Acquisition

Vendors offer EIS advice

fiber optics and switches (PeterPhoto123/Shutterstock.com) 

With a growing wave of agencies preparing to get on the General Services Administration's next generation telecommunications contract, vendors on the vehicle advise them to focus on the big picture.

In the last six months, or so, more and more federal agencies are drawing up final solicitations to make the move to GSA's $50 billion, 15-year Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract. Vendors anticipate a flood of EIS solicitations and contract awards ahead of GSA's March 31, 2020 deadline that will restrict the use of its current Networx and local service agreement contracts.

As agencies move ahead with EIS solicitation plans, the contract's nine vendors advised potential federal customers to take a holistic view of their needs. That means, said top federal market experts at the nine EIS vendor companies during a Nov. 19 GSA EIS event, agencies have to take a step back from the grittier contract-oriented details, and take in the larger view and allow room for vendor innovation.

In mapping their existing services to EIS, for instance, the vendors advised a range of tactics, from not strictly adhering to traditional contract specifications, to thinking about how to move to more managed services models.

"CLIN [Contract Line Item Numbers] mapping is very challenging," said Nicholas Matich, EIS program director at BT Federal said during the meeting. "I suggest talking to the vendors pre-RFP [request for proposal] to see how they might structure" services. Agency contracting officials who might be thinking of directly transferring their services one-for-one using CLINs, might not find an exact match on EIS. "We know the CLINs. We've been living them," he said.

"Be open to alternative solutions," said Matich, that may not be specifically described in EIS, but can be tailored by vendors through managed services, or through a task-order-unique CLIN.

"Describing what you want," said Andrea Cohen, vice president of Verizon's Civilian Sector, can help vendors translate the need into services on EIS. That description can help drive a move to the cloud, for instance, she said. "Direct connect to the cloud is a requirement for many agencies, but they name it differently, they have slightly different requirements, slightly different cloud providers." A description of what an agency wants to get from that service, she said, can help a vendor map the pertinent services under EIS.

Managed services, which allow agencies to outsource some, or all, of their network planning, design, implementation, maintenance, operations and customer service to vendors are an important part of EIS, the vendors said.

"There's almost every flavor of managed service" among government agencies, said Tony Jimenez, CEO at MicroTech. "The government is incredibly inventive when it comes to" managed services, he said. Federal agencies that look to switch to a managed service model under EIS, have to consider a "pain threshold" to adapt to them, said Jimenez. The move, he said, "requires people giving up responsibility, reprogramming how they do things, repurposing people."

Service Level Agreements, or SLAs, have to be built into the contract, too, according to Jimenez. The most important ingredient in planning a switch to a managed service model, he advised is to "be inventive."

"Make sure you're thinking about doing all the things you want to do that you currently can't" under existing contracts, he said.

"Everything can be a managed service," said Verizon's Cohen. The level of complexity in networks, including the increasing use of software defined networks (SDN), can leave agencies with a heavy lift to understand how to leverage that complexity, she said.

EIS, said David Roberts, chief technology officer at Core Technologies, is more flexible than any of its telecommunication contract predecessors, allowing it to address such fast-developing technologies, such as SDN, cloud, managed services, software-as-a-service.

Along with the technology, an effective EIS contract also considers everyday logistics and responsibilities, said the vendors.

Detailed, post contract meetings between vendor and agency personnel are critical in effectively moving ahead, they said.

The meeting, said Matthew Scelza, EIS program director at CenturyLink, should cover "what's next" for the contract, timeframe changes that may have to be worked in, and other details such as the logistics of billing should be addressed. Those initial meetings also set critical lines of contact between contractor and agency that will drive communications about the work going forward, he said.

Security clearances for contracted workers can be a tough issue, according to the vendors.

Some said it can mean losing employees. If vendors' employees show up to work at an agency facility that requires clearances to enter and don't have those clearances, the customer doesn't get service, said Jemenez. Chasing down those clearances post-award can also mean some contractor employees will be at loose ends potentially for months, which means they might decide to move on to other work, he said.

Vendors said their interest in bidding on EIS contracts can depend on an agency's transformative mindset.

"We're interested in supporting everyone," said Jason Tolbert, assistant vice president solutions and operations at AT&T. "But what especially interests us is an agency looking to transform. They can do 'like-for-like' at first, but is also looking for a holistic solution, edge-to-edge, modern solution, fully managed" as they move ahead, he said.

Granite Telecommunications, said Tim Heaps, general manager at the company, works with large commercial enterprise customers with offices distributed around the U.S. With EIS it is looking for federal customers that have similar needs. "The more a solicitation looks like how we serve, in 50 states, enterprise customers, the more likely we are to bid."

The way an agency has broken up their service groupings in solicitation's guidance documents, he said, also makes a difference in the decision. If that documentation shows a clear understanding of an agency's service inventory, the more likely Granite will bid, he said.

In deciding to bid on agency EIS contracts, said Scelza, the company looks at many factors. Those factors include considering whether an agency is already a customer, which could mean a more immediate return on transformative efforts under EIS, or whether it would take a larger effort to transform a new customer's operations. "It's a hard decision to not bid something," he said. "I wish we could bid them all. We to choose those that are a good fit for us and for the customer."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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