GAO knocks GSA's Advantage

Business Strategy Needed for GSA's Advantage System

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GSA Advantage

The General Services Administration's Advantage system, intended to be an online market research and ordering tool, needs a better strategy, according to the General Accounting Office.

GSA's Federal Supply Service rolled out the system in 1995 and began adding schedule services to it in 2000. GSA required all its vendors to make electronic catalogs available via Advantage by June 2001. Now, according to GAO, the system has never accounted for more than half of 1 percent of GSA schedule sales.

Agencies use the system extensively for market research, usually of common office products including binders, pens, computers, shredders and chairs, GAO found. Daily site hits for research ranged from 27,000 to 50,000 a day. However, only 129,370 of those hits turned into orders in fiscal 2002.

"The system is unlikely to succeed without a business strategy," the GAO report states. "To date, GSA has not answered basic questions surrounding Advantage."

The questions GSA hasn't answered are:

* Is it technologically possible to make purchases of all products and services online, even complex acquisitions?

* Is Advantage the right system to do it through?

* If not, could Advantage be used for simpler purchases, but as an information source for more complicated acquisitions?

Advantage is not good for complex purchases, including information technology services procurements, GAO found.

The report recommends that GSA "develop a comprehensive business strategy that identifies GSA's objectives for an online market research and ordering system." The strategy should cover the system's desired capabilities and the resources required to implement it and track its performance. Then GSA should compare Advantage with the strategy to find whether it truly meets the needs.

In his written response to the report, GSA Administrator Stephen Perry agreed with the recommendation. The Federal Supply Service is conducting an enterprise architecture study now, he said. "GSA recognizes that it is time to perform a rigorous analysis that will document the business case for our future decisions," he wrote.

The February letter comes 14 months after GAO wrote to Perry expressing concerns about weak quality control that failed to keep incorrect information out of the Advantage system.

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