GSA claims it has learned its Beta.Sam lesson

GSA's beta.SAM contracting system modernization is moving ahead, incorporating lessons learned from the earlier troubled transition of FedBizOpps.

NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.

The General Services Administration learned some important lessons about modernizing critical back office contracting systems from the rough transition of contracting opportunity data from FedBizOpps to beta.SAM late last year, according to top managers in the agencies' federal acquisition service.

"We learned we needed to help the community come along with us," in moving legacy contracting and grant management systems to GSA's beta.SAM.gov system, said Judith Zawatsky, assistant commissioner of GSA's Office of Systems Management Federal Acquisition Service during a May 5 ACT IAC webinar.

GSA is in the process of moving 10 legacy systems, including FedBizOpps, its old Systems of Award Management (SAM) and Federal Data Procurement System (FPDS), to the beta.SAM portal, which will eventually become the agency's hub for contracting and grant management capabilities.

GSA completed moving its old FedBizOpps contract opportunities system to beta.SAM last year, but soon was swamped with user complaints that said they had lost familiar functionalities, as well as difficulties with its two-factor authentication requirements.

"There were frustrations that kept me up at night" after FBO was moved, said Vicky Niblett, deputy assistant commissioner of GSA's Office of the Integrated Award Environment during the webinar. "What comforted me was that all the contracting data had migrated perfectly," meaning what users were searching for, was there. Users had to become more familiar with the system and GSA could use their feedback to tweak the capabilities, according to Zawatsky and Niblett.

The agency responded to user demands for a return of email notifications of contract opportunities, pushing the release of the capability to the head of the agile development line, said Niblett. "Users said loudly that was extremely important. We prioritized and pushed it out sooner than planned."

"The challenge with some legacy sites is that they had their own interfaces. Users loved them or hated them, but they knew how to use them," said Zawatsky. GSA, she said, is listening closely with a myriad of focus groups that look at specific user and contractor "personas" that consider capabilities and needs from differing perspectives. Zawatsky also said users had become more familiar with beta.SAM's two factor authentication requirements, as those require requirements become more common.

Beta.SAM.gov is growing, she said. It has 173,000 registered users and about 1 million average daily direct views.

Since transitioning FedBizOpps, the moving additional systems has become more considered and studied, according to Zawatsky and Niblett. The agency's shift of the Federal Procurement Data System began a with a "soft launch" for in March that allows contractors to use beta.SAM to get FPDS Contract Data Reports, but keeps search and data on the old FPDS until the full transition is made. The limited move, said Niblett, "allows users to familiarize themselves with the new reporting tool. There is a large learning curve" between some of the functionality of the old FPDS system to beta.SAM's, she said.

GSA plans to complete its move SAM.gov in a year, while it plans to complete moving FPDS by year's end, said Niblett.

GSA continues to seek out user input for the process, Zawatsky and Niblett said, through direct contact and through the GSA Interact portal.

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