Systems integration and the IDIQ tooth fairy

I've reviewed the new laws and regulations laid out some hard-earned money to listen to a few pundits read your recent columns and articles about how IDIQ and GSA schedule sales are growing and tried to re-engineer my thinking about how to do business with the feds.

I now know more than I care to about federal preferences for commercial off-the-shelf and almost-COTS modular contracting IDIQs multiple-award schedule BPAs and teaming agreements and Fedsim as a one-stop-shopping source. I'm up to speed on the Year 2000 problem understand what CIOs do and have taken crash courses in data mining and Internet technology. I'm even familiar with Java.

My problem is that in this new world of easy-to-buy piece-parts contracting I'm not sure what work is left for my system integrator employer. I know what we used to sell and do: complete solutions to customer problems. Analysis design hardware software custom development training ...whatever was needed to do the job. What do we sell and do now?

System integration services at commodity prices obviously. After all someone has to plug the commodity hardware and software Lego blocks together to make the piece-parts work. And someone has to make sure that the parts all work correctly at least most of the time. My company can do that. Trouble is if that's all that's required so can a lot of other people. Many of them cheaper than us.

Working for an integrator I'm used to thinking more broadly than this. I'm used to delivering usable and efficient system designs engineering for performance and reliability and contracting for continuing technology refreshment to take advantage of better prices better performance and new features. I'm used to being proud about the added value we factored into our proposals and the contracts we won because we understood a customer's problems better than the next guy.

What about these "value-adds" system integrators are accustomed to providing? If we don't provide them anymore where will they come from?

As the government grows smaller and more focused on applications rather than technology it remains to be seen who will do this technical high-level system engineering work. If all work is done incrementally perhaps by different companies under IDIQ task orders or MAS purchase orders responsibility and accountability will be harder to assign.

The government needs to ask itself if it can realistically be its own system integrator. If not agencies will have to depend on the IDIQ tooth fairy to make COTS and "augmented COTS" products work together in integrated systems without a lot of iterative and coordinated pre- and post-purchase work.

Have I missed something? Or are we really in a brave new world where the hardware and software parts makers do well and the systems (users) fend for themselves? Should I advise my company to re-engineer itself?

Maybe we can become an outsourcer!

Name withheld by request.

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