New Endings, New Beginnings: Looking Ahead to 2011

It’s now been just over a year since I launched the Great Government through Technology blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It’s the thoughtful discussions I’ve had with you—our valued customer agencies, industry partners, and government colleagues—that prompted me to write this blog in the first place.

As you may know, I will be retiring this month. For my last two years as Assistant Commissioner of GSA’s FAS Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS), I’ve had the good fortune to work with great people and oversee a number of exciting initiatives: the successful rollout of GSA’s Alliant and Alliant Small Business GWACs, the Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) in partnership with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), and the awarding of Infrastructure-as-a-Service contracts, GSA’s first cloud offering.

GSA has proved its commitment to greater agency and industry partnership, acquisition innovation, and operational excellence.

Looking Ahead to 2011

For my final post on the Great Government through Technology blog, I’d like to look ahead, rather than reflect on the past. Here’s what I see on the horizon for federal IT and GSA in 2011.

Sustainability, cybersecurity, and cloud computing offerings have reached or passed their tipping points. In addition, budget concerns, increased oversight, and a serious need for better IT project management will lead to smaller IT acquisitions and greater collaboration.

Sustainability. With the President’s Executive Order (EO) 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, government agencies must become more sustainable. GSA, among others, must help achieve “greener government.” At the same time, agencies will be driven by budget concerns to seek out technologies that offer greater operational efficiency and sustainability.

Cybersecurity. Innovative acquisition solutions are critical to securing our nation’s digital infrastructure. GSA must address agencies’ current requirements and anticipate their future needs. The next generation of cybersecurity offerings must entail fully integrated solutions made up of pre-authorized products and services.

Security needs and budget concerns will require increased cross-agency partnerships, such as the DoD and DHS Cybercommand Memo of Understanding (MOU) and will spur experimentation with industry-government partnerships to leverage government buying power and private sector best practices.

Cloud Computing. Cloud computing may prove to be the nexus of sustainability, cybersecurity, and IT organizations’ need to stretch their funding. In line with these concerns and the federal CIO’s “cloud first” policy, cloud will become the default option for IT operations. Hybrid clouds will proliferate. Pay-as-you-go, or subscription models, will become increasingly common. GSA’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service offering is only the first of great things to come.

Smaller IT Acquisitions. Agencies will seek out ways to make IT projects more manageable, cheaper, and less risky, to include breaking large-scale IT implementations into smaller projects issued under task orders to existing contract vehicles such as Alliant and Alliant Small Business.

Collaboration. Whether we’re talking about innovative partnership strategies such as FCSA, the DoD-DHS MOU, new Web 2.0 tools such as GSA’s Interact, or improved communication among acquisition and IT shops, increased collaboration will be key to improving IT project management.

The “Beat” Goes On

While GSA may face many challenges, 2011 will be an exciting year. Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities to innovate.

In the words of a former major league baseball commissioner, “Players turn over, owners turn over, and certain commissioners turn over. But baseball goes on.” Though I am moving on, I want to welcome Mary Davie, who will be taking my place as Assistant Commissioner of the GSA FAS Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS).

As former head of the GSA FAS Office of Assisted Acquisition Services (AAS), Mary’s IT acquisition experience, innate understanding of customers’ needs, and proven leadership ability make her uniquely suited for leading ITS and working with you to realize the vision of Great Government through Technology.

GSA’s Innovation Recipe

I’ve heard the message from the people loud and clear: They want government to be more effective and to do more with fewer resources.

As Assistant Commissioner of GSA’s Integrated Technology Services — a service provider for the federal government — I am always looking for ways to do more with less.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, innovation is what makes it possible to meet increasing demands with the same — or fewer — resources.

Following the Innovation Recipe

Every business guru has a recipe. From my own experience in industry and government, here’s my old family recipe — what I know works:

  • 1 part Trust
  • 1 part Resources
  • 2 parts Risk

But the recipe’s for creating innovation from scratch. It’s not a box mix.

Supervisors and employees need to trust each other. It’s not a given part of employment; it’s a process. At GSA, we get to know our coworkers as well as our government customers. Creating a culture of innovation is a top-down as well as bottom-up process.  Not only must we empower our employees to seek innovation, we must provide the leadership and courage necessary to enable these environments to exist.

Supervisors must identify and make it possible for trusted employees to innovate by providing the appropriate resources — time, space, money, and technology.

