DOD, GSA team up on Virtual IT Marketplace

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"A new deal"

The Defense Department is teaming with the General Services Administration to make it possible for DOD buyers to find the best deals available for information technology hardware and services.

The Virtual Information Technology Marketplace (VITM) will allow customers to compare pricing on GSA Federal Supply Service (FSS) contracts and blanket purchase agreements.

DOD, like many agencies, has set up BPAs to get volume discounts for popular products. But there has never been an easy way for DOD buyers to shop online for BPA deals the way they can at the GSA Advantage Web site for standard GSA purchases.

VITM would change that, allowing customers to access BPA pricing through GSA Advantage, said Pat Mead, deputy assistant commissioner for acquisition at FSS.

The project is an extension of DOD's Enterprise Software Initiative, through which the department arranged enterprise licenses for key software products, providing volume pricing and simplifying procurements.

VITM will use online shopping to make hardware and services buys easier.

The initiative uses GSA Advantage's infrastructure to provide "point-and-click IT shopping," said Floyd Groce, team leader for enterprise licensing in the Navy chief information officer's office.

"One of the reasons we decided to go with GSA Advantage is that they've already got the infrastructure set up," said Rick Perron, project manager for VITM in the DOD CIO's office. He added that the work is being done with no additional fee passed on to customers, because the costs will be absorbed through the 1 percent GSA fee that they are already paying.

The majority of VITM requirements will be fulfilled this month, and the next year will be spent adding contractors and catalogs, Perron said. Initial operating capability is scheduled for November 2003.

DOD is in the process of feeding catalog information from the BPA agreements to GSA to make it available online.

Every BPA has a corresponding GSA schedule number, and the software product managers from the armed services and the Defense Information Systems Agency need to ensure that vendor information in VITM, including manufacturers' part numbers, matches the BPAs and the GSA schedules, Perron said.

"It's an online survey without having to do multiple calls with multiple vendors that will provide various options," Perron said. In theory, the BPA should be the best price, he added.

Jim Clausen, co-chairman of the Enterprise Software Initiative working group in the DOD CIO's office, said one of the greatest benefits of VITM is the point-of-sales information that will be captured. That data will be fed into a DOD-wide software asset management network and, along with tailored reports coming out of GSA Advantage, will report "who's buying what and where through GSA in the DOD," he said.

Vendors are already used to producing data spreadsheets for their current catalogs and services, and participating in VITM only requires more use of that data, said Groce, who is also co-chairman of the Enterprise Software Initiative working group. He added that vendors have generally been supportive, because the program provides them with more visibility and opportunities to sell.

Initially, VITM buys will be limited to purchase card transactions, which fall below the $2,500 "micropurchase" threshold, for DOD buyers and other government purchase card holders, Clausen said.

Purchases will be limited because VITM is a "work in progress with the enterprise agreements," and there is no concrete date to add that capability, Perron said.

When considering the potential impact of VITM, "just look at what they're replacing," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. and a former Air Force procurement executive. The current complicated acquisition process can take weeks or months to fulfill an order.

"You replace that from an end-user's perspective, who needs the goods and services, with a Web site where they click on an item, it's added to the shopping cart, plug in a credit card number, and you get next-day delivery, or same-day if you're downloading software," Mather said.

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