Minority business owners benefit from sheltered market initiative

By Elyssa Kaufman

Minority business owners in Illinois will soon have the opportunity to better their businesses with the help of the University. The University is using a new state program to give minority businesses access to millions of dollars worth of information technology contracts.

In 2011, former president Michael Hogan implemented a pilot program to give departments at the University better access to short term information technology resources.

Michael Hites, senior associate vice president for Administration Information Technology Services, said after analyzing what was learned in the pilot program, the University proposed a new sheltered market request program which would take advantage of the state’s designation for the business enterprise program.

The business enterprise program works with minority owned qualified or certified vendors in Illinois.

“U of I officials project the initiative could result in about 30 qualified firms receiving a total of about $10 million annually by the fourth year of the program,” according to a University press release. The University issued the first sheltered market request-for-proposal (RFP) in the state.

This sheltered market RFP offers temporary IT services similar to those offered in the 2011 pilot program; however, now minority owned businesses have access to the contracts.

Hites said select minority owned businesses are awarded contracts to work with a vendor that supplies IT services to suit the business’s needs. Additionally, all University members have access to the program’s contracts.

Sharla Roberts, director of Diversity Procurement, said the initiative is a vehicle to increase utilization of vendor contracts at the University.

“There is a state mandate that 20 percent of what the University spends has to be done with minority and women owned vendors,” Roberts said.

Michael Bass, senior associate vice president and comptroller, said in the press release that the University “strongly supports the initiative.”

“Diversity and inclusion are important principles for us to uphold and we’re eager to utilize the tools available to achieve our goals,” Bass said.

The temporary IT services could range from project management to assistance from programmers for programs such as JAVA.

The pilot program involves six groups: strategic planning, infrastructure, information security, software application development, customer service and teaching and learning.

“It relates back to what the state would like us to do in terms of increasing the amount of engagement with the female minority owned business community in both Champaign-Urbana and Chicago,” Hites said.

Hites said the program is especially helpful for IT departments within different colleges who need help with strategic planning but don’t need to hire a full time employee.

“Vendors can apply to join the initiative through the Illinois for Higher Education website,” Roberts said.

Hites said once a request is made, vendors can visit the website to download the request which is made public so the University can hire the proper IT vendors based on cost and specialization.

“The percentage of contracts that were going to female and minority owned businesses were significantly lower, so the state as a whole wanted to focus on IT,” Hites said. “We wrote this RFP to take advantage of what the state wanted us to do and also the pilot program that we did in 2011.”

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