GSA matches customer DNA to IT commodity program

General Services Administration officials are working on a nationwide IT commodity purchasing program in an attempt to meet customers’ needs before the customers know what those needs are.

GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service is crafting its new National IT Commodity Program (NITPC), as a means of using a strategic sourcing approach to get general IT products and related services into the hands of agencies.

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Officials want to use innovative acquisition strategies to establish several multiple-award blanket purchase agreements for leading IT products, such as notebook computers, supercomputers and mainframes, and network and telecommunications switches and routers.

GSA describes three BPAs for different commodities and services. Three-year BPAs for laptops, notebooks, servers and video teleconferencing commodities could be worth more than $118 million. For servers, racks, data storage, installation and maintenance of the IT products, officials estimate the BPAs could be worth more than $91 million over three years. BPAs for supercomputers and mainframes could be worth more than $29 million, according to recent draft request for quotations.

GSA’s program is expected to provide bulk buying discounts for agencies as well as cutting-edge technology through the GSA IT Schedule 70. In addition, the program is intended to promote greenhouse gas, zero environment footprint, and sustainability initiatives.

Procurement officials want to make ordering simpler for agencies, and they want to align purchasing with an agency’s existing business practices — both ways to make the customer happy. They want uniform competitively priced products and services with measurable total cost savings while continuously improving service.

On top of potential savings, GSA wants to gather significant reporting and transactional data to help agencies better manage how much they spend for IT products. Among others, a GSA advisory panel in 2008 said customers need that information to get a closer look at where their money is going. GSA now plans for real-time tracking of deliveries on a contractor’s website.

The underlying point is to be the leading source and first choice for providing IT commodities with end-to-end solutions for customer agencies, according to the draft RFQs. Since GSA isn’t the mandatory source for buying and agencies have done their purchasing on their own for years now, GSA is trying to win back businesses by being reliable and attentive to its customers.

“We have made some great strides getting into the DNA of our customers and developing solutions that they need before they know they need them,” Steve Kempf, FAS commissioner, said about NITCP in a speech Sept. 27 at an industry day.

Kempf said Sept. 28 that GSA has been getting business as agencies face the struggles of budgets and shutdowns in the past year. Sales figures through the end of June show FAS’ total business volume is up more than $1 billion over the same period in fiscal 2010.

“In light of the recent budget crunch and other harsh economic realities, looking at the numbers, it would seem that agencies are relying on FAS to get the most out of their procurement dollars,” Kempf said.

He said agencies are taking a modular approach to their planning because of the possibilities of government shutdowns and constant continuing resolutions. Agencies are also rightsizing their procurement projects based on the reality of the funding they have.

“This may mean doing what they can do now, with already approved funding, and then strategically planning the acquisitions accordingly,” he said.

Agencies are going to GSA to buy their commercial off-the-shelf products rather than developing custom-made solutions, an option that Kempf said is a “cost-effective approach that wasn’t always taken in the past, particularly for IT projects.”

And that’s where GSA’s NITCP may come in.

“I see the National IT Commodity Program as another great opportunity for us to get out in front of our customer’s needs,” Kempf said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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