solution-driven, and aligned ourselves with major IT solution providers. Now we're involved in security areas like infrastructure virtualization, unified threat management and consolidation of IT infrastructures.

"We offer our clients a suite of products that work together and can solve their problems. These are the enterprise-level solutions that organizations need."

Certification opens the door
When Patel went to her first NYPA business exchange she was armed with SBA and WBE certifications from the City of New York, had applied for the SBA's 8a certification, and had done some work for the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). Now her firm has also received its WBENC certification.

The LIPA contract, "Gave us a head start with NYPA's technology needs," notes Gautam Tooley, director of business development. "We were also aware that NYPA is a small-business friendly agency, because we'd heard Ms White speak at several small business conferences."

UCI responded to an NYPA RFP for IT consulting services and was asked to demonstrate its ability to support NYPA's technology environment. "We presented our technical approach, capabilities and past performance with private and public sector clients, including LIPA. Our technical capability and our experience with a utility client helped us win the contract with NYPA," Tooley says.

UCI received 8a certification in 2001. That has helped the company win contracts with federal agencies like the U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and subcontract work from the IRS.

Work for NYPA and its colleagues
At NYPA, Patel's firm has been involved with multiple projects: an SAP upgrade, a time and attendance management system upgrade from VB to the .net framework, enhancement of NYPA's energy portal and Oracle Portal development. "The heterogeneous environment at NYPA helped us broaden our capabilities," Tooley notes.

Recently NYPA asked UCI to bid on developing an upgraded fuel management system involving fuel distribution all over New York State. "It's opening new doors for us within NYPA," Tooley says.

He notes that NYPA's experience, support and references have helped UCI win contracts with the Hudson River Park Trust, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and, most recently, a subcontract with global tax and audit firm KPMG for quality assurance services for the New York State Comptroller's office.

Needs and capabilities
Part of UCI's excellent relationship with NYPA, Rado says, stems from its periodic updating meetings with technical staff. "They tell us the kinds of things they might be looking at, and we tell them the kinds of things we're developing capabilities in."

A major new capability is VMWare which, Rado explains, "basically virtualizes an organization's technology infrastructure." At a meeting toward the end of 2005, Rado learned that NYPA was thinking about reengineering and redeveloping its disaster-recovery plan and building the platform on VMWare. UCI was quick to point out that it was already a VMWare partner and had a successful implementation with the Hudson River Park Trust. "The timing was great," Rado notes happily.

Mentoring and partnering
Patel is pleased with her company's mentor/prot�g� relationship with KPMG. "KPMG has mentored us by providing us opportunities to work with their New York State customers," Patel explains. And recently Lockheed Martin selected UCI as its WBE subcontractor under an MTA contract. Patel sees this relationship becoming a valuable one.

This is a time of growth and recognition for UCI. Diversity.com named UCI the fastest-growing business in New York State, World Business Forum Inc gave Patel a woman entrepreneur of the year award, and the National Association of Women Business Owners named her its top WBE of 2006.

"Teamwork is the key to our success," Patel says with pride.


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