Network Procurement

Networx: A vision for the future

John Johnson is a partner at consulting firm Deep Water Point. Previously, he spent nine years at the General Services Administration, where he oversaw the development and award of the Networx contracts. He was assistant commissioner of GSA's Integrated Technology Services when he retired from federal service.

It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since the General Services Administration awarded the Networx contract and that the government is already considering the replacement vehicle, called Network Services 2020 (NS2020).

With the Networx transition close but still not complete, we have to wonder: Has the era of large-scale telecommunications contracts passed? Are they just too large and complex to effectively execute and manage, given the trend toward commoditized and cloud-based services and applications?

The programs have provided tremendous value to federal agencies and departments, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been saved by capitalizing on their buying power and the dedicated and talented people who have been involved. Additionally, GSA has helped the government stay abreast of technology developments through the execution of hundreds of contract modifications.

Today’s Networx program, for example, has a host of advanced services and features that were not available in the early days. It is one of the most comprehensive government vehicles for network services, but its size and complexity are making it increasingly difficult to implement. To put it in perspective, the original Federal Telephone System contract had about seven service offerings while Networx has nearly 60. With a contract duration of 10 years and a program so complex that it takes half of its term for the government to make the transition, it’s possible that Networx has become a victim of its own success.

GSA needs to capitalize on the benefits of having established its Integrated Technology Services out of two organizations that were ostensibly competitors. During the formation of ITS, our idea was to build an organization that could deliver a comprehensive suite of IT technologies and services under a single roof. In theory, ITS solutions development experts could draw on the IT Schedule 70 program, the IT governmentwide acquisition contracts program and network service contracts to craft solutions that crossed traditional contract domains. The ability to deliver that programwide capability would result in an expanded range of options that could cater to agencies’ diverse buying preferences.

However, the challenges haven’t been limited to the integration of the business lines with their associated contracts. They have also included the integration of people who understand how those business lines could coexist to provide a diverse range of solutions. That diversity of offerings would not force a customer down one delivery channel if that channel was not the optimal one.

Building large contracts like FTS 2001 and Networx isn’t cheap, and it is very time-consuming. But NS2020 doesn’t need to follow the same path as its predecessors. Rather than viewing NS2020 as a contract or a suite of contracts, GSA should create a program that will capitalize on its existing collection of ITS-wide vehicles augmented by legitimized niche vehicles.

If GSA could further this approach by investing in the creation of a contract-agnostic solutions delivery organization that could expertly consult with clients and offer a range of network service approaches, I think the organization would be on to something that no one could compete with. Perhaps the time, money and effort traditionally expended on large contracts could be put to better use through the implementation of a program whose real purpose isn’t a simple replacement of the past but a vision for the future — a vision that capitalizes on the value of ITS’ contract arsenal.

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