Because our mix of resources and risk may vary, the result may be unpredictable. But sometimes that’s what we need. Administrator Johnson has said, “The trick is to fail fast and learn from it.” I’d add that we should also look for unintended innovation.

Innovation is often a product of failure, rather than success.  The technology behind GSAdvantage! came out of  an earlier initiative that was never implemented.

We took a risk and the project failed — but the result was an innovative solution to a different challenge — the question we didn’t even know needed answering.

Risk: Creating a Culture of Innovation

To nurture an innovative culture is to create a culture of risk-taking.  My recipe requires two parts risk because I recognize the need to balance the desire to encourage risk-taking with the need to protect against it.

GSA has embarked on a number of innovative initiatives under the direction of Administrator Johnson, who says, “We need the courage and leadership to face down risk.”

Risk and Reward: Cloud Computing

GSA has awarded contracts for providing Infrastructure-as-a-Services (IaaS) cloud computing services. We’ve embarked on new business and service-delivery models. We are also asking our customers to change how they approach the acquisition of IT hardware. Even yet, contract awardees must complete the appropriate security certifications to be able to provide IaaS offerings. It has been a process fraught with challenges and risks.

However, we are confident that this and future offerings will drive technological innovation, efficiency, and cost savings across government.

For example, since moving its own portal,, to a cloud-based host, GSA has been able to reduce site upgrade time from nine months to one day; decrease monthly downtime from two hours to 99.9% availability, and realize a savings of $1.7 million in hosting costs.

That’s not just innovation. That’s great government through technology.

Sustainability and Cybersecurity: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Every morning when I scan the headlines, I see the buzzwords sustainability and cybersecurity in government, IT, and acquisitions articles.

Journalists and industry pundits write about one or the other topic. Conferences schedule numerous panels and workshops. Even the administration has released specific mandates, including the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and Executive Order (EO) 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. It’s easy to see why these two complex topics are often discussed independently. They sometimes appear to be mutually exclusive: you can either be sustainable or secure, but you can’t be both.

Despite this, I don’t think we’re at a crossroads. If we’re going to effectively face our energy and security threats—as well as the goal of “cheaper, faster, greener”—we need to talk about the two topics together and blaze a new trail.

Heads or tails, we both win

Sustainability and cybersecurity are two sides of the same coin. But it’s not a coin toss—each depends on the other.

We are learning that sustainability and cybersecurity must go hand in hand. As agencies move forward on Open Government initiatives, we see previously restricted data sets posted in more public fora, and, by virtue of their very openness, exposed to more security threats. Innovative Green IT solutions such as smart grids, data center consolidations, and cloud computing—though more open, accessible and energy-efficient—require new or increased security measures.

Given the resources GSA and other agencies devote to developing contract vehicles allowing agencies to procure these solutions, it makes sense that acquisition officers integrate security and sustainability requirements at the beginning. Rather than treat one or the other, or both, as add-ons, cybersecurity and sustainability should be in all contracts.

Smarter buying at your fingertips

GSA is at the forefront of these issues. We’re a strategic partner of the administration in its sustainability initiatives. Also, we’ve pushed government technology providers to adopt security measures.

Two offerings—SmartBUY and MTIPS—help agencies meet administration mandates and successfully integrate sustainability and cybersecurity requirements.

This is only a start, but it’s the first step that makes all the difference. As Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Let’s continue the discussion. Post a comment below or come see me on the Cloud Computing panel at FedScoop’s 2nd Annual Lowering the Cost of Government Summit, August 19th in Washington, DC.

GSA as Acquisition Enabler: Alliant Hits $1 Billion

Parents like nothing better than to see their children grow up and succeed.

For my colleagues and me, last week—when the contract surpassed $1 billion in the value of task orders issued since its launch—was like Alliant’s high school graduation.

Despite some challenges, Alliant reached the $1 billion mark more quickly than its recent predecessors ANSWER and Millennia. It has demonstrated its value to our industry partners and customers, and GSA remains firmly committed to supporting it.

A few points about Alliant’s success:

  • All Department of Defense (DoD) branches and many civilian agencies, including Homeland Security and the State Department, use Alliant;
  • Twenty-four of 59 prime contractors have won awards on 45 task orders;
  • GSA has received an average of four bids per task order and not a single protest—demonstrating fair, open competition;
  • Both the largest and most innovative IT projects across government, such as Smart Buildings, use Alliant.

From Alliant’s success, we can also draw conclusions about the state of the acquisition world.

