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GSA AdvantageSelect: The Right Product, Right Now

Visit the GSAAdvantageSelect online portal.

 

For this Great Government through Technology Blog post, we welcome special guest author Erville Koehler, Region 4 Regional Commissioner.

GSA is making it easier than ever to use one of its flagship portals, GSA Advantage!, with the addition of GSA AdvantageSelect: a money saving program that makes shopping for pre-competed IT commodities easier and faster. AdvantageSelect draws concepts from category management, agile development, acquisition streamlining, and world class practices from Government and industry and is a game changing initiative for federal buyers. 

From this portal, a contracting officer or purchase card holder need only enter the quantity they require, and can proceed straight to check-out — so buying a commodity is finally as easy as click and pay. GSA has done the work for you by competing these items up front, applying category management principles and utilizing our latest procurement tools.

GSA plans to test two GSA AdvantageSelect offerings this fiscal year:  

  • 22 inch monitors in August 2015  
  • 14 inch laptop in September 2015 based on Strategic Sourcing Group standard configuration  

Category Management – The Path to Select

As part of GSA’s category management initiative, we met with agencies and vendors to determine basic parameters for purchasing commodities. Conversations ranged from small business utilization to ordering methods to life cycle management constraints. A significant step was the development of standard configurations for items like laptops and desktops.

Taking best practices from places like Army, Air Force, and even commercial entities such as Amazon, we rethought our approach to the commodities market and considered the tools available to us. We realized we already had many of the components to create a better buying portal, we simply needed to modify and re-purpose them.

Agile development – concept to production in less than four months

Agile development techniques were applied to systems development and the acquisition process itself.  Our goal is to test concepts on a small scale quickly, evaluate results, and proceed based on the results. For 22 inch monitors and the standard 14 inch laptop configuration, we are actually testing different procurement approaches and systems at the same time. For monitors, we are using e-buy, included quantity price breaks, and a classic GSA Advantage! upload method. For the laptop, we are using the GSA Reverse Auction Platform, no quantity price breaks, and a new GSA Advantage upload method. Although the tests are small, the data is a critical component in determining  our approach going forward.

Conceptually, the underlying GSA AdvantageSelect procurement will result in a short duration single award vehicle that will be posted to GSA AdvantageSelect.  “Short duration” will likely be defined by category or commodity to be consistent with production from an industry perspective, and life cycle management from an Agency perspective. Monitors which are plug and play could be relatively short (e.g., 3 months), whereas, a laptop which require more configuration might be a little longer (e.g., 1 year).

Moving forward – a place for businesses large and small

After the monitors industry day, interest in GSA AdvantageSelect was high, but small business concerns were raised. Fortunately, the regulatory framework offers an array of options to ensure small business remains a healthy part of the industrial base. In the future, the GSA AdvantageSelect program will expand and include competitive acquisition strategies so that multiple product offerings can be awarded not only using full and open competitive procedures, but also solely within the various sub-categories of small businesses, thus providing our customers with multiple product offerings from the entire socio-economic spectrum of industry.

As we continue testing the portal, meeting with customers, and conducting industry days, AdvantageSelect will evolve. Few things are set in stone at this point, however three goals remain in sharp focus: robust small business participation, savings for commodities purchased, and a streamlined acquisition process.

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Networx Buying, IP Services, and Ethernet Migration Grow in FY 2015

For this Great Government through Technology Blog post, we welcome special guest author Bill Lewis, the Program Manager for GSA’s Networx program.

Most federal agencies continue to purchase network services through GSA’s Networx telecommunications program. Federal communications purchasing in the first half of FY 2015 shows that Networx continues to be a stable program with steady growth driven by demand for bandwidth. Overall, purchasing for network services on Networx exceeded $820M in the first half of the fiscal year, a 7.6% increase over the same period last year.

Like our last telecommunications insight blog, we wanted to explore and dive into some interesting trends we’ve seen in our Networx program. These purchases–and their associated trends–are also helping us shape the next-generation Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract, which GSA intends to have ready for government-wide use in 2017.

Internet Protocol Services Sales Dominate

Twenty years ago, more than 70% of federal purchases were voice related — either long distance voice or toll-free services. Unsurprisingly, today less than 10% of the purchases are voice-related services. Most of us have seen this same trend in our personal buying.  

