GSA Puts Sharing First

Posted by
on December 23, 2011

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel described his path forward for federal IT in a policy speech in Silicon Valley this October and again in the draft Federal IT Shared Services Strategy released just this month. He articulated a “Shared First” paradigm that will lead agencies to root out waste and duplication by sharing IT services, infrastructure, procurement vehicles, and best practices.

As the go-to partner for acquisition, GSA can help agencies go “Shared First”. We are ready to leverage our deep experience in working with customers across government to address their most challenging IT acquisition problems.

Shared IT services

The draft Shared Services Strategy requires agencies to move two “commodity IT services”—back-office IT services common to every agency—to a shared environment by December 31, 2012.

We have provided shared IT services to dozens of agencies over the years. For example, over 90 federal agencies use our USAccess identity management service to issue and manage their employee ID cards.

We are excited to help customers think about how to further consolidate their IT systems.

Shared infrastructure

Before the Federal Data Center Consolidation initiative, the federal government warehoused its data in over 3,000 data centers, tying up outsized amounts of capital and real estate and resulting in higher emissions.

According to VanRoekel, the federal government will close 1080 data centers by the end of 2015, with an estimated cost savings of $3 to $5 billion. GSA is working with agencies to achieve these savings by migrating to shared infrastructures through our data center services and cloud solutions.

Using a shared infrastructure also enhances service, since agencies can rapidly scale their capabilities up and down to match their mission needs, and recover more quickly after an emergency.

Shared procurement

Agencies also use GSA vehicles to minimize their contracting overhead. The State Department has done this by consolidating more than 100 existing task orders down to four through our Alliant and Alliant Small Business Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) for a secure network infrastructure.

When agencies buy alone, they also miss out on the volume discounts available when the government pools its buying power. Customers can get these kinds of discounts from the SmartBUY software program. GSA is also defining new ways for federal, state, local, and tribal government organizations to aggregate their demand by buying IT products as a commodity.

Shared best practices

GSA helps agencies use current best practices in contracting by posting sample statements of work (SOWs) for many of our contracts, such as Alliant and Connections II.

To support common standards, we aligned two GWACs (Alliant and Alliant Small Business) with the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) and Department of Defense Enterprise Architecture (DoDEA). This means agencies can more easily use past SOWs and report their IT investments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It also means that the scope of both GWACs grows and changes as vendors’ technology capabilities grow and change, without requiring a technical refresh.

Give us your feedback

I encourage everyone involved in government IT acquisition to review the federal Shared Services Strategy (PDF) and provide comments. For background, you can watch VanRoekel’s speech or read a transcript. I’d like to know how you plan to use a “Shared First” approach for your agency – please leave a comment or find me on Twitter!

6 Replies to “GSA Puts Sharing First”

  1. Hi Mary. Thanks for posting. It is beneficial for our community to know how GSA is progressing these ideas. One area I would encourage all Federal acquisition leaders to seriously look at, especially when they start evaluating the sharing of business systems in the 3rd phase of Shared First, is which vendors provide those underlying systems and if sharing will result in creating a “one size fits all” environment where only several vendor’s solutions will be used by the entire Government. If this occurs (which may be likely, given the Government’s historical preference for large ERP-type solutions), the Government will fail to realize much in the way of reducing the cost of government and tie itself into stale technology for the foreseeable future. Focusing on cloud solutions should alleviate some of these concerns, since (theoretically) it should not matter which underlying business systems are used as long as data can be shared securely. This being said, use of cloud solutions should increase competitive opportunities for business system providers, both large and small, as long as the data to be shared is standardized and integration points are identified to the point that all providers know what is expected. Cheers and have a great Holiday Season. Pete

  2. One idea that I’ve floated a few times is the idea of a shared infrastructure for multi-agency video content. A “Pueblo Colorado” for video content so to speak. Why does each agency have to provide PSAs, webinars and other public facing video content on their own servers? The technology exists that would enable the video stream to be automatically adjusted to the visitors connection speed (see Netflix streaming and for example) and there could be more consistent accessibility/captioning capabilities.

    There may be archiving capabilities that would also be and improvement over current practices. A consistent implementation of HTML5 could improve cross-browser compatibility.

    By cross-linking videos for different agencies that have a topic in common (e.g., SSA and CMS might have videos relating to Medicare Part D) visitors might better find the information they are seeking.

    Thanks for the blog and for the opportunity to share these thoughts.

