Army uses its bulk buy policy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Army has taken a step toward more efficient information technology management by completing its first bulk hardware buy.

The service consolidated its requirements and spent $37.5 million last year to buy about 68,000 PCs and monitors, which saved about $13.6 million. IT officials expect bulk buys to help the Army improve its network management, computer security and IT acquisition.

Computer security and configuration management go hand in hand, said Vernon Bettencourt, the Army’s deputy chief information officer.

“We view this as a way to provide configuration management for LandWarNet,” he said. “With configuration, it becomes easier to establish and conduct information assurance.”

LandWarNet is the name for the service’s voice, video and data networks.

Consolidating requirements also lowers the Army’s unit costs for IT. “We’re trying to show individual users that combining their requirement with other Army users results in a lower unit price for everyone and big savings for the Army,” said Michelina LaForgia, assistant project manager of the Army Small Computer Program. LaForgia and Bettencourt spoke at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual winter conference last month.

The bulk buying policy is based on a memo that the Office of the Army CIO issued last year. It requires all Army organizations to purchase their hardware via two consolidated buys per year. The memo asks organizations to use vendors on the Army Desktop and Mobile Computing-1 contract until it expires.

“The Army Desktop and Mobile Computing agreements will be used to consolidate Army requirements and result in efficiencies and costs savings while satisfying networthiness goals through standardized capabilities,” according to the memo from Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army’s CIO.

Organizations submitted their requirements in August and placed orders in September.

All Army organizations that participated in the bulk hardware buy in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2005 received discounts of 23 percent to 33 percent, regardless of the quantity ordered, officials said. At no additional cost, organizations received those PCs loaded with software based on a servicewide standard configuration, known as the Army Golden Master. The Army Small Computer Program oversees the bulk buy program.

Dell supplied about 73 percent of the hardware that the Army purchased in that initial bulk buy. Hewlett-Packard supplied 21 percent; Lenovo, 4 percent; Gateway, 2 percent; and MPC and Panasonic, less than 1 percent.

The Army initiated its second bulk hardware buy Feb. 21.

The Air Force’s success with bulk buys sparked the Army’s interest in such buys. Air Force officials began commodity hardware buys in 2003 through the service’s IT Commodity Council.

The Air Force credits the council’s policy on hardware purchases with yielding millions of dollars in savings. Because of the policy, the Air Force has standard configurations on about 20 percent of its hardware inventory.

Treating IT as a commodity offers definite advantages for government agencies, technology experts say. The technology is more standardized and the products are more mature and reliable, which improves network and configuration management, said Steve Kelman, a Federal Computer Week columnist, professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

“I’m a big fan of this,” he added.

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