Officials at the fore of the administration’s Centers of Excellence IT modernization program break down the major changes coming this year.
The General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence program is going through some major changes ahead of the next cohort, including broadening the focus areas, expanding to more agencies and making it easier for small businesses to join.
The next generation of the program is outlined in the final release of a blanket purchase agreement out for bids Tuesday, which adds two new functional areas and lays out a unique procurement strategy for the future.
The Centers of Excellence were established in late 2017 by GSA and the White House’s Office of American Innovation, designed to work with single agencies to develop IT modernization plans and work in tandem throughout the life cycle of those efforts. The program has had two agencies begin the process: the Agriculture Department, which is currently in the second and last phase of the program, and Housing and Urban Development Department, which began Phase I in September.
The new BPA will last for three years from the date of award, with an expected value of $100 million. The RFQ notes this is not a ceiling and the total value could be higher without the need to modify the contract.
The centers will be announcing the next agency to join the program very soon, Director Bob DeLuca told Nextgov during a live panel discussion Tuesday, though he could not give a solid timeline for when that will be announced. However, the program does expect to onboard more agencies this year and at a faster rate.
For the first year of the program, Agriculture entered Phase II before HUD began its work on Phase I. That pace should increase this year, with multiple agencies working through the first phase at the same time, DeLuca said. Officials still expect to stagger the agencies, he added, onboarding one at a time so that no two agencies are at the same part of the process at the same time.
The next generation of the program will include the original five centers—focused on cloud adoption, contact centers, customer experience, data analytics and infrastructure optimization—plus two additional centers for change management and information security.
The change management piece will be particularly important to ensure these efforts stick when the GSA leads leave, according to Gary Washington, chief information officer at Agriculture.
“Right now, we’re already planning for sustainability,” Washington said. “It’s one thing to implement these solutions; we have to sustain them and make them an institutionalized part of the way we operate.”
That will mean training Agriculture employees on the latest technology.
“We have taken some additional steps to prepare our IT workforce to be able to support us moving forward,” he said, including working with the Office of Management and Budget. “I really don’t think people realize we’re going through a change management activity right now. We’re preparing not just our IT folks, but our business program partners.”
“As we’re implementing all these new technological enhancements, it’s the people who need to understand what the new future looks like,” DeLuca agreed. “And the change management piece is really what ties it all together and makes it sustainable.”
The program will still exist in two phases: a discovery phase, wherein an agency works with the relevant centers to assess the current situation and devise a go forward plan; and an implementation phase during which the actual work will occur. However, the BPA will only be for the first phase, as the second phase work will be contracted separately by the agency.
Between three to five awards expected for each functional area and additional vendors being onboarded during Phase II, GSA warned potential bidders that they will have to work well with others.
“Contractors must work with other Phase I contractors when requested to prevent silos.
Contractors must work with other Phase II contractors in order to ensure a smooth transition, as required,” according to the RFQ.
What GSA is trying to avoid are “‘silos of excellence,’” DeLuca said. “When we first started, everyone started working in their own particular silo. Then we realized that we had a problem and started to bring folks together within the one agency that we had. We are doing the best we can to work across agencies, even.”
Now, there are scheduled meetings between center leads and agency counterparts at both Agriculture and HUD to compare notes and share best practices and lessons learned.
This is something the agency teams have been asking for, according to Syed Azeem, lead for the Cloud Adoption Center of Excellence.
Contracting officers noted the short timelines on Phase I, which ideally lasts no more than six months.
“Timing may vary and will be determined at the order level,” the RFQ states. “This requires successful contractors to combine high quality and speed.”
The final RFQ was also designed to attract more small businesses to the program. In the draft solicitation released earlier this year, GSA expected to ask vendors to bid on at least three of the seven function areas in order to be considered for award. This became a barrier to smaller companies that only do one thing but do it well. The final document allows vendors to bid on as few or as many functional areas as they like.
Vendors interested in bidding will have to complete four submissions: a set of challenge questions, a list of potential scenarios, a technical and management approach description, and a pricing sheet.
The challenge questions will be available through Google Forms starting March 28. DeLuca said the delay was intentional in order to test how companies respond during short cycles.
Vendors will also be responding to the scenario through a Google Form, answering the question: How would you obtain agencywide buy-in for the modernization efforts promoted by the CoE while also linking efforts and fostering collaboration with other vendors and government staff across all of the centers at the agency partner?
Instructions for the other submissions are included in the RFQ. The entire package is due by noon on April 1.
Prospective bidders must hold GSA Schedule 70 contracts for the relevant special item numbers listed in the document.
Questions on the RFQ are due by noon on March 19.