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Tags: Enterprise Applications
It was the year in which Bryan Adams sang “Everything I Do, I Do it For You.” The first George Bush was President and the Giants beat the Bills in the Super Bowl. Yes, 1991 was chocked full of history.
No, this isn’t a trip down memory lane, but a reminder that if you stick around in Federal IT long enough, acquisition trends have a way at coming back to haunt you. So it is with IT commoditization and other “new” trends that sound familiar to those of us with long memories.
1991 marked one of the last years that the Federal government purchased IT mostly as a product. The iconic Desktop IV contract, and its contemporaries, was primarily a product-based deal designed to drive prices as low as possible with limited competition. Contractors fought tooth and nail for these contracts. Implementation was delayed by successive rounds of protests as the stake was high.
This may sound familiar to companies involved in recent discussions surrounding reverse auctions, or even plans by GSA to expand its Strategic Sourcing program to include “commodity IT” products. Also, recent reports show that more and more agencies are using modular contracting to obtain IT solutions come to mind. Low price is again king in the Federal market and there is more than a passing glance at de-coupling IT product purchases from network services.
Before everyone gets carried away, though, let’s remember that there are good reasons why there was no Desktop V contract.
First, the government realized that approaches like the Desktop program were a great way to get yesterday’s technology at a premium price. By the time protests were resolved, the technology had changed. Buyers either had to use outmoded technology or pay a comparatively higher price for current market products. Ironically, lower prices and greater levels of competition were often available on GSA Schedule contracts within 24 hours after an initial Desktop award was made.
Second, the government realized that they had some serious compatibility problems. While the modular, product-based approach may have served the needs of Wednesday’s buyer, there was no guarantee that it would work with what someone next door bought on Thursday.
Lastly, the government realized that it wanted the services of an IT system, more than it wanted to own and manage the system itself. Providing a functional system became the job of contractors, while agencies were allowed to focus more on fulfilling their core missions.
While IT solution purchases have not been without their own issues, the government now benefits from having much better compatibility across IT platforms and has ready-made contract vehicles that assure agencies get today’s technology today. Continuous improvement is certainly called for, but does anyone really think that government IT systems would function at all if it had stayed with a modular, product-based acquisition model? We’d have a cloud all right, but it would be a cloud of confusion.
All of this is worth remembering before IT executives in industry and government “Join the Joyride” toward acquisition practices that were used over 20 years ago and found lacking. Commoditization brings a strong lure of low prices, but there is no free lunch – only higher prices to pay for incompatibility and non-transparency. These are relics that need to be remembered as well, but as a reminder that we don’t want to relive this part of our past.