NIH acquisition chief puts focus on customer service

The center cut its assisted acquisition services and aimed those resources at customer service, manager says.

Rob Coen arrived five months ago as deputy program manager at the National Institutes of Health's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center and promptly flipped the center’s operations and organizational structure. The remade organization boasts a streamlined structure, without the assisted acquisition services wing. Coen channeled those resources into customer service for the Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners governmentwide acquisition contract, he said.

“We had to make a decision about being an assisted acquisition services shop and a GWAC,” Coen said. “We chose to be the best GWAC.”

Coen, who left the Small Business Administration's government contracts office for NIH, brought in a new business development team to improve the center’s attention to its customers. He said he took note of NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurements (SEWP) governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), which has a reputation for first-rate customer service.

Now, NIH’s sale representatives are heading out to meet customers in person. They’re offering to bring the training out to them. And the center's simplifying the ordering process for its customers. Everything’s going online, from customers first uploading a work statement to the center sending out the order to bidders.

“You’re going to see a different NITAAC in the future,” Coen said.

As the center shears its assisted acquisition services, Coen said he plans to meet this week with the Interior Department’s Acquisition Services Directorate to discuss a new partnership between the two organizations.

The changes are coming now because the center hasn't needed to develop these strategies and do outreach in the past.

“Business had just flowed in here,” Coen said. That diminished the demand for seeking after and continually wooing customers. But he said it helped to make the center mainly inward-focused.

Coen soon will learn whether his reforms work. Last week, NIH issued a sources-sought notice and a draft request for proposals for CIO-SP3, its third GWAC, which has an emphasis on aiding agencies in their health IT reforms. The agency expects to award the 10-year, $20 billion GWAC in early 2010.

Officials plan to include in the contract support for making health records electronic and using IT in the field of molecular biology, partly to help provide consistency with the goals of Federal Health Architecture. FHA requires agencies to coordinate capital planning and invest in interoperable health IT.

“Developing this GWAC is a key part of our new business development strategy as we prepare our organization to meet the future needs of government IT procurement," Coen said.