‘Perfect storm’ brewing around EIS contract, IT modernization

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Though some agencies have said they’re concerned about the three-year schedule to transition to the new Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract, the General Services Administration said the timing couldn’t come at a better time.

The stars are finally starting to align around a governmentwide IT modernization effort, and some agency IT leaders say they see the announcement of the new EIS contract, the president’s coming IT modernization report and even the reorganization memo as a “perfect storm” for the longstanding effort to replace outdated legacy systems.

House and Senate lawmakers are set to go to conference over the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate’s version of the NDAA included the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act in the Defense Authorization bill, which would create a working capital fund in each agency based on savings from consolidating data centers and moving to the cloud.

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“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a time where the focus and the attention has been on IT modernization the way it is today,” Bill Zielinski, deputy assistant commissioner for category management for the Office of Information Technology Category at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said Thursday during an 1105 Media discussion in Washington. “We have a tremendous opportunity.”

Still, agencies have their concerns about the timing associated with the next generation of the telecommunications contract. Zielinski said he’s recognized those worries, and he has a team that’s working with agencies to help them publish fair opportunity solicitations.

“We have a handful of those solicitations that have gone out there,” he said. “We have a number of others that are rolling forward. All the agencies are engaged. They know and realize and understand the criticality of the transition and what needs to be done.”

As solicitations go out, Zielinski said he is concerned that agencies may flood the arena with too many at the same.

“If we’ve now put industry in a position to where they’re all trying to react to the full stack of fair opportunity solicitations at the same time, then that means that I would have fears and concerns that it becomes difficult for industry to keep up with the pace of those,” he said. “I wouldn’t want them to be in a position where they’re giving us their B or C teams. I’m not accusing anybody of that, but you could see how that dynamic could occur, which then rolls into the actual execution phase.”

GSA awarded 10 companies a spot on the $50 billion contract in August. It replaces more than 90 Networx contracts, Zielinski said.

The agency has emphasized that the new telecommunications contract must facilitate an environment that lets agencies modernization and transform. The EIS contract allows vendors to continuously roll on new products or services, and prices for those new offerings will also be public.

“We have this concept of being able to roll on new technical capabilities, whether those are products, whether those are services,” Zielinski said. “Whatever those offerings are, those 10 providers can roll on new technical capabilities in a much more rapid way than was previously done. The same kinds of contract modifications that can take a longer time, we don’t have to go through that. They can continuously update that catalog of services. There’s complete transparency, so all 10 of the awardees can see the technical capabilities that others are rolling on to the contract. What that means is that if somebody is packaging a set of stuff together into a service offering within a contract, the other providers can see that and move quickly. If they want to offer something that’s similar or one up what was put out there by one of the providers, they can do that very quickly.”

Zielinski said the modernization conversation is different this time than earlier discussions.

“Previously, a lot of the thinking had been somewhat fractured,” he said. “Here’s your memo about cyber, go off and do this cyber thing over here. Here’s your memo about savings. Go out and figure out how you’re going to do savings. And here’s your memo about IT modernization. Go do your IT modernization over here. That means that you now have competing priorities within your organization. Having been an agency CIO, I say, that’s great, but tell me which one of them is the most important? But I really am put into a position where I’m having to choose which one of those I’m going to do.

In the past, CIOs felt pressured to choose and focus on one project rather than look at multiple initiatives holistically, Zielinski said.

“They’re all important, and we understand and realize that your success in being able to do that is reliant upon you really being able to figure out how to do this a really kind of a holistic sort of way,” he said. “That’s what’s different in this conversation around IT modernization.”

Tony Cossa, acting chief technology officer for the Agriculture Department, said recent and coming budget cuts at USDA are helping the agency uncover new efficiencies and drive IT modernization in a way it hasn’t before.

“It actually helps the thought-process on modernization, helps drive the priority of it,” he said. “When you’re forced to think differently, when you’re forced to ask different questions, you tend to turn things upside down and look at it from a different perspective, because you don’t have a choice. If we maintain our 80 percent [operations and maintenance] and we have the budget to support that… the funding goes toward the same thing and based it’s based on [the] priority of the day, not thinking [about the] bigger picture, not thinking about how we become more effective.”

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