Category management gateway strives for 10,000 users by year’s end, halfway there now

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The team responsible for the development and implementation of the federalwide category management acquisition gateway has its sights set on surpassing 10,000 federal users on the platform by the year’s end, officials said Wednesday.

Softly launched in October 2014, the acquisition gateway — an online repository and portal for federal personnel to explore existing acquisition information and solutions, collaborate on best practices, and make more effective and efficient buying decisions in a centralized manner — has amassed more than 5,000 government in that 15 months’ time, said Laura Stanton, acting director of strategy management for Federal Acquisition Service within the General Services Administration, the agency tasked with building out the platform.

The gateway is rooted in the acquisition principles of category management, an approach promoted by the Office of Management and Budget and Chief Acquisition Officer Anne Rung to make the buying and managing of commoditized goods and services in the federal space a more unified and strategic act by grouping similar products into categories. This strategy, which has seen success in a variety of private sector companies and notably within the government of the United Kingdom, extends many of the basic principles of strategic sourcing.    

“We think by shedding light on all the existing contracts out there and information, we can help spur greater transparency and cost-efficiency,” Rung told reporters Thursday during a press call.

News of the online platform’s progress and the goals going forward come as the administration looks to open it to the public sometime next week. This effort in transparency, officials say, will mark the first time the non-federal public gets a full-on glimpse into the work behind the acquisition gateway.    

“In terms of transparency into category management and being able to receive industry and the public’s insights into it, this is going to be a very exciting moment,” Stanton said. 

Industry has been pressing the team behind the platform to let it play a role in its build out, Rung said, and this is an opportunity to do so. “We saw great value in having them as participants in some fashion and manner.” 

Those vendors and contractors, after all, are a crucial part of the equation, said John Felleman, a senior innovation specialist overseeing the development of the gateway. He said the administration is looking to find “ways to actually incorporate participation from the public in appropriate ways in the gateway so that the entire acquisition workforce, both in and out of government, can work as a team to make this process excellent.”

When the publicly accessible site does launch, it will look almost exactly like the platform government users can access, officials said, highlighting to media some of its more advantageous tools, like an “acquisition solutions finder” searching function, a library of executed statements of work from agencies, helpful articles from federal acquisition experts on critical topics, and a community feature that works almost like an integrated social media or chat board. 

“By integrating collaboration tools … we’re bringing together the idea of community and content at the same time to use like a LinkedIn or a Facebook model where instead of having a community conversation in one place and a bunch of resources in another, we’re really setting it up so … whatever you’ve accomplished, others can take advantage of, and vice versa,” Felleman said.

As it stands now, the gateway isn’t so much a marketplace — don’t jump to the conclusion of Amazon for government services just yet — as it is a collection of resources, experts and other tools to point acquisition officials in the best direction for a procurement. There are currently 19 categories — 10 major categories and nine sub-categories — each of which serves as an individual community of practice for its subject area and will in the near future be run by a specialized category manager. Rung expects these category experts will be announced in the near future. 

The government has released an abundance of acquisition solutions, tools and other resources in the past, Felleman said, but “finding them has sometimes been the challenge. We found that putting this relatively simple but powerful tool in the hands of the workforce is already starting to have a great impact.”

The vision is to expand beyond this, he said — to one day give acquisition officials a beginning-to-end portal to procure something. But the gateway is being built in such an agile and iterative manner that those updates are much further down the road — the gateway team is focused foremost on the bigger needs of the acquisition workforce. 

“We’re focused on the problems that most immediately provide value,” Felleman said. “Since there are tools that support a lot of the other parts of the acquisition process, we thought that by creating this sort of ‘desktop for the worker,’ we would be providing the most value in a relatively short amount of time.”

So for now, after gateway users learn about and find the existing appropriate acquisition solutions that match their needs, they’ll still have to go about procuring them as they always have off of the platform.  

“But over time, perhaps, we would do it by building some of those capabilities ourselves,” Felleman said. “We have a pretty exciting vision around that, but the goal is to always get the most return for user for our immediate investment.

Correction: Jan. 29, 2016 — An earlier version of this article said the public view of the gateway would be temporary. The gateway’s public view will be open indefinitely. 

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Agencies, Anne Rung, General Services Administration (GSA), Government IT News, Innovation, John Felleman, Laura Stanton, Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Procurement
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