John C. Johnson is a partner at Deep Water Point, and a former GSA official. (File)
The Integrated Technology Service under Mary Davie’s leadership is to be applauded for its strong customer orientation and for its creativity helping the federal agencies and departments have access to the best information technology products and services our industry has to offer. The General Services Administration has demonstrated that it is committed to creating efficient and effective pipelines of supply to help their customers perform their missions more effectively.
As GSA ponders its next generation of supply to replace the expiring Networx contracts, one would hope that they have taken seriously the lessons from the past which would suggest that what they buy isn’t the challenge, but rather how they buy and deliver it. This understanding is critical to the success of what’s being called Network Services 2020 or NS2020.
When taking a look at the challenges the Networx program and, to a large extent its predecessor FTS2001, has faced, it is clear that GSA must make some hard decisions and implement some radical changes if it really wants to break the cycle of long transitions, high fees, and difficult inter-contract competitions called fair opportunity.
There is an old saying that, “The water takes the form of the glass.” If in this case, the glass is a solid list of objectives that GSA says it must accomplish to create a successful NS2020 program, then the water is the strategy to achieve that. So what would that glass look like? What shape would it take? For one, it would not be so difficult to reach that a transition from the old glass to the new one would take six years. It would not be so difficult to use that it would take almost a year to make fair opportunity decision. It would not be so expensive to use that its overhead would exceed the tax rate of the state of Virginia. And, if a modification to its shape was in order, it would not take a year to do so.
I don’t have any particular problem with GSA’s portfolio approach by providing a wide array of goods and services across three primary channels of supply (i.e., the IT Schedules, the IT GWACs, existing Network Service contracts and new additions). Quite frankly, if GSA can accomplish that, it will give real meaning to the Integrated Technology Service. But identifying what is to be bought is just the beginning -- that is the easy part. Determining how it is bought, who can play in that environment, and how it will be delivered is equally if not more important to the program if GSA wants to correct existing challenges.
I applaud GSA for its hard work and dedication in support of the federal agencies and departments and I look forward to sipping from its next version of the NS2020 strategy, but just like a fine wine, it will taste so much better if it is served in a glass that allows the vintage to breath and its recipients to enjoy it full flavor without an aftertaste of high fees, long transitions and a complex selection process.