Satellite Solutions on Course

Posted by Mary Davie
on February 2, 2016

(This blog post is part of a multi-week series reviewing data and trends from GSA’s IT acquisition vehicles for FY15. Read previous posts at http://gsablogs.gsa.gov/technology/)

Satellites Make a Difference

Use of commercial satellite systems continue to give government the ability to make a huge difference in the lives of Americans. Defense and other systems can monitor global events and rapidly implement communications infrastructure almost immediately without advance resource and lead-time commitments.

We depend on satellite solutions more and more to meet critical warfighter and disaster recovery communications requirements. In addition, satellites provide network diversity and resilience in the event that a terrestrial-based network fails.

We rely on satellites for weather alerts, search and recovery, shipboard and maritime navigation, distance learning and training, and many scientific and research programs depend on commercial satellite capacity.

SATCOM also supports additional remote and mobile applications in the areas of humanitarian relief, disaster-response communications, and counter terrorism efforts.

Satellite Use, by the Numbers

Use of commercial satellite services in Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) by government under GSA-DoD’s joint Satellite Communications (SATCOM) program continues to be strong.

Usage exceeded $532 million in FY15. Nearly 2,000 services and items have been delivered through the SATCOM contracts since inception in 2011.

A total of 44 agencies, including 34 civilian agencies, ordered satellite services in FY15 from the joint GSA-DoD program called Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA).

Defense needs continue to dominate the government’s commercial satellite buys under FCSA with approximately 93.7% of business volume from defense and 6.3% from civilian agencies. This is consistent with FY14 demand.

Agencies buying through the FCSA program obtain lower prices. Bandwidth prices in FY15 using the FCSA contract averaged 34% savings off of Schedule list prices. GSA estimates that the SATCOM centralized competition and increased price transparency driven by the GSA-DoD partnership saved the government $211 million in FY15.  

Today’s Satellite Buying Trends

The buying patterns on the SATCOM contracts remain consistent with last year, showing which satellite services are most often used and how agencies are buying them.

Most commercial satellite requirements (approximately 75%) continue to be satisfied through use of IT Schedule 70.

  • Agencies continued to order mostly transponded capacity from Schedule 70 Special Item Number (SIN) 132-54, to use dedicated bandwidth on a commercial communications satellite. Agencies pay for service from fixed and mobile locations to a satellite and back to the end user. In FY15, transponded capacity accounted for 57% of orders.
  • Subscription services (Schedule 70 SIN 132-55) continue to be the second most in demand, accounting for approximately 18% of government satellite solution demand in FY15.

In addition, more complex solutions that often contain customized components associated with technology, geography, mobility, or security are satisfied via Custom SATCOM Solutions (CS2) and Custom SATCOM Solutions – Small Business (CS2-SB). Use of CS2 and CS2-SB rose from 20% to 25% of GSA’s commercial satellite demand from FY14 to FY15.

The SATCOM program again proved to be a strong supporter of small business. In 2015, $63.9 million (12% program-wide) of purchases went to small businesses compared to $45 million (9% program-wide) in FY14. In FY15, $20.8 million was through GSA’s-DoD’s joint CS2-SB contract and $43.1 million through Schedule 70.

Planning for the Future with CS3

The past year also included the Department of Defense’s commitment to the next generation GSA-DoD joint satellite services solutions.

In FY15, GSA, DoD and other government agencies started to plan for what government commercial satellite contracts and solutions we’ll have for the future: Complex Commercial SATCOM Solutions (CS3).

CS3 will be the follow on contract for CS2 and CS2-SB which expire in August 2017 and February 2017, respectively. CS3 looks to build upon the success of CS2 and CS2-SB to create contracts as flexible and agile as possible to meet and satisfy the widely differing requirements of the federal government both now and for the next decade and beyond.

In 2015, we met several CS3 milestones, which included forming the GSA-DoD CS3 development team, issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to industry, engaging and collaborating with industry at a GSA-hosted CS3 Industry Day, and launching a new Interact Site to continue the dialog with industry on the future CS3.

On December 29th, we posted the CS3 Request for Proposals (RFP) on FedBizOpps.

Stay tuned for more in 2016 about CS3.

Join the Interact Site and follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to hear more and join the conversation.

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Collaborating for Better Government

Posted by Mary Davie
on September 16, 2015

Wikipedia defines “collaboration” as “working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals.” According to the Free Dictionary, collaborating is a partnership, working as a team, or being in concert.   

For GSA, collaboration is more than just a buzzword or standing at a podium talking to stakeholders. It is a dialog a give and take that includes understanding and respecting everyone’s needs, goals, and values.

Successful collaboration happens when everyone is committed to the core principles of trust, understanding, and compromise– and the end result is a better outcome for all parties.

