NASA customers love SEWP
Although Joanne Woytek, NASA program manager for the Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) IV governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), has been involved with the program for more than 18 years, she still conductsapproximately 75 percent of its live training classes. “It’s not because I think I’m the best trainer,” said Woytek, who estimates that she personally teaches about 60 classes each year. “It’s because of the interaction and feedback I get. You never know what new question or idea someone might have, something we can use or incorporate into our program.”
The constant striving to improve program services has been a hallmark of SEWP IV since it began in 2007. As a result, SEWP IV sales have increased every year, reaching $2.4 billion in fiscal 2010. Despite the uncertainties caused by the Congressional delay in approving the 2011 budget, SEWP IV sales through June were roughly on par with sales in 2010 during the same time period.
“The NASA SEWP contract is a premier contract because the SEWP staff has focused on making it easy and cost-effective for customers to use and by providing absolutely outstanding customer support and experience,” said Mike Cogswell, senior director of contracts and compliance for GovConnection.
Catalog by request
SEWP IV is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity GWAC offering a wide variety of advanced IT products and product-related services, including hardware and software, maintenance, warranty, installation, and product training, at fixed prices. All federal agencies can use the SEWP IV contract, which consists of 38 competed prime contract holders and includes 21 small businesses. SEWP IV is not a services contract, but agencies can purchase services to install products and software, as long as the services do not exceed 10 percent of the overall contract price.
SEWP IV has a dynamic catalog in which items are added to the contract based on customers’ requests. Therefore, rather than searching a SEWP IV catalog for products, agencies find the products and solutions they want and then request that the contractor’s items be added to the catalog. These requests are typically reviewed and either approved or denied within two to four hours. “SEWP does not have a traditional searchable catalog,” Woytek said. Instead, it is “Catalog by Request.”
“Having a strong customer service team has always been one of our strengths, but we never want to be satisfied.” Joanne Woytek, SEWP IV program manager
As a self-funding program, SEWP IV charges agencies a 0.45 percent surcharge to pay for the 40 program managers, staff and other overhead expenses necessary to run the program. Fees are calculated against the order price and are capped at $10,000 per order. Because the program does not aim to generate a profit, SEWP has steadily lowered its fees, which were 2.6 percent when the program was established 18 years ago, thus passing on increased efficiencies as savings to its customers.
SEWP IV officials expect the program to generate $10 billion to $14 billion in sales during the seven years of the contract, which runs through 2014. Because SEWP IV has a contract ceiling of $5.6 billion for each of the 38 contract holders, there is virtually no possibility that the ceiling will be breached. Altogether, the contract holders offer more than 1.6 million products and product-based services from nearly 3,400 manufacturers.
“SEWP is used in every agency and by 12,000 government users,” Woytek said.
Thinking like a business
To a large degree, SEWP is successful because it is run like a business that pays careful attention to its customers’ needs, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Deltek Information Solutions. “I’ve always [had] the impression that Joanne Woytek thinks like a business person, asking: How can I improve this operation so I can cut my fees and have broader offerings to make my vehicle more attractive? These are things that any business should do,” Bjorklund said.
SEWP IV also strives to address issues within one business day — and often sooner — such as adding new products, processing orders, and responding to questions. “It’s like the SEWP staff never sleeps,” Cogswell said. “You submit things and they are dealt with promptly.”
Many people also point to Woytek’s experience and leadership. Not only has she been with the program for 18 years, but she is actively involved in the government procurement community, and most recently organized the Federal IT Acquisition Summit, which the SEWP IV program co-hosted with Federal Computer Week. And, of course, Woytek, interacts with customers and contract holders at training sessions and other events. “She really has a good pulse of her customers and contract holders,” said Marcus Fedeli, SEWP IV business manager. “Her involvement enables her to keep the program relevant and ever-evolving.”
Woytek prefers to credit her entire staff, which also brings many years of acquisition experience to the program. Some of the senior staff have been with SEWP for eight to 10 years.
But SEWP IV’s chief distinguishing characteristic is that it is a program, not a contract, Woytek said. The SEWP IV staff view their mission as supporting the contract, not merely setting it up. “We’re here to be a customer services team that is always trying to figure out how to make the contract work for both our customers and contract holders,” she said.
Not satisfied by success
During the past year, the SEWP IV program added several new tools to help agency customers find the products they need. This includes a new ticketing system for tracking help-desk issues, live chat for customer support, and a more transparent process for obtaining pricing quotes from vendors. “SEWP continues to be one of the most popular contract vehicles among federal agencies because it’s open to all, easy to use, efficient, cost effective and flexible,” said Jennifer Keating, director of federal civilian sales at CDW Government. And with a wide range of available products from 38 businesses, SEWP IV enables “contracting officers to easily fulfill the requirement to provide fair opportunity to all contract holders within a particular category,” she said.
As a result of its success, SEWP has grown from what Woytek describes as a mom-and-pop program run by 15 staffers to a midsize program with 40 federal and contractor professionals on staff. To ensure that the program continues serving its customers’ needs, SEWP IV officials have begun a strategic planning exercise to update the SEWP IV vision and mission objectives. “We will spend the summer looking at ourselves to see what we do well and where we can get better and come up with a plan in the next few years based on that,” Woytek said.
In addition, this spring, SEWP IV officials hired consulting firm HDI to evaluate its help-desk support for agency customers. The consultants spent a week interviewing staff and examining the entire structure of SEWP IV’s customer service organization, including staffing, processes and practices, and then delivered a 127-page report with recommendations and best practices for improving customer service. The SEWP IV staff is now reviewing the report that Woytek said provides valuable insights into how they can improve customer support.
“Having a strong customer service team has always been one of our strengths, but we never want to be satisfied,” Woytek said.