COMMENTARY

Why you should care about GSA's verified products portal

The General Services Administration recently issued an RFI regarding their catalog management processes and product data details. What is driving this market research, and why should OEMs care? 

GSA is beginning Phase I of the Verified Products Portal (VPP), with a target audience of OEMs and wholesalers. The goal is to have the portal up and running sometime in 2021. Whether you are an OEM, distributor or reseller, you’ll need to keep your eye on this initiative as it continues to take shape. One thing is certain: VPP needs to be done right or it could cause tangible issues for you and your supply chain.

Improving supply chain risk management

The purpose of the VPP is to host authoritative product content such as standardized manufacturer names and part numbers with the aim of improving GSA's supply chain risk management and modernizing the customer experience. This information ideally would be provided directly by OEMs. In addition to the OEM profile, GSA will allow resellers and distributors to create a profile in the VPP. 

The VPP will include information such as product specifications, with the option of adding additional information such as product specs, pictures, and pricing data. The current plan is to allow participating OEMs to authorize and deauthorize products and resellers through the portal in real-time, potentially eliminating the need for resellers to provide letters of supply. (More on this later.) 

What does this mean for OEMs and wholesalers? While the VPP will be optional, OEMs should carefully consider whether to participate. If they choose not to maintain a portal entry, OEMs should still pay special attention to product data their authorized resellers and distributors post.

That last part is particularly important. Any data (such as product number, description, pricing, etc.) that is inaccurate or out of date could potentially cause confusion within the OEM's channel and with GSA. Such confusion, in turn, could delay processing GSA Schedule Contract modifications, as it would leave GSA in the predicament of deciding which data is accurate.

Recognizing this potential for confusion, GSA is proposing a tiered system for non-OEM entities. The idea is that higher-tier portal entities (likely distributors) will take precedence over the lower entities (likely resellers) in the event of a conflict or inconsistent data. 

The criteria and details for tiering entities other than the OEM, however, is still uncertain. In the recently released GSA RFI, GSA states the following in their Terms of Use: "GSA reserves the right, at any time, not to use data submissions if a higher tier has submitted conflicting data." This could lead to confusion and uncertainty within the channel if OEMs decide not to maintain their own portal entry and do not closely monitor the entries of their resellers and distributors.

This is precisely why it’s important for OEMs to pay attention to the VPP, and to keep descriptions up to date. Any discrepancy between reseller and OEM information could lead to contract delays and, ultimately, the timing of future federal business.

Advantages for both sides, GSA says

For the GSA, the advantage of VPP would be cohesion of data across the agency and a more secure supply chain. It’s no secret that counterfeit parts have become a growing concern – which is promoting other initiatives such as the DOD’s new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC).

Because buyers want to ensure they are getting authentic parts from a vendor, GSA has long required resellers and distributors to provide a written letter of supply confirming OEM authorization to provide products along with other representations.

For vendors, then, GSA maintains there are benefits as well. First, resellers will no longer have to obtain and provide that letter of supply, which reduces the administrative burden on the organization. Second, the VPP will also ensure that an OEM’s product is represented accurately.

So, what do you do if you are an OEM and decide to participate in the VPP? At a minimum, you’ll need to keep product data up to date, in real time, both on the portal and with resellers and distributors. Failure to do so could easily lead to confusion and delay when trying to update the GSA catalog. 

For now, GSA is trying to take baby steps, which is why participation is voluntary, although the agency would prefer to have OEM participation. But the program is not just going to disappear and will likely become even more important as supply chain security continues to be a top government priority.

Regardless of how your organization does business with the government, pay attention to the VPP – because your buyers certainly will be.

About the Author

Tara Franzonello is GSA Programs Consultant with immixGroup, an Arrow company. She can be reached at tara_franzonello@immixgroup.com.

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