A sweeping IT reform law that will soon give agency-level chief information officers more budgeting authority will also change the way federal agencies buy software.
The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act requires the General Services Administration to expand the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative — a program that consolidates similar contracts from different agencies as a way to cut costs and reduce duplication — to include software licensing, an item under constant scrutiny for wasting of taxpayer dollars. GSA is currently working with the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department to build a governmentwide software licensing framework.
The three agencies have created an enterprise software category team to explore better ways to buy software as a government rather than as a disparate bunch of agencies, which Mary Davie, assistant commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service’s Office of Integrated Technology Services within GSA, said “will give government a better handle on what we’re buying and how we’re buying it.”
“We are looking at opportunities for establishing acquisition vehicles and enterprise license agreements with several software providers,” she told FedScoop in an email. “This entails working across the federal government to understand how agencies are purchasing software today, the challenges we all face in developing requirements, purchasing and managing licenses, identifying what we can do to evolve that purchasing behavior into an enterprise wide approach, and developing a strategy to make it happen.”
Davie said finding overlap in agencies’ software requirements can be a challenge.
“Looking at how the government currently buys, maintains, and manages licenses is extremely complex. Terms and conditions vary not only from agency to agency, but even within agencies, and the variation of purchase methods and limited visibility on pricing and terms increase duplication of time, effort, and money,” Davie told FedScoop in an email. “The question is: What is the best way to tackle enterprise licensing; how do we negotiate terms and pricing on a government-wide basis and improve our strategic use of software?”
This new governmentwide software licensing approach will play into a bigger acquisition framework GSA is developing with OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, called the Common Acquisition Platform. It’s essentially a governmentwide marketplace like Amazon.com where users can see what software agencies have already purchased — and what they paid for it. The platform emphasizes “category management,” where experts in different procurement areas help agencies figure out how best to spend their money.
“Category management and the Common Acquisition Platform will play a big role in FITARA by helping the government act and buy as one,” Davie said. “With a simplified acquisition strategy, we provide a clear and clean roadmap and tools that help agencies report according to FITARA principles.”
The common acquisition platform’s software category was one of the first to launch to agencies last year.
Davie added, “By addressing software purchases as a category and buying as one, we’ll better understand buying trends, what drives cost, new innovations on the horizon, and emerging companies. This type of expertise from a team of software and acquisition experts that understands the market is also how you drive greater innovation.”
Initially, Davie said her team hopes to reduce the federalwide total cost of ownership for software by 15 percent with the licensing agreement they’re developing under FITARA. Additionally, Davie hopes to “find efficiencies and additional savings through both lowering the costs associated with IT purchases, and also reducing the resources (people, time, etc) that agencies spend addressing software and other IT procurements.”