SEWP V Sees a Future of Broader Use and Increasing Growth

The fifth iteration of NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP), after a year’s delay due to protests, is finally underway. Its predecessor stopped taking new orders at the end of April, passing the baton to a contract that more than doubled its governmentwide usage over SEWP IV’s eight-year run, with officials confident that SEWP V will at least equal if not outdo that.

“I’ve already said that, in my view, we should also double the usage (over SEWP V’s 10-year term),” said Joanne Woytek, SEWP program manager, who has been with the Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) from its first day. “If we don’t, it’s because we have not met our customers’ needs, but everything seems to be telling us we’ve done things right (with SEWP V), so I’m optimistic.”

Today’s SEWP is a completely different animal than the Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract that started life in 1993 as a way for NASA users to buy computers. SEWP V covers a much broader range of products and services that reflects the complex IT that agencies have to use today, from IT and communications products to audio visual solutions, and the installation, engineering and training services needed to manage that.

More than that, however, SEWP has evolved into a vehicle that actively works with agencies to help them meet their business goals, something that many believe set it apart from other GWACs such as the National Institutes of Health’s Chief Information OfficerCommodities and Solutions (CIO-CS) and the GSA’s Schedule 70.

"I think we've done (SEWP V) right, and everything we've seen so far is showing us that," Woytek said. "So I'm extremely optimistic, and that we’ll play a key role in agency procurement plans."

It’s not that SEWP is trying to take anything away from either the NIH or GSA contracts, she said, but she thinks people want contracts that provide the control, tracking, good access and good pricing that SEWP now provides them.

SEWP V is set to morph yet again, from a strict products-and-solutions focus to one that provides a more strategic platform for users. Woytek and her staff began looking at a change in SEWP’s vision and mission several years ago, based both on their own experiences and on what their customers told them they needed.

"We’ve gone from being a purely ‘come by and order’ contract to one that, if nothing else, allows agencies at the highest level to track and report on what they’re buying, and that also provides them with control over what’s being bought,” Woytek said.

As SEWP IV progressed, the program office would get a lot of feedback from people about how they could buy certain things on the contracts, if they could do this or that, and that feedback fed into a gradual realization that SEWP wasn’t where its customers wanted it to be. So there was a conscious decision made for the program office to get out into the field and be more visible and be more of a leader in the acquisition world, and to try and get more of the strategic focus that’s now a central part of SEWP V.

Industry also seems to appreciate those contracts with the widest reach and multi-year durability. It takes a lot of time to pull these contracts together, and vendors have to put a lot of money and resources into the research and processes needed to organize a bid, and then compete for business. It can take as much as five years for them to recoup that cost, at which point they have to start preparing for the next version.

Woytek and her staff spend a lot of time with both agencies and vendors to try to understand what’s going on in both arenas and how SEWP might fit their needs. That’s why it was so disappointing to see the kind of pushback there seems to be to the first set of awards in early 2014, the first time any SEWP awards had generated significant protests.

Woytek took a lot of the responsibility for them, for not understanding all of the issues that could potentially blow up, particularly since she took pride in getting things right before they could get to that point, something that had stood her in good stead in previous SEWP versions. In the end, the number of vendors on SEWP V ended up at 148, compared to the 41 on SEWP IV.

But she also admitted the protests, though a real headache, were a backhanded compliment that also showed just how popular SEWP has become with the vendor community. In the past, she said, the reaction to awards would have been “Oh, we didn’t get one. Big deal,” to (in SEWP V) “Oh My God, we didn’t get one!”

That’s confirmed by the number of awardees who have already been processed. Given past experiences, Woytek said she might have expected 10 percent of them to not turn up at all. But just a month into the new contract’s term, only four companies had still to be entered into the SEWP system.

"We’re already seeing the same rate of ordering from the final year of SEWP IV continuing into SEWP V," she said. "That’s when we knew we were going to grow substantially during the current contract."

It could also prove beneficial in other ways, she said. Companies that looked interesting initially but didn’t get on are now there, and maybe that’s the valuable thing that will be proven about the whole process over time, she said.

“It’s been an interesting experience,” she said. “Now we have all of these companies coming in and it’s a question of how are we going to bring them on board and are we ready for this. So far I’ve been shocked, but in a good way.”

Anyone who was on the SEWP V website in the first week or two knows that it wasn’t able to handle the growth in orders and agency customers, she said. But the program office made adjustments, and the problems haven’t come up again. The office decided to change the way it operates, not meeting with every company that makes that request, for example, but instead finding other ways to address their concerns.

“It does change your perspective and working style, but that’s okay,” Woytek said. “Change is not necessarily bad, but it does take a while to adjust, and that’s what we’ll do.”