Top100 lesson Markets evolve, so must integrators

No one ever said relationships were easy, especially in the evolving world of government agencies and systems integrators.

In the early 1990s, before acquisition reform, the Social Security Administration purchased all IT services at once, because contracts were awarded every 18 to 24 months, and usually two or three companies filed protests, said Renato DiPentima, former deputy commissioner for systems at the agency. He managed all information processing, data and voice communications systems.

"The contracting office settled for something, and you bought everything tooth to tail, and hopefully had brought on a good integrator to do that," said DiPentima, now president and CEO of SRA International Inc., which he joined in 1995.

Agencies were compelled to pursue an integration strategy, because they did not want to go out and buy individual products, he said. When agencies hired systems integrators, they sought companies that were unbiased and product neutral.

But that is changing as agencies buy more commercial enterprise resource management and other product-based solutions.

"They want integrators with a deep understanding and hands-on experience implementing the specific products being recommended or selected," DiPentima said. "That means integrators must get closer to specific product vendors, and vice versa."

That's not all that has evolved in the sometimes contentious, always complex relationship between government and industry.

Representatives from systems integrators and federal agencies discussed how the government IT acquisition process has changed over the years, and how key players in the relationship have adapted at Washington Technology's "Lessons of the Top 100 Conference" June 14 in McLean, Va.

Jerry DeMuro, executive vice president of General Dynamics Corp., said that in the changing environment, three factors influence the way solutions are sold and implemented.

» The first is the flat federal budget for IT purchases, coupled with the government's inability to retain or attract enough personnel with the right IT skills as government IT professionals retire.

»Second, agencies are awarding more multiple-award contracts so they can consolidate requirements and purchasing power. "The new reality is that multiple-award contracts are passports," DeMuro said. "If you don't have one, you may not be able to get in. ? You either win or you're out of the market."

» Third, technology is changing so quickly that integrators must ensure they can design systems that can adapt. Contractors should urge government agencies to use open-source software, commercial solutions and standards-based systems that are flexible and adaptable, he said.

The government has created initiatives in emergency procurement, interagency contracts, strategic sourcing and competitive sourcing to respond to the changes in the acquisition environment, said Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office for Federal Procurement Policy. His office, for example, manages an interagency working group that looks at whether there are too many governmentwide acquisition contracts and multiple-award contracts for purchasing goods and services.

For the last two years, his office also has issued reports to Congress that show that when competitive sourcing is done correctly, it brings increased savings to the government and to taxpayers, Burton said.

Agencies have used governmentwide acquisition vehicles in the past to save time and money and leverage their collective buying power, said Glenn Perry, the Education Department's director of contracts and acquisition management.

"Today, we realize that somewhere along the line, maybe not all of those objectives were being met well," he said, adding that most multiagency vehicles have reflected only the perspective of the agency that issues them, and not other users.
In this environment, systems integrators will continue to get most of their work through task orders under mega contracts.

"You hit the ground running; you're hunting all the time" for contract work, said Austin Yerks, president of the defense integrated solutions and services divisions within Computer Sciences Corp.'s federal sector. "You can't afford the luxury of sitting back [and] waiting for the request for proposal to come out."

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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