Today, the bulk of services purchased are Internet Protocol (IP)-based services. Sixty percent of federal spending on Networx  is Network Based IP Virtual Private Networks (NBIPVPN) and management of these services. In the first half of FY2015, NBIPVPN purchasing is up 14% and purchasing services to manage this bandwidth is up 12%.

Purchase trends for various Networx services are shown below.

 Networx Service Type  Purchase Volume (FY15 First Half)  Percentage Change (First Half, FY14-FY15)
 Network Based IP Virtual Private Network Bandwidth  $391.1M  14%
 Managed Network Services  $102.0M  12%
 Toll Free Services  $64.4M   -10%
 IP Services (External Bandwidth)  $28.5M   8%
 Long Distance Voice Servies  $19.8M   -6%

 

Migration to Ethernet Technology

In terms of networking technologies, federal wireline purchasing is clearly migrating away from the traditional digital signal hierarchy towards native Ethernet.

The bulk of the federal inventory of bandwidth is still around the traditional DS-1, Digital Signal Hierarchy Level 1, which is a 1.5Mbps service. But in the past five years, the number of DS-1s in the federal inventory has shrunk nearly 4% annually. And number of “sub-rate” DS-1s (circuits with less than 1.5Mbps) has shrunk over 6% annually over the same period.  

Many of us have more bandwidth going into our homes than a DS-1, so it’s no surprise federal agencies are demanding more bandwidth as well. We rely more on applications stored in remote data centers or the cloud as we use more video, and rely on other services around unified communications.

We’ve seen some migration towards 45Mbps services, a “DS-3”, where growth was up 21% over the past five years. Now the trend is slowing, as evidenced by DS-3 growth only up 8% through the first half of this year. This slowdown is expected since DS-1s and DS-3s are legacy services originally designed for Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) equipment and voice-dominated networks.  

Because Ethernet services are designed for networks dominated by IP-based data rather than voice, Ethernet growth is higher as shown below for the past five years.

 Ethernet Purchasing off Networx  5-Year Annual Compound Rate
 10 Mbps Ethernet  138%
 100 Mbps Ethernet  78%
 1 Gbps Ethernet  60%

 

Shaping EIS and Preparing for Transition

Networx purchase data has driven some of the requirements for GSA’s EIS contract, which is in its final stages of development. For example, Ethernet will be a required service under EIS. But we haven’t developed EIS requirements in a vacuum by simply looking at historical purchase data.  

This spring and summer, we held three information exchange days with industry. These were well-attended, lively events, with over 150 participants in each session. In addition, we have been in frequent contact with government agencies and industry in other forums and individually to shape EIS.  

Over the next year, we will go through the acquisition process on EIS. At the same time, we are preparing for the transition from Networx and our regional telecommunications contracts to EIS.  As you know, we are extending the Networx contracts three years to 2020 to give agencies time to transition to EIS.  Four of the five Networx suppliers have submitted modification extension proposals.

We are also extending many of our local service agreements, including the Washington Interagency Telecommunications Contract 3 (WITS 3), to 2020. We are also working with agencies to develop transition plans and examine inventories of telecommunications services, both essential steps to a timely transition. Agencies will transition all telecom services, including secure Internet and data services as well as voice and toll-free services.
Please check out and register on our Interact site for status updates on EIS and our transition efforts. And be sure to follow ITS on Twitter @GSA_ITS for updates on all GSA’s IT offerings.

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IT Acquisition Best Practices & Dispelling Myths

In June, I read a great open letter from Susan M. Gordon, Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that explained how to make sure we’re doing the best we can to get technology and related services to help us meet our missions.

This blog post is an open letter follow-up with seven best practices for agencies acquiring mission enhancing IT solutions such as software, hardware, telecommunications, cybersecurity, cloud, satellite, mobile, and other IT. These tips should help dispel some common myths.

