GSA moves toward category management

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The General Services Administration's acquisition chief has outlined the agency's next steps in implementing its concept for a common, consolidated process for agencies to buy goods and services.

In an April 9 blog post, Thomas Sharpe, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said the agency is using its experience with its Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative to implement category management practices similar to those used in the private sector. The plan would also include providing technical expertise and targeted purchasing information to agency customers.

Sharpe has intensified GSA's move toward targeted buying techniques since starting as commissioner a little over a year ago. In his blog post, he said category management helps Fortune 500 companies save money and make smarter buying decisions. In addition, retailers use the process to break their products into discrete, specialized groups that can be managed as separate business units.

"Category management essentially looks at product or services categories the way a business might look at its own strategic business units, and then works on customizing purchase channels to better meet customer needs and market demands," he said. "Category management also provides deep-dive market analysis and addresses supply chain management; it can even help with changing behaviors and reducing demand."

GSA is working with the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy to identify market categories, he added.

Sharpe said category management fits with GSA's development of the Common Acquisition Platform (CAP), which seeks to offer agencies more effective buying methods. CAP is both a platform and a strategy, and it will combine technologies and data on purchasing and pricing via a Web portal. The portal will be equipped with "category hallways" that federal buyers can "walk" down to find a range of resources, including subject-matter expertise, data and on-demand procurement assistance.

Although he didn't give a timeline for the portal's implementation, Sharpe said it will incorporate several kinds of technologies and capabilities that will improve acquisition outcomes under CAP. GSA officials have said more specifics on implementation could come in the next few weeks.

According to Sharpe, the portal's capabilities will include:

  • Procurement Optimizer: A search engine that compares contracts and thereby enhances competition for government projects.
  • Market Intelligence Center: Category-centric market research that can help guide purchase decisions.
  • Clear View: Real-time data on pricing and purchasing, and assessment tools that can provide insight into individual agency's spending behavior and that of the government as a whole.
  • Collaborative Contracting Library: A repository of exemplary contract work for complex purchases.
  • eMarketplace: A transaction platform for simple purchases.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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