We've seen many changes in the way the federal government buys products
and services during the past few years. Through the sudden rise in the use
of General Services Administration schedules, indefinite- delivery, indefinite-quantity
(IDIQ) contracts, blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) and government credit
cards, the government procurement cycle has been reduced, in some cases,
from years to weeks.
While these changes are common knowledge in the industry, many might
be surprised to learn that technology has played an insignificant role in
Most of the improvements stem from changes in policy rather than technology.
The truth is that technology, despite all its potential, has had only a
minor impact on the federal acquisition process.
Sure, there has been a modest application of technology in the federal
procurement process. But it has largely been used to facilitate or automate
traditional, paper-based processes. Take GSA's electronic procurement system.
While EPS is a useful tool for vendors seeking federal business, it is little
more than an enhanced electronic version of the Commerce Business Daily.
Similarly, the vast majority of government requests for proposals are now
distributed electronically, but again, they are little more than electronic
versions of the old, paper-based documents.
It appears, however, that technology may finally find its place in the
procurement process. Through the emergence of online bidding and e- procurement
applications plugged into government financial systems, technology may finally
make its presence felt in the federal procurement environment.
Take, for example, the online auction. Many folks are familiar with
sites such as eBay and uBid, where visitors bid on everything from computer
equipment to novelty items. In recent months, GSA and the military have
shown a keen interest in experimenting with this technology as a way to
reduce procurement costs and time. The Navy recently conducted its first
online auction, claiming savings of almost 30 percent and a bidding cycle
measured in minutes rather than weeks or months.
There are a number of questions and concerns about the technology and
its place in federal procurement. Many believe that it is a gimmicky practice
likely to lead to the purchase of shoddy products. Others argue that it
might alienate quality vendors who already believe their profit margins
from sales to the federal government are too thin.
Indeed, these auctions already have had a cool reception from the vendor
community. Only time will tell if these concerns are legitimate. But eBay's
success suggests that the technology will gain traction in federal procurement.
Clearly, online auctions are not appropriate for every acquisition.
Like any acquisition tool, such as GSA schedules or IDIQ contracts, they
have their place. However, for those who think they are a passing fancy,
don't dismiss them too quickly. They are likely to be a permanent addition
to the toolbox of government acquisition professionals.
—Plexico is vice president and chief technology officer at Input, an IT market
research and marketing services firm.