  3. The pdf document illustrates the problems faced by government.

    Ask an individual to search all of the pdf documents stored on the computer with the draft Shared Services Strategy. This is difficult when it should be a no brainer. The problem is text and the marking of text has been stored in a proprietary format. With current technology there is no reason for storing anything in a proprietary format. File resources are plentiful and it is easy to store text in one file and the instructions for marking of text in another related file. This would mean a simple program could make it easy for an individual to search all of the text files. It also would mean a single search engine that could search any file on a computer for information.

    If the government wants lower cost in computer systems and more sharing in computer systems the government needs to set the design principles for computer systems. If there is a principle that all information and data will be stored in an open format then you automatically have a system where easy access to information is inherent. Setting design principles can also allow re-usability since many of the functions of systems can in many cases simply be reused unchanged in the building of other systems.

    The first step is the government setting the design principles for computer systems. Without this contractors will simply continue to build out of date systems that reflect the computer technology of twenty years ago.

  4. There appears to be a serious problem with the draft Shared Services Strategy document in regard to overloading the definition of “Shared Services”.

    Is “Shared Services” government agencies sharing physical resources and staffing resources to lower expenses or is it providing the ability of agencies to easily share information?

    It serves no purpose to include these very different objectives in either a single document or single program.

    These objectives should be in separate programs.

    There is a glaring example of the problem of mixing these objectives in the same document. The document emphasizes the use of cloud-first implementation in the document since The “cloud” possibly might save costs. The “cloud” provides a significant problem in agencies sharing very sensitive information. The reality is that agencies sharing very sensitive information require an absolutely secure implementation which indicates that a “cloud” implementation can not be considered.

    The documents contain some very good ideas but there needs to be a separation of different objectives that in many ways create problems and are contradictory.

  5. The “cloud” is a problem with the draft Shared Services Strategy document.

    The “cloud” is simply a marketing term with no real meaning. It allows vendors to market “cloud” services just as beverage vendors can market “energy” drinks.

    The concept of the “cloud” is simply the idea of mainframes where data and computer resources were centralized. In the 1990’s this idea was marketed with the slogan “the network was the computer”.

    Centralizing data and computer resources can offer benefits if individuals deal with the concept of centralization of data and computer resources instead of the meaningless marketing term the “cloud”. ( Staff for computer centers could be considered as computer resources. )

    The “cloud” services offered by vendors offer absolutely no benefit to government. These services may benefit small businesses but offer nothing to the government that is fully capable on their own to build their own safe and cost effective computer centers for centralization of data and computer resources. I still remember the 1980’s when the firm I worked for used an outside computer center and the operators were smoking pot when I was delivering a tape that I wanted to use for analysis.

    When centralization in computers was first introduced there were no other viable options such as personal computers and computer servers. You either used a centralized computer or you did not use a computer.

    Currently this is not the case and small powerful computers can be used in conjunction with centralization computer centers. Smaller computer can be used for the local view of information of individuals using the small powerful computer while the centralized computer can provide to these individuals a view of all local views of information. This can even be accomplished by simply using automatic incremental backup to keep the centralized computer up to date. This allows for less expensive centralized computer centers since these centers do not have to be responsible for the full workload of all the individuals in an agency.

    If the government really wants to obtain more benefits from computer technology it needs to have discussions of ideas and concepts and avoid meaningless marketing hype.

    The government could probably gain many benefits from sharing in regard to computer technology but this needs to come from a study of the needs and capabilities of individual agencies with the aim of providing information and advice to agencies that are seen as clients.

  6. Thanks Pete, great comment. The third phase of Shared First will be a complex undertaking. To your point, cloud solutions are a tremendous opportunity for government to realize the benefits of shared solutions. We have already seen success in developing the next generation of shared services offerings through our Cloud offerings. In fact, our Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) provides cloud solutions in data storage, processing power, and web hosting that have already been leveraged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and by the Department of Labor (DoL). Our Alliant GWAC has also recently awarded four cloud-based task orders with customers such as the Department of Energy and Treasury.

    GSA is working to ensure that the necessary competitive opportunities for vendors exist, so that government systems do not become stale and overly costly. We have collaborated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) ( to establish requirements for our cloud offerings that ensure security while creating a level playing field for all vendors. We are continuing to work closely with our industry partners to make sure they know what is expected, and to help alleviate some of the concerns that you have raised.

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