FITARA, strategic sourcing could limit wireless IoT

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The government's effort to squeeze value from centralized purchasing of wireless devices is taking hold but could be slowing its ability to embrace Internet of Things technology, according to a new study by Govini.

Analysts said streamlined procurement efforts, such as the General Services Administration's blanket purchase agreement for wireless devices and services, and overarching efficiency rules, such as the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, have had a significant impact on major wireless carriers and how agencies view such devices.

According to the study, carriers are being affected by the increasing pressure on agencies to streamline wireless device contracting. Civilian agencies' contracts for the three biggest wireless carriers -- Verizon, Sprint and AT&T -- fell from $251 million in fiscal 2011 to $168 million in fiscal 2015. The companies managed to hold onto most of the Defense Department's wireless business.

Federal spending on wireless devices totaled $820 million in fiscal 2015, which represents a 21 percent decline from its peak of $992 million in fiscal 2012, according to the study.

Matt Hummer, director of analytics at Govini, said those trends could keep the government from realizing the promise of the data-driven, wireless IoT.

"The [efficiency] policies are valiant," he told FCW, "but IoT is challenging" the way the government uses wireless devices and services.

To ensure that wireless devices aren't confined to commodity status, Hummer said carriers, nontraditional developers and value-added resellers must band together to develop new ways to integrate IoT capabilities and make them part of wider IT solutions.

"IoT is an area where the government doesn't really know what it wants yet," he said.

Mobilegov President Tom Suder told FCW that the government needs a more coherent, deliberate approach to policy and management so that it can understand the IoT ecosystem and unlock its value.

Federal efforts to target specific areas, such as GSA's category management initiative, are worthwhile but don't delve into some of the dynamic aspects of IoT or mobility ecosystems, he said.

The Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC) is working on a next-generation mobile strategy to help the government delineate the various pieces of the developing mobility ecosystem, beyond current wireless services, said Suder, who is the organization's founder and president. An IoT strategy could follow the same framework, he added.

"Every component in mobility needs to be categorized and managed," he said. Additionally, a comprehensive list of contracting vehicles that cover technology is necessary. "Agencies need someplace to start looking" for ideas and available options.

Suder said ATARC plans to send a memo about its mobile strategy to the Office of Management and Budget in the coming days. He added that developing a similar strategy for IoT would be a bold first step for the next administration.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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