The General Services Administration’s (GSA) third attempt to modernize the catalog management system running on its Advantage! program seems to have finally hit the right mark.
GSA is expanding the number of users of the new FAS Catalog Platform (FCP) after a successful test run over the last year with vendors under the Office Supplies 4 contract.
Mike Shepherd, the director of the catalog management office in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said industry sellers and agency buyers will see a stark change when using the FCP from the previous catalog management system, called the Schedule Input Program (SIP), under GSA Advantage!.
“The FCP, in its most basic form, is replacing SIP with a new web-based user interface. It’s going to bring in some really new key enhancements that are going to benefit both our suppliers as well as our acquisition workforce and customers,” Shepherd said in an interview on Ask the CIO. “On the Advantage! side, it’s an intuitive web-based application. When you log in to FCP, you will quickly realize this is very different from that desktop SIP application. But really, it’s more than that. It’s a capability that’s going to be integrated with e-modification in such a way where we’re going to be able to capture catalog information during the modification process. What this means for our suppliers is we’re going to be able to automate publishing to GSA Advantage!. We’re going to speed up that time to get catalog changes down to the Advantage! platform.”
The time it takes to modify a catalog has been a major and long-standing pain point for industry for the last two decades.
GSA says the new platform automatically publishes modifications to GSA Advantage!, saving an average of 34 days for vendors adding new products to their catalogs. GSA also says it publishes catalog deletions within 1-to-2 days of a modification submitted by the contractor.
Shepherd said it used to take more than 10 days to be able to delete products.
In addition to addressing long-standing pain points, GSA says the new platform also features several other modern tools.
Automated data validation checks.
A central hub to review all catalog actions and statuses.
Access to catalog history.
Shared user interface between contractors, contract specialists and vendor support center staff.
As part of the platform’s expansion, GSA will add more users and begin a pilot covering professional services.
Shepherd said the initial pilot included 32 companies on the OS4 vehicle. GSA asked contractors last year about their interest in joining the expanded pilot to use the FCP.
“We’re going to scale up about five times, so to about 150 new users onboarding in this next tranche. From there in January, we’re going to plan to bring in more and continue to bring in a few hundred per month through the end of fiscal 2024,” he said. “What that means for us in terms of our target as a program is that we’re going to move the majority of Advantage! catalogs into this new platform by the end of the fiscal year so that users can benefit from these new features.”
GSA to expand to services
Shepherd said GSA plans to expand the catalog platform to services contractors later this year.
“How can we make it easier for suppliers to submit labor categories and rates? As part of this year ahead, we are targeting a limited pilot for services, a minimum viable product (MVP), much like the MVP we have for products today by the end of the fiscal year,” he said. “The initial services MVP will allow us to collect structured data for services. That means labor categories and rates. Once we have that, structured data is really going to be foundational to allow us to feed the CALC-Plus tool. So for contracting officers today, if you work in GSA, you are uploading to CALC-Plus through a fairly manual two-step process. But through FCP, by taking in labor categories and rates, we will be able to feed that data directly into CALC-Plus as one of the use cases.”
GSA has tried to modernize the SIP system at least two other times over the last decade, but fell short of expectations.
Shepherd said GSA took the lessons learned from those failures and applied them to this current effort, including, for possibly the first time, having a dedicated office and employees for the catalog platform modernization initiative.
“One big difference between the legacy SIP program and what we’re doing now is I am here as the director of the catalog management program at GSA. That is no small thing. What that should signal to all of our stakeholders is catalog management matters: Coming up with more efficient, cleaner way to process catalog information and then improving the advantage experience on the front end for our customers,” he said. “It matters enough where we’re going to establish a catalog management office to do that work.”
Shepherd said GSA will continue to keep industry and agency customers in the loop on its next steps. For example, GSA sends out a survey to contractors who have been using the new catalog after so many months.
“If a user happens to hit a friction point in their journey, they can fill out a survey then and give us that feedback in real time,” he said. “We are also very focused on meeting with users in small groups once they’ve been in the application for a few months, working with them to understand what’s good, what’s bad and where do we need to focus some energy going forward. We’re going to continue to do that throughout this user transition moving into the fall. So far, at least, the survey results are positive. But we recognize, as we scale this, certainly new challenges will emerge and we’re ready for those challenges.”