Draft RFP released for Virtual Data Center Services program

The General Services Administration late last month released the final draft request for proposals for a government-wide program for outsourcing services called the Virtual Data Center Services program. GSA's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (Fedsim) anticipates releasing an RFP by the end of August and making one or more contract awards early next year. Fedsim started the initiative late last year to give civilian agencies a source of outsourcing services. The initiative followed a directive by the Office of Management and Budget for agencies to consolidate or outsource data center operations that did not have enough capacity to gain operating efficiencies. The procurement which is expected to be worth several hundred million dollars is the latest in a series of recent governmentwide services contracts that have attracted much vendor interest but have also forced some firms to choose in which to invest their energies. "I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two of the larger companies drop out " said Lauren Steinkolk deputy director of the Fed 500 database at Federal Sources Inc. Data center management typically requires lower labor rates than other services projects and therefore may not be as attractive an opportunity she said. The new draft gives vendors more leeway for forming teams to bid on the program and simplifies the product list. Fedsim also announced it would conduct pre-qualification evaluations early in the procurement process. "The concept and basic approach have not changed " said Fedsim director John Ortego but the procurement has been modified to ensure "the government receives the best combination of proposals to meet our needs." GSA has worked closely with industry and agencies to develop this procurement and the most recent changes stem from those discussions. For example the government originally wanted individual vendors rather than a team of competitors to bid on the program. However industry expressed concern about whether a given player would be able to handle the range of platforms involved - which include equipment from Digital Equipment Corp. Honeywell IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp. - and GSA relented. The change pleases vendors such as Computer Data Systems Inc. which has the capabilities for IBM and VAX but would like to team with other players for other environments or for very large IBM platforms said Tom Green president of CDSI's Business Application Solutions Group. Additionally GSA has changed the procurement to cover classes of devices and software rather than specific products Ortego said. According to Federal Sources Virtual Data Center Services in the early stages has attracted a large field of potential bidders including Boeing CDSI Computer Sciences Corp. Electronic Data Systems Corp. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Unisys. But several major players which asked to remain anonymous indicated last week they may pull out of the field because such services are already available on the Defense Enterprise Integration Services (DEIS) II contract and the National Institutes of Health's Chief Information Officer Solutions Partner (CIOSP) programs. The vendors are concerned about investing in yet another program targeting the same pool of potential customers. Both CIOSP and DEIS II "provide for outsourcing of data centers already and this [GSA] contract is going to be much more restrictive " one vendor said. "It's like competing for the same dollars but with one arm tied behind your back." "Their concerns are valid " Ortego said. Even as Fedsim has been working on this program the acquisition environment has been changing and governmentwide services contracts have proliferated. However "I believe this is a far more substantive contract" than the others in terms of outsourcing Ortego said. "I fundamentally believe we are going to make major inroads with this contract." GSA recognizes that some vendors may consider not submitting a bid but that will not compromise the contract Ortego said. "We expect five to seven bids all firm and that is what we need " he said. Several vendors recognized the potential conflict with other vehicles but said they still believe the GSA program is important. "The customer needs a total solution and the total solution is not generally available through these competing vehicles " said Lee Cooper vice president of business development for Unisys Federal Systems Division Information Services and Solutions.

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