There has been a lot of discussion on the blogosphere about GSA and its imagined or real intentions toward other agency GWACs.  In light of Alliant’s success, my only comment is to echo Administrator Martha Johnson’s question:  “How do you … be a real agent for procurement, not the procurement enforcer?”

I want agencies to use Alliant, as well as our small business GWACs, because these contracts meet their needs, not because the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has mandated their use.

Recently, industry groups have expressed concern about duplicative indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contracts.  I know firsthand from my industry experience that vendors feel compelled to bid for all or as many contracts as possible. This bidding ends up costing tens of thousands of dollars each, or more. These costs are not just the “cost of doing business”; they are passed on to the government and eventually to the taxpayer. I don’t see how that benefits anyone in the long run.

Agency acquisition officers face two critical issues: the time cost of money and the availability of an already stretched acquisitions workforce.  Agencies looking to avoid paying a GSA or other GWAC fee by creating their own contracts may not save money or time in the long run.

As Administrator Johnson has noted, our challenge is “not about mandates or market changes”; it’s about what GSA can do to meet our customers’ needs. Results on Alliant and our small business GWACs show us that we are on the right track; now we must execute on that vision.

So let me know in your comments below: what do you need? What are your requirements? What—and how—can we serve you better? How can we make your job easier?

First Steps in Sustainability: Saving the Planet and Taxpayers’ Money

I recently attended a GSA conference hosted by Administrator Martha Johnson designed to bring together GSA executives to discuss GSA’s sustainability plans. To prepare, we read the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Cradle to Cradle asks us to rethink commonly held beliefs, such as the idea that industrialism and nature can’t be reconciled.  Instead, we are asked to see the dichotomy as a design issue.  The authors ask us to view sustainability as a coping mechanism rather than a solution and urge us to redesign solutions to our more critical challenges.

To do so, let’s consider one of government’s bigger challenges.

The federal government is the nation’s largest consumer of energy, and information technology represents a huge part of that energy consumption.  At all levels of government, agencies are seeking  cost-effective, cutting-edge solutions to reduce their IT energy consumption, recycle IT equipment, optimize data centers, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Sustainability, in this context, is as much about saving taxpayer money as saving the planet.

In October 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, urging agencies to lead by example in using environmentally responsible products and technologies.

Our Administrator recently—and boldly—accepted that challenge, stating that “we at GSA are embracing a zero environmental footprint (ZEF) goal. We are setting our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment.”

“Zero environmental footprint is this generation’s moon shot. And so, it must be ours at GSA.” Putting someone on the moon took years of focused energy to achieve—but we did it.

Cradle to Cradle lists five guiding principles, which help us take the first steps toward meeting this challenge:

  1. Signal your intention—Administrator Johnson put the market on alert that GSA is committed to a completely new paradigm, not just incremental improvement.
  2. Restore—strive for “good growth,” not just economic growth. With GSA’s resources, we can give agencies access to cutting-edge technologies and solutions that enable the growth we need, save taxpayers money in the long run, and no longer deplete our resources.
  3. Be ready to innovate further—Innovation requires noticing signals outside of our comfort zone: from our customers, industry, the environment, and the world at large. Administrator Johnson wants us more acquainted with what our customers need, as well as more open to “feedforward” not just feedback.
  4. Understand and prepare for the learning curve—GSA continues to develop next-generation contracts like Alliant. That’s a good step, but we need to put in place practices that can evolve into the next next generation, so our contracts facilitate a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle and benefit our customers and industry partners.
  5. Exert intergenerational responsibility—Administrator Johnson is adamant that our acquisition solutions should not create problems that future generations must solve.

Implementing solutions like Green IT will enable government agencies to do more with less, while meeting government mandates.  We should aim to move beyond simply mitigating the negative consequences of our actions and to be good stewards of our fiscal and environmental resources from the start.

What kind of sustainable, green, or cradle-to-cradle initiatives are you working on?  What are you working on that involves governmental ZEF?

Please share your initiatives and ideas.  Post a comment below.  I want to learn what is happening across our government and in industry.

Success through Collaboration

As you may know, May 23rd marks the opening of the Management of Change (MOC) conference. For 30 years, the MOC has served as a catalyst for collaboration across the government IT community. I am proud to be a conference vice chair on this year’s planning committee.

