ECS II attracts record number of bidders

When the National Institutes of Health awards new contracts for its Electronic Computer Store (ECS) II program as it plans to do this month it will choose among an unprecedented number of bidders.

Seventy companies want a piece of the $1.7 billion in sales NIH predicts from the contracts over five years. That is more firms than have ever bid for any indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract those who follow the federal information technology market say.

Fewer than half of these firms are likely to get an award which according to competitors has produced an aggressive contest. Vendors and other market observers believe this competition illustrates the new importance of governmentwide contracts.

"I think the vendor community is recognizing there are multiple ways of selling their products " said the Electronic Industries Association's director of marketing and government relations Ella Schiralli who is developing the group's five-year federal IT forecast. "Most people aren't anxious to pass up any opportunities."

"You need to be able to address client requirements through multiple vehicles " said Bill Jones director of marketing operations for information technologies with Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Division. Unisys did not bid for the first ECS round which was awarded in late 1995 but today Jones said NIH's governmentwide contracts are among the key federal sales vehicles.

Patrick Williams deputy director of the NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center acquisition team said the agency received many more bids than it expected. "We were thinking 40 to 50 " he said. "There are a lot of companies that have not bid before."

Like its predecessor ECS II would provide federal agencies with microcomputers Unix workstations file servers networking equipment software and peripherals. Agencies have purchased more than $236 million in products from the contracts only a fraction of which has come from NIH.Brian Nightingale vice president of civilian programs and sales with BTG Inc. an ECS I vendor said ECS II offers companies an opportunity "to get into a lot of agencies or the federal government in general."

That prospect led Pulsar Data Systems Inc. Lanham Md. to try for ECS II. "We saw what was done for ECS I and thought that was an attractive and interesting vehicle to cover another segment of the federal market " said John Kendall director of business development for the firm.

"We got literally hundreds of phone calls from companies that wanted to sub " said Deborah Gordon president of ECS I vendor GCG Computers. "These companies were coming out of the woodwork - companies we haven't even heard of before."

But Pete Jobse a vice president with ECS I vendor Electronic Data Systems Corp. said EDS decided not to bid for the follow-on. "We have contracts already in place right now that address the same market " he said.

Despite the large field NIH is expected to award about the same number of contracts as in the last round. "They are going to narrow down to companies that have performed well " said Jim Dunn director of business development with ECS I vendor Government Technology Services Inc.

Sterling Phillips vice president of corporate marketing with FDC Technologies Inc. Bethesda Md. said the competition also means that vendors that offer the widest variety of products will probably win.

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