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Feds Embrace Salesforce Platform Offerings

By John K. Higgins
Jan 28, 2016 7:00 AM PT

The U.S. government has authorized an information technology contract with a potential value of US$503 million that is designed to meet newly adopted goals for greatly improving IT acquisition. The General Services Administration, which issued the contract for software and cloud-related services, described the acquisition approach as a first-of-its-kind initiative.

Feds Embrace Salesforce Platform Offerings

A distinct feature of the contract vehicle is that it focuses exclusively on the specific IT resources of a single provider -- Salesforce.

Another significant element of the contract is that it includes a set of generally applicable federal acquisition improvements and quality standards. These elements meet government objectives for compliance with the Federal Information Technology Reform Act, which was enacted in late 2014 and is gradually being implemented by federal agencies.

GSA selected six vendors to participate in the contract: Accenture, Acumen, Capgemini, Deloitte, Phase One and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Acumen is the leader of a team that also includes Excella Consulting and Carahsoft. Those contractors will be called upon to assist federal agencies with efficiently acquiring and implementing Salesforce offerings and meeting standardized quality and performance metrics.

The contract vehicle combines Salesforce technical development, operations and maintenance, and implementation strategy requirements into a single procurement vehicle that numerous federal agencies can use, GSA said.

Without the mechanism, federal agencies did not have access to a streamlined, strategic-sourcing vehicle for Salesforce professional services, which meant many agencies were awarding their own standalone contracts, the agency said.

The contract provides an opportunity to improve the government's business practices by setting standards for Salesforce development, addressing contract duplication issues, and helping the government save money, GSA said.

Why Focus on Salesforce?

The selection of Salesforce as a focal point for the contract vehicle was the result of two elements. The first was a bottoms-up initiative. Agencies were alerting GSA that they needed help implementing Salesforce offerings for both technical and expense control reasons.

Agency IT personnel were "wildly raising their hands" -- and that got GSA's attention, Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for the integrated technology services at the Federal Acquisition Service, a unit within GSA, said at a press briefing.

GSA, in fact, had set up a special Salesforce user's forum and application exchange for federal agencies called "GSA Labs."

The second element was a top-down approach by GSA. As a major factor in federal acquisition activities, GSA routinely monitors agencies to see where large chunks of federal dollars are spent in order to determine where possible economies of scale can be used for procurements. The discovery that Salesforce software and cloud capabilities showed up as a significant area of activity, with nearly 17,000 federal users, fit in with GSA's objectives.

Federal agencies were using the Salesforce platform broadly but in an uncoordinated and decentralized manner, one government official noted at the press briefing.

Also, some implementation vendors, including those who were inexperienced with the technology, presented quality-assurance problems, so the lack of performance standards became an issue. These factors led to dubious results, the official said, and helped spur GSA's initiative.

The framework for the acquisition vehicle is a Blanket Purchase Agreement, or BPA, under which the six vendors will be eligible to obtain individual task-order contract awards from agencies across the government. The contract has a term of five years and was awarded through GSA's current listing of IT vendors known as "Schedule 70."

The awardees are enterprise-level Salesforce operations partners that have proven their ability to manage implementations and integrations in complex, multiorganizational cloud ecosystems, GSA said.

The contract contains a detailed tiered-pricing structure to facilitate discounts. Savings also can be achieved through the reuse and sharing of relevant code across the government.

The sharing element has become a standard objective in federal IT procurement to significantly reduce expenses through a "build once, use many times" philosophy, Davie noted.

"With so many common, repeatable agency support functions and processes, our goal is for agencies to stop reinventing the wheel every time they have a Salesforce-based IT need," she said.

The BPA contract will enable the reuse and sharing of hundreds of applications and public-facing portals supporting multiple users, GSA said. Under the BPA, the cooperative use of code and applications will be implemented through GSA Labs.

"Agencies can potentially save between 50 and 80 percent on application development costs by using the code and configuration hosted on GSA Labs. For example, if an application costs $500,000 to build from scratch, agencies could save between $250,000 and $400,000 by leveraging existing applications or code snippets shared on GSA Labs," said Anne Rung, U.S. chief acquisition officer.

Vendors Welcome GSA Initiative

Just how the GSA initiative will affect the competitive standing of Salesforce in the federal market is yet to be determined, but the company indicated a positive outcome.

"We're seeing incredible momentum for Salesforce in the government space as agencies seek to connect with citizens in entirely new ways," said Dave Rey, executive vice president, public sector, at Salesforce.

"We can help agencies transform digitally, run their organizations from their phones, and create one-to-one journeys for constituents -- all on our trusted cloud. That's what makes this GSA contract so exciting. We're thrilled that this contract will help accelerate digital transformation in government," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The contract signifies the federal government's acceptance of the Salesforce Platform as a Service capability, according to Phase One, one of the vendors GSA selected.

"Nothing in the last 20 years holds the same transformative promise of Platform as a Service. It is cheaper, it is more secure, and it allows agencies to change more quickly than ever before," said Jerad Speigel, CEO at Phase One.

"This is monumental as it makes cloud application procurement mainstream -- something that was seen a few short years ago as radical within the federal marketplace," said Dan Helfrich, a principal and federal practice leader at Deloitte, another member of the GSA contractor group.

"The GSA blanket contract for Salesforce is one example of how the federal government is learning from commercial industries -- taking best practices and innovation to better run the business of government," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Much like we have been seeing with our commercial clients, we are encouraged by and expect to see more disrupters that will transform not only the underlying technology that serves the government, but also the fundamental way our government serves its citizens. Salesforce is one of a number of excellent technology enablers to make this happen," Helfrich said.

GSA is planning to develop similar targeted IT acquisition vehicles in the future, perhaps two per year.

Inasmuch as other vendors such as Microsoft and SAP also compete in this space, GSA might at least consider vehicles for those providers. "It would depend on agency interest and use," the Federal Acquisition Service's Davie said in response to a query from the E-Commerce Times at the briefing.

GSA developed the Salesforce Implementation, Integration and Support Services contract in partnership with the Federal Acquisition Service and several IT specialists at federal agencies.

"This new solution brings together the best of the administration's efforts to drive category management and increase innovation in the delivery of IT," said Rung, the chief acquisition officer. "By driving agencies to these BPAs, we will be able to leverage industry's agile talent while ensuring that we deliver the best value for the American taxpayer."


John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.


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