Creating the IT Portfolio of Solutions

At GSA, collaboration is a driving force as we re-shape many of our government-wide programs and contracts. For those of you working with GSA, you’ve seen or been part of any number of working groups, industry days, interagency meetings, and requirements teams. You’ve contributed thousands of ideas and comments on our RFIs, draft RFPs and in our Interact communities.  You’ve rolled up your sleeves and helped shape our offerings from adding a new Special Item Number (SIN) on IT Schedule 70, to developing OASIS, Alliant 2, Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), Network Services 2020 (NS2020), cloud strategies, identity management solutions, mobility and wireless solutions, satellite solutions, software, hardware and so much more.  

The Government’s shift to Category Management (CM), has also guided our planning and resulting solutions. We have experts that know telecom, software, IT hardware, IT services and IT security. The category hallways within the Acquisition Gateway provide access to many government-wide contracts, tools, pricing information, buying guides, templates, best practices and access to other buyers across government so you don’t have to figure things out on your own and are able to leverage work others have already done.

Our collective work has led to a very clear strategy for GSA’s next generation of IT and telecommunications solutions.  As a result, GSA is implementing solutions that better meet agencies’ needs, provide flexibility in acquiring IT/telecom, provide savings, reduce duplication and are reflective of technology market offerings. The graphic below shows exactly what we’ve mapped out and what we’ve used to guide our solutions development. 

This graphic shows exactly what we’ve mapped out and what we’ve used to guide our solutions development.

Reducing Duplication While Providing Flexibility

Our category management approach ensures that our contract solutions provide different ways to buy technology based on agency collaboration and feedback. We’ve been asked why you see similar technology or services available on more than one of our contracts. Some might say this also results in “duplication” or confusion, but our customers are telling us that they  need flexibility to buy technology products and services in different ways based on what I refer to it as, “the nature of the buy.”  

ITS prides itself on providing both general and niche solutions for IT and telecommunications products and services to federal, state and local agencies.  These solutions draw on GSA’s acquisition and IT expertise and they help our customers by allowing them to direct more resources into focusing on their core missions. About 30% of federal IT spend flows through ITS contracts and programs. We hold ourselves accountable for increasing federal procurement efficiency, reducing costs for both government and industry, and helping government achieve better results.  Reducing overlapping and redundant contracts is important to ITS. We’ve taken a true portfolio approach to planning our solutions and ensuring we provide maximum flexibility for government buyers as they make complex procurement strategy decisions.   

For example, agencies today are procuring wireless services and devices in a number of ways.  Our FSSI Wireless BPAs offer certain terms and conditions, plans, features (such as aggregated pooling of minutes and data) and pricing for services with devices provided as part of the overall solution. On IT Schedule 70, agencies have the option of buying just devices or service plans and devices and constructing their own terms and conditions.  If an agency were to use Networx for the wireless services/devices, they may be doing so to consolidate mobile services on a broader enterprise platform implementation.  

Cloud is another great example. We have cloud-based services available on IT Schedule 70, on our IaaS and EaaS BPAs, through GWACs (especially where integration or transition services are also needed) and through our network services contracts (off premise hosting or data center solutions are examples).  Our network services contracts are telecommunications focused but also recognize broader, related products and services may need to be part of the overall solution. EIS will provide best in class virtual private network services, Ethernet, voice, and managed network services at significant discounts.  These services may also be related to an agency’s enterprise implementation of data centers or call centers — either on-site or cloud-based.  While these are just a few examples, you can see it really doesn’t make sense to try to define, “bucket,” and limit technology solutions to individual contracts.

Guiding Agencies to the best choice

GSA’s job is to understand the market, listen to agency and industry partners, and use what we’ve learned to create solutions. While creating solutions will involve some overlap, we want to act as an honest broker and help agencies get to the best solution for them. Sometimes that includes guiding agencies to other non-GSA enterprise contracts that might be a better fit for their requirements.

We are making it our responsibility to help agencies through the process, especially when overlap could cause potential confusion about which vehicle is optimal for certain requirements. We will accomplish this through our continued proactive management approach with both customers and vendors. Through collaboration, scope reviews, and relationships, we want to better understand the core requirements and make the best acquisition recommendation.

As I pointed out earlier, we don’t take a “one size fits all” approach. If an agency has a cloud requirement that is within the scope of multiple contracts, we will work with that customer to understand their requirements and help assess their acquisition choices. We will make the best recommendation to ensure the agency requirements are being met in the most efficient and effective manner with the highest quality vendors possible.  On contracts such as our GWACs, Networx, and EIS, GSA performs pre-award and post-award scope reviews ensuring requirements are not only within the scope of the contract but that the contract is being used most effectively.  In addition, on our GWACs and on EIS, training is mandatory for contracting officers who use these contracts prior to GSA issuing them a delegation of procurement authority.

Final Thoughts

Even with slight overlap, these vehicles will deliver flexibility to buyers across government through pre-existing, pre-vetted contracts, which ultimately saves government and industry from investing time and money on new and redundant open-market contracts.