  1. Make Market Research Personal – Don’t assume market research on paper and the Internet gives you the full picture. You’ll need to talk to experts each time you need an acquisition. Talk to industry, other agencies with similar requirements, and GSA. We administer many government-wide shared IT acquisition contracts. Check out the government’s open and independent resource – the Government Acquisition Gateway and hallways – as a starting point. You’ll find white papers, best practices, potential and existing contracts from GSA and other sources, and community discussion groups where you can ask questions and talk with other agencies.
  2. Always Talk to GSA – Each time you need IT, talk to us about pre-established contracts that might work well for you. It won’t take a lot of time to talk to us – we can use video conferencing or visit you in person. Contact a GSA Customer Service Director in your area to schedule a meeting. In addition to contract vehicles, GSA may be able to share an agency contact with you that recently addressed the same challenges and perhaps developed a best practice in the process. Even if you don’t have a live requirement at the moment, using GSA as a resource for strategic ongoing market research will make for better, well-educated, future buying decisions.
  3. Let Go of Preconceived Judgments – Some people have predetermined notions of many of the pre-established contracts. Letting go of preconceived judgments opens the door to finding the best solutions. For example, you may be surprised to learn how much control you have while using pre-established vehicles, and you may be amazed to find you can often and easily obtain lower pricing through additional negotiations than published, list prices.
  4. Know that Things Change – Don’t think that the government-wide contract you or your contractor checked a year ago is still the same. GSA and other agencies continuously refresh shared contracts and make them more user-centric every day. We’re talking more to government and industry. We constantly seek input on what agencies need today and what industry can offer. We are evolving contracts to meet those needs. For example, this year we’ve added a Cloud SIN to IT Schedule 70 to help agencies find their best cloud solutions easier than ever before. Even though a contract didn’t meet every need in the past doesn’t mean today’s options won’t be your best choices. The GSA of today is not the GSA of yesterday.
  5. Dig Further – If you have an industry partner working with you on market research and acquisition planning who recommends you go open source rather than use an existing contract, do you stop there? As a best practice, don’t. Keep in mind that in-house advisors have more involvement and financial benefit in doing steps required for open-source acquisitions, while pre-established contracts have those steps already completed. For example, if you have a contractor doing market research who recommends going open market for commercial satellite services, consider instead that GSA’s Custom SATCOM (CS2) and CS2-SB contracts have vetted partners and solutions without the overhead and cost of creating an entirely new contract. And remember to evaluate advisor recommendations to ensure they don’t steer toward a specific contract because they’re on it.
  6. Look for Efficiencies – Agencies who use existing contract vehicles with the IDIQ Fair Opportunity process or Multiple Award Contract/Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) save months in acquisition lead time. Why? Because many of the initial steps and approvals required to establish a full stand-alone procurement action, including pre-qualifying industry partners,  have already been done for you. Having to find and qualify contractors can add six months or more to the procurement process.
  7. Lower Agency and Taxpayer Costs – Government-wide contracts can achieve cost savings because multiple agencies are already using them, increasing volume buying from government to industry partners and driving competition to lower costs. I did a recent blog post, for example, about the FSSI Wireless BPAs and how they’re saving agencies on average 27% over what they had been spending on wireless services and devices. Start at the published contract pricing, but always request discounts and lower pricing. Whether you get discounts in initial years or option years, your actual cost will be lower than the initial cost evaluation.

The ultimate motivator and driver for all of us in public service isn’t what we perceive or think is best, but what we find after due diligence is really best for our missions and the American taxpayers.

If you chose not to use GSA for an IT acquisition, it’s ok. But a fresh conversation with GSA should always be part of the equation.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.

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FSSI Wireless Averages 27% Savings for Agencies

Officials from a number of agencies shared their success stories on June 8 about how they’ve implemented the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) Wireless BPAs to save money, averaging between 27% to 40% in cost savings from their previous wireless spend.

The Enterprise Mobility Program Workshop held at GSA’s 1800 F Street office was attended by agency representatives from across the government anxious to hear how they can save time and money managing their agency’s wireless programs. Attendees heard a thorough explanation of GSA’s Enterprise Mobility Program from agencies that have already made the switch, including helpful tips, strategies, and best practices for moving to FSSI Wireless BPAs.

Adoption is strong with 86% of cabinet level agencies now using the Wireless BPAs to cut dollars from their agency wireless spend and achieve pricing that now averages $39.77/month per user.

DOD, DHS, HHS, SBA, DOT, VA, FCC, MDA, SSA, DOI, and many others have executed successfully against the BPAs, and as a result have been saving their agencies – and U.S. taxpayers – money.

An online webinar is also planned Tuesday, July 21 for agency participants. Register for the event today!

You can also click on the link below to view a video of my remarks from the June 8 Enterprise Mobility live event. In it, I provide an overview of the current FSSI Wireless program and discuss how an enterprise approach to mobility generates savings and better management.

View the video on YouTube.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.