Her contracts help keep the fleet afloat

Her contracts help keep the fleet afloat

Nikki G. Isfahani

As head of the Navy Information Technology Umbrella Program at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, Nikki G. Isfahani oversees 49 servicewide contracts worth more than $5 billion.

Procurement reform, she says, has made it easier for her to negotiate blanket purchasing agreements through existing General Services Administration IT Schedule contracts. But reform has also made it easier for organizations such as the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center in Norfolk, Va., to set up their own BPAs. In recent months, Marine Corps officials also decided to abandon SPAWAR BPAs in favor of their own.

The IT Umbrella Program continues to manage indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts such as the Super-Minicomputer, Database Machines, PC LAN+, and Voice, Video and Data contracts. The IDIQ contracts account for about $300 million of the program's $500 million in annual sales.

Isfahani, who came to the program in 1991, is also project manager for the IT Electronic Commerce Direct initiative. Previously she worked for the Air Force Computer Acquisition Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., heading source selection and providing technical expertise in communications and software. From 1983 to 1987, Isfahani was a systems programmer for the IRS.

She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science from Kent State University in Ohio, and a master's in management information systems from Bowie State University in Maryland.

GCN staff writer Bill Murray interviewed Isfahani by phone from her office in San Diego.

GCN:'How did the Navy Information Technology Umbrella Program get started?

ISFAHANI: The assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management in 1988 chartered it, after we began purchasing Zenith Data Systems Z-100s and Z-248s. There were benefits in gathering and competing the Navy's requirements, standardizing the different sets of equipment, getting price breaks and conforming to the right architectures. We were a fee-for-service organization from the start.

GCN:'How much have Navy organizations slowed down in negotiating their own blanket purchasing agreements?

ISFAHANI: I think it has calmed down, but I'm not sure to what degree. BPAs are extremely easy to let, but companies ended up with so many that it took away from the advantages. We had BPAs with the same companies for the same services and supplies, and we were not getting the dollar benefits we could have.

GCN:'Is there a standard BPA source selection process?

ISFAHANI: We get three quotes or three sources and determine best value, which is not necessarily restricted to lowest price. We try to find three small businesses and then large businesses if necessary. We usually send out a request for quotations. Vendors come back with a quote based on their General Services Administration schedule contracts.

We select by a market survey of schedule contract holders. Sometimes we issue a Commerce Business Daily announcement and more or less invite the whole world.

GCN:'Three years ago, when you decided to convert one of the New Technologies for Office and Portable Systems contracts to a BPA and award other NTOPS BPAs, how did you make the decision?

ISFAHANI: What the people at the secretariat and chief information officer level seemed to favor was BPAs when the requirement could be identified relatively easily and when a minimum guarantee and a binding contract didn't seem necessary. PCs and servers lend themselves easily to BPAs.

NTOPS software is getting to the point of being a commodity. But networking hasn't gotten to the point of plug-and-play yet in terms of the more complicated software and servers and workstations. We've found that if a vendor has a high level of past performance and is customer service-oriented and committed, a BPA will work. If the BPA does not work, it's a lot easier to get out from under. You just cancel.

GCN:'You have five people working in your compatibility testing laboratory. What do they do?

ISFAHANI: We test technology that is relatively new against relatively new standards. We're testing wireless Ethernet 802.3 technology and asynchronous transfer mode. We're getting in a position to start testing for voice over ATM.

The more different approaches you field, the harder it is to interoperate and integrate. We don't want one of everything in the world on our networks. In the long run, it costs too much.

ATM has recently gotten to the point where it can outperform Fast Ethernet in a common environment with office applications, some homegrown apps, e-mail and graphics packages. The ATM vendors we've worked with have shown a desire to make their products work together. But the standards are relatively new, and sometimes we run into interpretation issues.

GCN:'Does the Navy have any warranty requirements that are not met by the standard commercial warranties on GSA IT Schedule contracts?

ISFAHANI: Yes. It is logistically hard to keep the fleet supported, keep the IT infrastructure up, repair things and get them back. Afloat or ashore, there is no standard warranty. Different warranties do different things different ways for different lengths of time.

You have finger-pointing, and you have to make sure you have adequate coverage for all parts. All the contracts offer a standard type of warranty. PC LAN+ has an on-site, worldwide three-year warranty, for instance.

Often what the fleet needs is a spare in the air. Let's assume that a needed part is in inventory on a ship. They send the part to their port of supply. Maybe that's Charleston, S.C., where a lot of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command activities are. Those guys will call it in for the fleet, and the supplier will overnight the part to the port of supply. They make arrangements to replenish the spare part that was afloat. It's not typical to send a repair technician to a ship every time something fails.

GCN:'How much do you work with the other military services?

ISFAHANI: At the Defense Department level, they're looking at enterprise software agreements. The Army has the lead on databases, the Air Force has the lead on network management, and the Navy has the lead on desktop PC software. We handled BPAs for Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc. products. We competed the BPAs among small-business resellers. They ended up being let to the same company, ASAP Software Express Inc. of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

GCN:'Has your budget taken a big hit?

ISFAHANI: Yes, it went from $13 million in 1996 to $4.5 million this fiscal year. We're not doing as much business, and we reduced our rates from a range of 2 percent to 6 percent in 1996 to zero to 2 percent in 1999.

To cope with the budget reduction, we reduced our program resources by about 50 percent, centralized our efforts in Norfolk and San Diego, and became very good jugglers. We're looking at moving our Norfolk labs in with other SPAWAR labs.

GCN:'Has the reduction influenced your decision to negotiate more BPAs?

ISFAHANI: The risk of loss of investment is definitely less than with IDIQs. For example, the Vivid contract did not have a long front end. From the time we did requirements analysis to the time we awarded was about 15 months. I think the price tag was about $4 million to get it let. It took a lot of expertise to structure the requirement and evaluate the bids.

On a BPA, we don't even approach that. We might have one person working part time on the contracting side and one working part time on the technical side to award a contract in a month. Vivid had a 40- to 50-member team.

GCN:'Where are you in terms of measuring vendors' past performance?

ISFAHANI: SPAWAR participated in the DOD Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System. Each program manager keeps tabs on past performance. We have thought and talked about putting a database in place.

One thing we are looking at, in addition to CPARS, is a pilot on the service's ITEC Direct site using E-Fed Software from Electric Press Inc. of Reston, Va. There are provisions to include past-performance data.

GCN:'How do you see your program's use of electronic commerce going over the next year?

ISFAHANI: We're trying to position ITEC Direct so that users can make and track credit card orders or paper orders electronically. A lot of people use ITEC Direct for information. We're trying to keep private industry involved in what we do. We hold a lot of small-business conferences and so on to get information back from vendors about what SPAWAR is doing.

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