A few final, important thoughts I want to share with you about collaboration:

  • Collaboration allows us to be responsive continually to existing and emerging needs of government agencies and industry
  • Continual collaboration is always a goal, often a challenge, and clearly an opportunity
  • We always look for ways to make IT acquisitions seamlessly support agency missions, rather than hinder them. We also work to align to industry partners’ business goals, when they do not detract from government goals
  • Customer convenience, flexibility, and choice will always matter

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join GSA’s ITS’s overall acquisition conversations.

Join us for a live webcast demonstration of the Acquisition Gateway with Q&A on Wednesday, October 07, 2015 at 2 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. CT, Noon MT, 11 a.m. PT. There’s no charge for this training, and you can earn one Continuous Learning Point (CLP). This webcast is open to all and only federal government agency personnel. Register today!

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IT Acquisition Best Practices & Dispelling Myths

Posted by Mary Davie
on July 28, 2015

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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FY14: Savings, Savings, Savings

Posted by Mary Davie
on December 3, 2013

In our most recent blog post, we shared how much money federal agencies and taxpayers save by using GSA’s Networx program. And while it’s a significant amount of money, there’s more to the savings story.

Across government we are challenged with constrained budgets and acquisition resources while simultaneously focused on improving procurement and ultimately delivering successful projects and programs. FAS and ITS are drastically rethinking how we can serve our customers by creating a marketplace that will provide agencies with buying options, access to data and information, access to expertise, an improved buying experience, and at the same time deliver significant savings.

Government’s IT Marketplace – Delivering Savings

ITS is government’s go-to source for IT products, services, and solutions. We are committed to helping agencies understand acquisition options and find solutions. This year, we set out with an ambitious goal of bringing $1.35B in savings to our customers and I am happy to report that we were able to meet our goal. Here are some of the savings highlights:

  • The Networx program saved its subscribing agencies $678 million in FY13.
  • One agency is expected to achieve 20% cost savings by using Networx.
  • We helped an agency that needed to connect securely to the public Internet with Managed Trusted Internet Protocol Service (MTIPS) to achieve an estimated 20% cost savings.
  • Most agencies using GSA’s USAccess Program (HSPD-12 Identity, Credentials and Access Management) shared service save between 4 and 9 times the amount it costs to do it themselves.
  • Using the SmartBUY BPAs, agencies saved $775M in software costs compared to commercial prices.
  • The FedRAMP program takes a “do once, use many” approach to Authority to Operate (ATO), which can help save agencies up to a year in time and $100,000 versus conducting their own ATO process.
  • As of September 30, 2013, the new ReverseAuctions.GSA.gov site delivered 17 federal agencies an average savings of 7.27% ($161,549 in savings).

It’s no secret that FAS and ITS focus on increasing the use of GSA acquisition solutions and programs by federal, state, local and tribal governments. By using existing contract vehicles that are flexible and customizable, every agency gets what they need but doesn’t have to recreate the basic procurement process. We aim to reduce the need for duplicate contracts, improve consistency in terms and conditions, improve the chance of successful project outcomes, and of course save agencies money. We leverage the full buying power of the government which gives us the ability to negotiate and drive down prices for everyone.

Initiatives to Reduce Costs in FY14

We’re happy with FY13 results, but this is a marathon and not a sprint, and there is more that we can do. We’re hard at work making FY14 more successful than FY13 with the goal to increase our ability to serve as the government’s marketplace:

  • We want to help agencies make smarter decisions through data: We are piloting prices-paid initiatives for some of our contracts now, including Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) and Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs), making prices-paid data available thereby enabling better buying decisions.
  • We have been conducting a full-scale review and “modernization” of the GSA Federal Supply Schedules contracts to ensure they are best suited to meet today’s needs.
  • We are focusing our offerings around “categories of spend” to streamline offerings and channels to the market.
  • In FY13, we set the groundwork to help government through our Managed Mobility Program that includes a managed mobility information center and our FSSI Wireless BPAs to deliver agency savings in FY14. We are reducing price variability on wireless service plans, and less variation will help agencies make better cost-saving business decisions. Agencies can save 15-20% on wireless service annually and eliminate mobile device costs entirely since zero-cost devices are bundled with service plans.
  • And, we just recently launched the Request for Quote on the FSSI Large Desktop Publisher BPAs, part of the SmartBUY program, which will drive even greater savings for government software.

The underlying purpose of each initiative is to allow us to better serve agency customers and deliver more cost savings. And there are more to come. Not only will our FY14 initiatives serve government needs, but prices-paid data, modernization of contracts, and aligning acquisitions to seller buying patterns help industry partners compete, reduce costs, and make it easier to do business with the government.

Contact us via one of our customer service channels if you have questions or need assistance. And be sure to follow us and continue the conversation on Twitter @GSA_ITS.

 

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Customer engagement drives innovation – COMSATCOM

Posted by Ed O’Hare
on March 23, 2010

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!

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