The emergence of cloud computing as a high-demand IT solution hasn’t been the clearest in terms of procurement. But now that it appears the technology is here to stay, the General Services Administration wants to create a cloud category in the federal government’s largest acquisition vehicle to make it easier to find and buy.
GSA hosted an onsite industry day Tuesday soliciting feedback from vendors on its proposed addition of a special item number (SIN) for cloud computing to its IT Schedule 70 acquisition vehicle.
The SIN, a work in progress, was proposed in a July request for information to “improve the way that GSA offers cloud computing services through IT Schedule 70, increase visibility and access of cloud computing services to customer agencies, and to provide industry partners the opportunity to differentiate their cloud computing services from other IT related products and services,” that proposal states.
Those familiar with federal IT acquisition would be right to point out that cloud procurement is already possible under Schedule 70.
But, as Mark Day, deputy assistant commissioner of GSA’s Integrated Technology Service, pointed out to the audience of vendor representatives, those are mostly managed services “with some cloud sprinkled on top.”
The faux cloud options don’t end there. “You’ve also seen many contracting metrics used that try to approximate the cloud business model,” Day said. “And I think that’s a subtle fact that most of us believe, that it is an approximation of the cloud model that is coming out of most of our contracts. It’s not really the pure cloud model [found] in the commercial space.”
Why is that? Day explained that not only do federal agencies face stricter security scrutiny, but also the “fundamental, basic model of how we buy things is not particularly oriented to the cloud business model,” he said.
That has led to difficulty for all parties involved — GSA, vendors and the agency customers. This new SIN, though, hopes to alleviate the current pain points in cloud procurement through greater flexibility and control for customers. All services that meet five key points of the National Institute of Standards and Technology definition for cloud — on demand self service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service — will be eligible for the cloud special item number.
Some of GSA’s past customers have tried to use preferred contracting methods to buy cloud, such as using their own blanket purchase agreement under GSA’s BPA. But for technical reasons, Day said, they can’t do that. “We actually stopped our customer from using their preferred contract model by using it ourself,” he said. “But if we put it under a cloud SIN, we don’t foreclose on their ability to use their preferred contacting model.”
At the same time, Day said this is an opportunity to drive more value into the schedules program and introduce new technology faster than other acquisition vehicles.
“If a SIN works better than a BPA, if only because we can inject things faster, maybe that’s a reason to do something like this,” he said.
It’s also an opportunity to leverage the agency’s subject matter experts for this broad topic — in the past, Day said, they were used only for specific procurement areas.
“We haven’t done a very good job using our subject matter experts,” he said. In the past with IT Schedule 70, “the customer had a very large procurement, a complex procurement and didn’t get much help associating how the schedules work to solve [a] problem. So we didn’t capture some of the really big opportunities that we should have that probably would’ve helped our customers. And our customers were left without any kind of help they might have wanted. Here’s another opportunity where we’re rethinking that.”
While GSA has a broad idea of where it wants to go with the cloud SIN, when the final product arrives and what it will look like is still up in the air. The schedule to submit a final proposal for the cloud SIN is still in its early stages and very dependent upon feedback from industry.