GSA planning interactive, inclusive buying process

With the most significant IT and telecom government contract vehicles expiring in the near future, key officials at the General Services Administration offered a preliminary glimpse today into how the agency will operate and interact with customers in the constantly evolving digital environment.

Speaking at the annual Federal Networks conference in McLean, Va., John Johnson, assistant commissioner for GSA's Office of Service Development and Delivery, and a host of his staff members detailed an initial outline for how GSA, its agency customers and industry will work together toward delivering efficient and enhanced telecom and IT services over the next several years.

'We are attempting to help the government create a seamless, secure and interoperable structure' for managing its needs, Johnson said, stressing that his concepts on this point are still preliminary.

Johnson's vision involves changing how GSA offers services to customers'namely, instead of focusing on the three main vehicles or 'channels' (multiple-award contracts, governmentwide acquisition contracts and straightforward IT contracts), Johnson's plan will focus on agency customer needs and tailoring a specific solution to meet them.

'If a customer comes in and says, 'I need something and here are my requirements,' we can say, 'Here's everything we have and let's craft a solution,' ' he said. GSA is 'going to be a much more effective service-delivering organization.'

Under his leadership, OSDD will cut across the three channels and find the best way to meet a customer's needs, Johnson said. 'It is a significant transformation in terms of how we're going to deliver services in the future.'

The agency will become 'more vehicle-neutral than we were in the past,' said Jim Ghiloni, GSA's Alliant project manager. 'We will decide on the vehicle as the last step instead of the first step.'

Johnson, Ghiloni and others detailed how high-profile acquisitions, such as the Networx telecommunications vehicle and the Alliant IT GWAC, fit into the agency's suite of offerings and how Johnson's office envisions managing the transition to the new contracts as the legacy systems expire.

For instance, GSA officials detailed the Business and Operations Support System that will provide market intelligence and program management information, support and analysis for many high-profile contracts, starting with Networx.

Johnson said BOSS at this point is strictly a concept, not a system, and he anticipates rolling it out to help agencies transition to Networx when those contracts are awarded by mid-2007. BOSS will help track inventories, customer buying trends and billing as agencies stop using the legacy FTS 2001 telecommunications contract and transition to Networx.

From there BOSS will offer support services for Networx, and Johnson hopes that after the contract is awarded BOSS will be expanded to other vehicles within GSA.

At some point, Johnson said he envisions BOSS becoming an electronic database keeping track of agency expenditures, buying trends and market information.

'What I'd like is the ability to electronically see what we have out there,' such as what services and products the government is buying, he after his presentation.

But while these changes are dramatically reshaping how GSA procures goods and services, the agency and government as a whole needs to be mindful of the even more significant changes in the private industry, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc. of Jenkintown, Pa., in his opening address.

With the recent consolidation in the telecom sector combined with the emergence of three significant technological trends'voice over IP, service-oriented architecture and on-demand computing'the government and private sector need to be in concert with each other as much as possible.

'In the end, the competitive outcome will be determined by customer behavior,' Suss said. 'Initiatives like Networx, Alliant and [the Defense Information Systems Agency's Net-Centric Enterprise Services program] are likely to change the way agencies buy network services. The federal customer may be conservative when it comes to issues related to security and reliability, but once industry overcomes ' major resistance points, my best is that agencies will embrace the business cases for VOIP, service-oriented architecture, on-demand computing and other next-generation intelligent network services. The prize will go to the industry players with the vision and the guts to get beyond yesterday's business models.'

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