IT Solutions Navigator Cuts Through Choppy Procurement Waters

Vendors seeking to obtain federal information technology contracts are regularly challenged to deal with a variety of complex factors. These include negotiating special IT security requirements, tricky service level agreements, and a growing number of government contracting vehicles that have been developed over the past few years to facilitate IT contracting.

While vendors may find it difficult to deal with federal IT procurement contracts, it turns out that another major party involved in the process also faces challenges: the government itself.

The General Services Administration last month acknowledged that many federal agencies were dealing with “contract confusion” in their efforts to acquire IT products and services. GSA, acting on behalf of the federal government, has been adding to the number of contract vehicles agencies can use to acquire IT. Currently GSA offers 33 such contract arrangements.

Current vehicles include the standard GSA Schedule 70 — the basic roster of approved IT vendors; a special cloud oriented Information as a Service vehicle, and Government Wide Acquisition Contracts designed to provide standard vehicles that all agencies can use to reduce the time and expense devoted to procurement.

GSA Sees Need for Tool

To deal with the issue, GSA has launched a new e-tool designed to help federal, state, local and tribal governments navigate the myriad ways to purchase IT through GSA. The IT Solutions Navigator will help government agencies buy IT products and services by matching federal agency requirements to the best IT contract vehicles quickly and effectively, GSA said.

“We are in constant contact with our customers — that is, federal agencies — and we understand the challenges they face with IT acquisition,” said Mary Davie, GSA assistant commissioner for the Office of Integrated Technology Services.

“We’ve heard how difficult it is to find the optimal contract vehicles to meet their requirements. In response to these challenges, we developed the IT Solutions Navigator tool,” she continued.

“Our goal is to make acquiring IT through GSA easy. The IT Solutions Navigator takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process and gets us closer to that goal,” Davie added.

The GSA tool provides a Web-based portal to simplify the process of finding an appropriate IT contract vehicle. In a just a few steps, the IT Solutions Navigator takes an agency’s requirements and provides it with a list of contract options, as well as a point-of-contact for more information. The tool also makes it easier for federal agencies to conduct preacquisition market research on IT products and services.

Federal acquisition managers who visit the site can narrow the field of potential vehicles by answering a series of questions and selecting certain categories. One is the type of service required — such as cloud computing, data centers or wireless and mobile.

Another is choosing the type of transaction, such as cost reimbursement, or time and materials.

Managers also can describe the type of assistance needed, such as self-managed contracts, pre-award, and consultant. Special circumstances can be included, such as whether a contract is open to all vendors or limited to small businesses, companies owned by women, or similar categories.

IT Vendors Will Benefit

“There is a common lament among contractors who are included in various GSA schedules — or rosters of approved vendors — that a large portion of the general procurement force have very little, if any, understanding of the multiple award schedules program, the major GSA contract vehicles, or their assisted acquisition services,” said Wade Prince, managing consultant at Aronson.

“The IT Solutions Navigator tool is meant to address that gap in awareness, at least in the IT arena,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The Navigator does not offer in-depth procurement assistance, however.

“It only provides general, high-level information such as the main links, email addresses, and phone numbers for the vehicles themselves, so its primary value is as a starting point for government buyers in the early stages of their IT procurement process,” Prince said.

Even with that limitation, the tool has been well received by federal agencies.

“Since our launch on August 5th, there have been almost 2,000 hits to the site. From the feedback we have received internally and externally, the site is extremely helpful and easy to use,” GSA said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Cara Battaglini.

So far, GSA is unaware of any specific contract that has been implemented strictly through use of the Navigator tool — but the agency noted that it is not intended for such a specific purpose.

“Once agencies find the optimal contract choice, we give them various ways to contact a GSA specialist that can help them the rest of the way,” GSA said.

Still, the program could have an indirect but beneficial impact for vendors if it results in smarter or more efficient procurement.

“Certainly anything that helps procurement personnel develop solicitations that are more properly tailored and targeted is a good thing for vendors, at least for those listed on government vehicles. The expectation is that guidance from the Navigator tool will lead to better and faster Request for Procurement development with quicker awards and less protests, which are all definitely benefits to both vendors and government buyers,” Prince said.

“When we were building the tool, we received feedback from our customers as well as third-party organizations. However, we have not yet received specific feedback from the vendor community. We see this as an ongoing development project, and we are always looking for ways to improve the IT Navigator tool,” GSA said in its statement. “To that end, we’re still encouraging feedback from customers and industry partners.”

The Federal Buzz

Major IT Contract. The Defense Information Systems Agency is requesting bids for an enterprise storage services contract potentially worth US$427 million. Contract requirements include both new hardware and software. Required cloud components include private, public and hybrid cloud storage. Private cloud capabilities should include common storage provisioning and file-sharing for both desktop and mobile devices.

The requirements “reflect the ongoing convergence of cloud computing and Big Data,” Alex Rossino, analyst at Deltek, told the E-Commerce Times.

“In this lean fiscal climate, using the cloud approach is literally the only way that agencies can cost-effectively acquire the storage capacity they need to handle the flood of data flowing into their networks,” he said.

DISA revealed the proposal earlier this summer and then abruptly announced a postponement until after the federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Thus, its September release was a bit of surprise but could reflect uncertainty about federal budgets.

“Getting it out now gives DISA some runway to manage the evaluation and award before the expiration of the current contract. This timing also might underscore the priority that DISA places on this contract — that the agency wants to get the proposals into the pipeline very early in the new fiscal year, so it gets priority if budgetary pressures increase even more,” John Slye, advisory research analyst at Deltek, told the E-Commerce Times.

The ESS-II contract will replace an expiring agreement with ViON. Vendors have until Oct. 21, 2013, to respond.

E-SITE Request. The Department of Defense will issue bid requests in January for multiple vendors to participate in a worldwide IT support contract with a potential multiyear value of $6 billion. The Enhanced Solutions for the Information Technology Enterprise contract will be used largely for the department’s intelligence community, but it could also be used for other federal intelligence agencies. The Department’s Intelligence Information System will conduct a briefing for vendors on Oct. 10.

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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