Even before wikis, blogs and tweets, the MOC conference was a focal point for IT professionals from all levels of government and industry to connect, share information, and work together to drive innovation. Not too long ago we were debating the merits of allowing government employees to access the Internet. Today Internet access is commonplace across government – that’s change at lightning speed. We’ve all had to adapt, and I’m proud of the role GSA has played in the provision of this service.

With the emergence of new knowledge-sharing and social media tools, we have all changed the manner in which we communicate, as well as the frequency. The MOC conference goal, however, remains unchanged: to assemble a group of experts to address the government’s most pressing IT challenges and share best practices, which lead to success through collaboration.

This year’s panel topics align with some of the most critical issues we as IT professionals face – increasing the quality and focus of our engagement efforts, achieving operational excellence, and addressing critical issues such as cybersecurity. Perhaps getting a group of people in a room to talk is considered low-tech. But I, for one, am looking forward to hearing what our industry partners and customers have to say and how my organization ITS can tap into this collective intelligence to develop forward-looking solutions.

To quote the late, great technologist Yogi Berra, “the future ain’t what it used to be.” Change happens – technologies change, workforces change, policies change, and our challenges change. We’ve got to learn how to manage change, get ahead of it and anticipate it. We can only do that with an open exchange of ideas.

If you haven’t signed up yet, you can find out more information here. I will look forward to seeing you there.

Small Business Set-Asides – a Good Thing and the Right Thing to Do

Small businesses drive the U.S. economy – we hear this almost every day on the news. According to a recent Washington Post article, “Firms with fewer than 500 employees employ just over half of the country’s workers and create nearly two-thirds of the country’s new jobs.”  It’s pretty clear: small businesses—veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned, HUBZone, disadvantaged, women-owned and minority-owned businesses—are key drivers of innovation and job creation. They will be critical to pulling our nation out of the current economic crisis.

So what can we, government agencies, do to support the continuing recovery of the American economy?

One tool we have on hand is the small business set-aside. More than ever before, government agencies need to take a hard look at their procurement procedures and their progress towards meeting their small business goals. As part of our standard procurement process for all contracts, we consistently ask ourselves “could a small business fulfill these requirements?” I am proud to say that GSA met its small business goals last year.

If you’re an agency looking for a way to energize your small business procurement, GSA offers you a number of governmentwide IT acquisition contracts tailored to your varying needs, including VETS, 8(a) STARS, and Alliant Small Business. They offer time- and cost-savings, flexibility, worldwide geographic coverage, highly qualified industry partners and, of course, the procurement preference credit you need. We even have a Small Business GWAC Center that will help you walk through the process of choosing the right solution.

In addition, the majority of vendors in our IT Schedule 70 program are small businesses, which provides ample opportunity for agencies to fulfill their IT needs and meet their small business goals.

I know there also are a lot of small businesses out there who have questions about how to provide their innovative technology solutions through our GWACs and schedules. I invite you to come talk to us.

As we head further into our fiscal year, we have a chance to give our economy a boost. Choosing to contract with small businesses is a good thing and it’s the right thing to do.

Customer engagement drives innovation – COMSATCOM

Several weeks after Martha Johnson’s swearing in, I find myself continuing to think about the themes she addressed – Customer Intimacy, Operational Excellence and Innovation. In my last entry, I focused primarily on the idea of customer intimacy, which has been at the core of recent ITS initiatives.  Furthermore, I firmly believe that engaging the customer and capitalizing on strong professional relationships can drive innovation. As an example, I mentioned COMSATCOM, the partnership with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for commercial SATCOM services. I’d like to take a moment to share more about this partnership.

Every year the federal government relies more and more on commercial satellite communications to provide essential, secure communications to disaster recovery teams, domestic emergency responders, and our men and women in the armed forces – we see the results on the television every day.

As the federal government’s need for commercial satellite communications services increased, both DISA and GSA created various competing contract vehicles to meet the demand. But why manage separate contract vehicles that offer essentially the same services?

Back in July 2009, with multiple contracts expiring by 2012, DISA and GSA joined up to launch the Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition program, an innovative, collaborative solution that would not only replace the expiring contracts but simplify the acquisition process through a blending of IT Schedule 70 and multiple award indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contracts.  It would generate significant savings to defense and civilian agencies; state, local and tribal governments and, of course, the taxpayer.

So how did we do it?

It came down to trust and understanding, which can only be achieved through sincere customer engagement, active listening and proactively responding to customers’ needs.

