DOD pushes contract software

DOD pushes contract software

Paperless contracting initiative makes a comeback, program managers say

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Defense Department in the past year has progressed in its efforts to implement paperless contracting throughout the services, despite training and infrastructure challenges, officials said.

Air Force officials authorized the service to deploy Standard Procurement System software late last fiscal year, while the Navy relaunched its rollout last May, said Gary Thurston, SPS program manager.

Of the military services, the Army is probably furthest along in its SPS deployment, Thurston said. He expects to receive more detailed reports from the services late next month, he said.

Although it failed to meet former deputy Defense secretary John Hamre's goal to implement paperless contracting across DOD by Jan. 1, the program has made remarkable progress during the past three to four years, Thurston said.

The Navy wants to have a 90 percent paperless contract administration by fall, Brian Reily says.

22 percent to go

DOD organizations were conducting 78 percent of contracting actions digitally by March 15, said Stan Soloway, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform. That figure includes contract reports, solicitations, awards and modifications, receipts and acceptances, invoices and payments, and contract closeouts.

DOD did only 27 percent of such contract actions electronically as of Oct. 1, 1998, he said. DOD has 'a lot of hard work still to do, but very significant progress [has been] made so far,' he said.

Of 50 DOD organizations that will eventually use SPS, 35 are in some stage of use, Thurston said. By late February, 18,000 DOD users had SPS software installed, of which 14,000 had received training and 10,000 were users, he said. Most of the users are in the Army and Navy, he said.

Navy officials began their SPS rollout in November 1997, said Brian Reily, the department's electronic acquisition program manager. They halted the deployment in January last year because of concerns with SPS Version 3.5C and 4.0's performance, he said. 'The clause logic was not repeatable,' and the versions also had financial system problems, he said.

When SPS 4.1A came out last May, Navy officials resumed the deployment, Reily said. Of 9,000 eventual users at 330 sites, 5,800 Navy users at 226 installations have finished their training, with up to 2,500 using the product exclusively, he said. Through late last month, the Navy had made 51,000 contract awards through SPS for a total of $1.3 billion, he said.

SPS has received $70.7 million in 2000 funding for software from American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va., as well as installation, training and documentation, Thurston said.

'AMS took a look at it. They found that [installed servers] were not likely to run out of memory for 12 to 18 months. In the meantime, we can buy more memory' or archive data, he said.

In some cases, Navy installations use dedicated servers to run SPS; in others, the software shares a server with other applications, he said.

It takes about a week to install the software and work through initial problems, he said.

Navy officials want to have a 90 percent paperless contract administration by October, Reily said. He said he hopes the Navy, which has improved from 6 percent paperless contracting in December 1997, will reach its October goal.

'We have changed the culture from a paper-based one' to digital for purchasing everything from pencils to aircraft carriers, Reily said.

'We're paying vendors a lot faster and making [Navy] people more effective' by letting them look for files in one place, he said.

A primary challenge the Navy faces is training SPS users who will only work with the system infrequently'for example, for three hours rather than three months'because those users will tend to forget what they learned in training, Reily said.

SPS 5.0, scheduled for release in 2002, will have major weapons systems contracting features, he said. Within two years of that release, Navy officials will deploy SPS to the department's inventory control points, which already use an automated contracts system, he said.

Many changes

This is the fourth year of a 10-year SPS contract. The Defense Contract Management Agency, which became independent of the Defense Logistics Agency late last month, hosts the SPS program office.

In next year's budget, DOD officials have asked for $46.7 million in SPS funding to continue the program, Thurston said.

'We're changing contract writing across DOD. Doing that at the same time as we're having major changes in information technology infrastructure' from the desktop, to servers and the Internet' is very challenging change management,' Thurston said.

Individual DOD organizations have to take care of upgrading their PCs, networks and servers so they can run SPS, said Thurston, who was deputy SPS program manager from January 1995 until becoming program manager last April.

To keep data flowing to Defense Finance and Accounting Service systems, DOD officials replicate their legacy contracting systems' interface with DFAS finance systems before retiring them, Thurston said.

'We're building standard interfaces for finance for each organization that works with DFAS' for contract payments, he said.

Thurston said he doesn't expect November's election and the subsequent changes in political appointees to endanger SPS' funding.

DFAS officials will begin their SPS deployment this year, he said. The central DOD agencies with unique missions are moving a little slower with their SPS rollouts than are the services, Thurston said.

Defense Contract Management Agency officials will begin their rollout next year, when SPS Version 4.2 comes out, and DLA inventory control points will begin theirs in 2002 or 2003, he said.

AMS officials are expected to deliver SPS Version 4.2 by November, he said. Version 4.2 will have up to 30 more features than Version 4.1, including letting users write weapons systems contracts, he said.

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