Unproven entity

Thomas R. Temin

Six months ago, the federal IT community was certain the General Services Administration's SmartBuy program was aimed at everyone's convenient evil empire, Microsoft Corp.

The idea of buying enterprise licenses based on the government's aggregated requirements seemed to be exquisitely suitable for the software giant, whose products nearly everybody has in their systems somewhere.

That is, if SmartBuy ever got off the ground. At the same time, the likelihood that the government could consummate such a complex and ambitious approach seemed dubious. I admit I was skeptical.

But'surprise, surprise'SmartBuy has legs, albeit shaky ones. And the first lamb in the slaughterhouse is not Microsoft but ESRI, a supplier of geographic information systems software widely used throughout government.

Negotiating the ESRI contract was a huge headache for both the Redlands, Calif., company and the government. So much so, that GSA's policy chief, G. Martin Wagner, told GCN he was embarrassed by how hard is was to establish interagency agreements. GSA has since signed a second deal with Manugistics Group Inc., a Rockville, Md., maker of supply chain management software.

When it came to the ESRI deal, company president Jack Dangermond said his team had to do a lot of hand-holding, helping agencies figure out how many copies of GIS software they might buy.

The mighty labor that produced these first SmartBuy deals raises a couple of questions. Will agencies, by repetition, get better at forecasting and aggregating their software needs? Between credit card purchases and deliveries via systems integration contracts, does the information to make this happen even exist?

Plus, what effect will SmartBuy have on purchases via the GSA Multiple-Award Schedule? Weren't those contracts, dating to the dawn of time, supposed to be the method for getting best prices?
Now, the Office of Management and Budget is making it seem like you'll need a note from your mother to buy software outside of SmartBuy.

In short, the first two deals have not yet proven the SmartBuy concept. Only more deals and time will do that.

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