SEWP V to offer purchase-tracking option

Government IT procurement has never been a well-documented process, at least not down at the level of individual orders. There’s never really been a need for that, but new initiatives such as supply chain risk management and strategic sourcing will require that kind of data resolution. NASA’s Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement program office, which is already considered at the leading edge of other trends, is planning to also be a leader in collecting this kind of data.

There’s a firm commitment to start tracking orders at the line-item level in SEWP V. The program office already tracks orders in the broader sense and is able to tell agencies how much business they have done in total. But they’ve started asking for more, according to Joanne Woytek, SEWP program manager.

“As much as I would love to think that agencies and companies track their own orders well, both sides have come to us and asked what they actually bought or sold during the year, and the answer is we don’t know,” she said. “And I don’t like saying that to them.”

Under SEWP V, if an agency asks for data on what it did during a year and exactly what it bought, the program office will provide a service to track that kind of information for the agency. But it’s important that this is a service that is optional, Woytek said.

“If an agency doesn’t want this data to be tracked — if one of the three-letter agencies tells us they don’t want to be tracked, for example — then we can handle that,” she said.

That will provide a level of data agencies haven’t had before, which will help them hone their research and planning processes. If you know exactly what you are buying, then you can tell if 100 people in an agency are buying any one item and when, Woytek said. Similarly on strategic sourcing, once the Office of Management and Budget decides precisely what it means by that, Woytek and her people will know what data they need to be tracking and can come up with better information to feed back to OMB so they can tell how well the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative is working.

This could, in some cases, cause the order processing to slow a little, Woytek said. That won’t be the case if customers use SEWP’s own quote tool and orders exactly what is quoted to them by the vendor, she said, because the program already has the information needed for this line-item tracking from the quote itself. But if the customer uses some other way to get a quote or changes the quote, the SEWP office will have to wait to get an automated file from the contract holder before it can process the order and provide the information.

It might actually be able to provide the information now, but it will come later, after the order has been processed. The problem with that, Woytek said, is the SEWP office doesn’t have as much leeway to make sure the contract holder gets that data right.

“So, while we have some of that [line-item] data now, I consider it pretty bad data,” she said. “SEWP V puts it a little more on them to do it right, which is fine because they should be doing that anyway.”

The next step, which Woytek said is not yet at the top of her list because it will take longer to figure out how to do it, is to make it easier for SEWP customers to do market research and to work out what their best options are for various procurements even before they issue a request for quotations. Woytek and her team are working on that “in theory,” she said, and hope to make it reality in the next few years.

There’s been more movement toward trying to provide agencies with this kind of cost and usage data, said Kyra Fussell, a senior research analyst at GovWin, Deltek’s research and analytical arm. But it’s been a struggle.

“The fact that the SEWP program office now thinks it can incorporate some of this into what they do would put them squarely at the leading edge of this movement,” she said.