We met with the key players at DISA. They explained their requirements and concerns with our processes and fee structure.  We listened, made some adjustments, and agreed to an innovative partnership that has set a new precedent in government contracting.

Now that is great government through technology!

Customer Intimacy

As many of you already know, we now have a new Administrator at GSA!  I want to welcome Martha Johnson, and I think the fact that she is on-board promises many positive things for us at ITS.

I was lucky enough to attend Martha’s swearing in ceremony last month, during which she shared some of her cutting-edge thinking on how we can continue to improve as an organization.  During her remarks Martha referred to the work of Fred Treacy and Mike Wiersema, the authors of the book, The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market.  They have argued that a great organization must be all of the following:

1) Intimate with Customers,

2) Innovative, and

3) Operationally Excellent.

Her vision, which I share, is for GSA to become the kind of organization that excels at each of these.

What I really connected to is her ideas on customer intimacy. Customers are at the heart of our business, and I have focused on building our customer engagement capabilities since my arrival at ITS last year.  I have put in place a number of initiatives, and I think we are making progress. To me, customer engagement means developing strong relationships – through active listening – which allow us not only to fully understand and respond to our customers’ current requirements, but to anticipate their future needs.

Recently, we capitalized on strong professional relationships to develop the innovative COMSATCOM partnership with DISA; and our conversations with customers indicate an upcoming need for solutions related to Cybersecurity and Sustainability. Now we must deliver those innovations with excellence – the last ingredient to sustaining valued customer relationships.

So, what about you? I am interested in hearing from those we serve – other federal agencies, industry, and stakeholders – about what customer intimacy means to you.  Please use the comments section and let me know.  I look forward to hearing your ideas and continuing this conversation.

Need for Speed

First off, I would like to thank everyone for their interest in my blog so far.  I think the fact that this space has already received many thousands of hits shows how much interest there is out there in this type of open government initiative.  Please keep the comments coming, I like to read them!

While everyone has an idea on “the next big thing”, the Administration is pushing for change and pushing for it quickly.  My first introduction to this “need for speed” was in late 2008 when, as the FAS CIO, I was asked to stand up for the presidential transition.  We were expected to have the website up and running the Wednesday following the Tuesday election…and we did (with a lot of help from many offices in GSA and little sleep). I was thinking about that adventure, when I came across this article highlighting the Administration’s push for IT projects that are both faster and cheaper.  This certainly resonated with me – my organization’s mission is to make IT acquisitions faster, easier and less risky for the Federal government.  Let me briefly explain how.

The acquisition life cycle can be broken down into three large segments; (1) requirements development, (2) contract sourcing and award, and (3) contract administration.  When agencies use GSA they can cut the time and resources spent in the second segment and reduce the risk of protest and/or selection of an unqualified contractor. That’s because we already have contracts with more than 6,000 world-class qualified contractors offering IT products and services that cover the entire IT spectrum.  It simply takes less time to source and award a contract against an existing acquisition vehicle as opposed to an open market buy.  Anyone who has ever prepared a proposal for both types of contracts knows this very well.  And while a protest can always be filed for any award, we are finding that this happens less often against established contract vehicles.  Our Alliant contract, for example, has been operational for nine months and not a single protest has been filed.

We continue to engage with our customers to produce new acquisition solutions that allow government agencies to focus on their core mission while we focus on our mission of making acquisitions faster, easier and less risky.  I would like to point out that GSA’s Assisted Acquisition Service, run by Mary Davie, supports agencies with the first and third segment if they need assistance.

Another way we’re making IT acquisitions better and faster is through strategic solutions like GSA’s SmartBUY program.  While agencies often prefer custom implementations over Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) Software, the pace of technological innovation is beginning to make that tradition outdated.  Custom systems sometimes end up being so complex and taking so long to implement, that they end up being obsolete by the time they go live. This means that federal agencies will need to start focusing on common requirements and the capacity to customize pre-developed solutions. Our SmartBUY program negotiates better prices for COTS software for the entire government.  The program has already saved the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars.   I expect that figure to grow; especially since we’re looking into providing services like C&A and Data Center Services through SmartBUY.

The development of clear requirements has a big impact on the timeliness and success of IT procurements.  That is why I will be focusing on ways to make sure my organization has the necessary program, acquisition AND technical knowledge necessary to effectively engage with our customers.

So what do you think?  Do you have other ideas on how to achieve faster and cheaper acquisitions across government?