FTS preps vendors for task order system

General Services Administration officials are trying to get vendors ready for the advent of its Third Generation System (3GS), a new Web-based technology task order management system. GSA's Federal Technology Service will begin rolling out the system to its individual regions in January 2004 and expects to complete the process by June 1, 2004.

The system will replace four major ones and several smaller ones, said FTS chief technology officer Christopher Wren. As 3GS goes live, the systems it is replacing will switch to read-only mode, he said. Although historical information will remain available on the old systems, no new orders will be allowed.

FTS Commissioner Sandra Bates also told vendors at an industry advisory council meeting last week of the coming changes. "We're going live at the end of May, and we're not running parallel," she said, referring to the practice of keeping an older system active after switching to a new one.

Vendors will use the new system to receive bid invitations, collaborate internally on bid documents, and submit bids and invoices, Wren said. Agencies will get better information to analyze their spending trends. By using off-the-shelf software and eliminating multiple legacy systems, FTS will make the new system easier to administer. Unisys Corp. is the integrator on the project.

The new system will force industry to rethink some of its practices, Wren said. Companies will have to designate officials who are authorized to submit invoices for completed orders, which FTS hasn't required in the past. The system also allows more detailed listings of line items in an order, including items that are not currently funded but that might be funded in the future, potentially increasing the value of the contract.

"There's going to have to be a little more thought when the requisition is set up," he said.

Although industry leaders largely support the system and FTS' plans, some questions remain. Officials intend to send only one e-mail alert to each company invited to bid on a given opportunity. Although companies will tell FTS who their authorized bidders are and can designate several people to fill the role, e-mail alerts still have to get to the right person, said Edward Naro, a Northrop Grumman Corp. vice president of GSA and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts.

"Not all companies are uniform," Naro said. Small companies might have only one or two designated bidders working in one office, while a large operation might have dozens or hundreds scattered at many regional offices. Getting the bid alert to the right person in time could be difficult, he said.

"Industry is not one-size-fits-all," he said. "Having a simplistic system of all bids being equal doesn't make sense."

Industry leaders said they plan to talk further with FTS officials to try to have the system changed before it goes into operation. "If they aren't going to change it, then we have to adapt," said Vic Bukowski, a vice president at Anteon Corp. who oversees GSA activities.

Wren acknowledged that companies are going to have to change old habits to use 3GS. "We're going to force a lot of change on ourselves," he said. "We realize that we're going to force a lot of change on our industry partners."

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