Data drives GSA back-office, client-facing contracting system upgrades

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Agencies and vendors using contracts managed by the General Services Administration should notice some improvements in their buying experience throughout fiscal year 2022.

The Federal Acquisition Service places greater emphasis on customer experience on both front-end systems and back-end processes.

Crystal Philcox, assistant commissioner for corporate strategy management at FAS, said the upcoming improvements are based on customer feedback.

Overall, for both buyers and sellers, GSA wants to create more of a single entry point with a single brand for both of its customers to simplify their experiences.

Crystal Philcox is assistant commissioner for corporate strategy management in the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

“What we’ve heard is that our contracting officers are generally responsive, but can be a bit inconsistent in the information they request. We heard from them that they would like to see more standardization in what is accepted by procurement officers and what they ask for,” Philcox said during a recent AFFIRM-sponsored panel, an excerpt from which aired on Ask the CIO. “We heard that once you try to get our contracts, that bidding process, timing and status is a bit unfamiliar. So to really understand how long this process will take and what all the steps are, people are kind of in the dark there. So we are doing some things to solve this problem.

Another area of ​​interest is providing sample completed templates to help contractors complete forms or provide information to the GSA.

“We have a website here that you have to go to to do it and a website here to do it, so having some kind of game plan or checklist on next steps and having it all together in one place would be be really helpful,” she said.

For buyers, Philcox said the goal is to improve product and service data.

“When there are no pictures, there are no descriptions, shoppers often say they have problems with certain data and information in the product catalog they are viewing. They say the research isn’t good, the stock status or fulfillment information isn’t great, and they don’t like spending a lot of time preparing orders and finding out later than this. was not in stock,” she said. “There are a number of projects that are underway to address this issue. We have an acquisition contract lifecycle management system that we are currently working on. It’s really going to sort out that supplier interaction, including things like being like help in helping us get the data and allowing us to share back, including where your solicitation is going.

Philcox said many of these new tools will roll out over the next six months or so.

For example, GSA launched a new service in January as part of GSA Advantage! portal that provides full details of out of stock manufacturers and wholesalers reporting issues in the Verified Products Portal (VPP).

Service Market Objectives

As for back-end systems, Philcox said his office is improving the way data is organized and presented through a series of dashboards, which can then be shared with the wider acquisition community.

“The other thing that this data is really allowing us to do is to really think about our collaborative policy-making and our collaborative buying power to really work on some high-level priorities right now, which includes building cyber and supply chain risk management. This includes promoting climate-friendly purchases. This includes promoting compliance with Made in America policies and focusing on creating this diverse and resilient supply chain,” she said. “We know that our supply chain has shrunk over the past few years, so we would like to try and reverse that trend. We would like more suppliers to be able to enter the market and to have this supply chain really strong.

Improving the service market is another priority with both short and long term goals.

Tiffany Hixson, assistant commissioner for the Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories, said her interest in service contracts is similar to what Philcox mentioned regarding improving back-office systems and supporting IT. ‘industry.

Tiffany Hixson is the Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories of the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

“We are working to organize a training session so that we can issue these procurement delegations of authority so that it is a one-off and you are a trained procurement professional. It’s really us telling you how to use these contract vehicles, how can we do it together,” she said. “We’re coming together to think about how do we have a place where you can come, ask those questions, and really get expert feedback from our staff on how to use those contracts.”

In fact, Laura Stanton, Assistant Commissioner of the IT Category Office, wrote in a blog post on Feb. 17 that the GSA has begun standardizing the scope review process. and created a digital tool/portal for clients to submit their scoping review requests.

“This will enable better monitoring, better management and better coordination between portfolios, as well as creating a unique customer experience. PSHC has already created a pilot single intake form and we are working to integrate it into other portfolios,” she wrote. “In the coming months, we will launch a unique training on Delegation of Procurement Authority for OASIS and Human Capital and Training Solutions and a single on-demand ITC DPA, which combines 8(a) STARS III , VETS 2 and Alliant 2 to simplify the customer experience. We have also launched the discovery phase of an order management tool for all service task orders. This will improve the development, tracking and management of task orders on GSA contracts. »

Stanton said these initiatives are examples of how ITC and PSHC are working together to improve experiences for buyers and sellers.

Calc Tool Update

Another upcoming change that focuses on the agency buyer relates to pricing.

Hixson told the panel that his office is updating the Calc tool, which provides price information.

“When this came out about five years ago, it was really transformational in terms of providing that intelligence in a searchable way. Well, it’s time to refresh that work. We’re working very closely with the team at Crystal to think about how to bring this particular dataset up to date, how to bring other price intelligence related services that are searchable and can help federal buyers as well as industry compare their prices in the services space,” she says.

Hixson said FAS currently has two different tools. One provides labor rates for a particular service, and the other is a price estimation tool that FAS has tested with the OASIS multi-award contract program.

“We are really looking at how to align them. We will continue to start by improving labor pricing and pricing intelligence in this space. We use the price information that derives from the multiple allocation schedule, from the cap rates that are allocated. But we have been collecting information on the prices paid on our government-wide acquisition contracts and our multiple award contracts for a number of years,” she said. “Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a whole bunch of labor pricing related data from the commercial sector. So we’re looking to leverage all of these datasets to provide more price information just in terms of labor costs that would then go into this price estimation tool.

Take advantage of RPA

Philcox said part of improving the customer experience is reducing lead times.

To do this, FAS turns to robotic process automation (RPA) tools to speed up some of the most mundane paperwork.

Philcox said FAS applies RPA to automatically populate pre-negotiation letters for new contractors.

“We would send a letter and our staff would normally have to dig into 6-7-8 different systems to find information and put it all together in the letter. This RPA analyzes all of that, puts all of that information together for you so that you can write that renegotiation letter very easily. It has saved us more than a few FTEs so far and we just launched it,” she said. “We are continually looking for new areas to employ it. We are also starting to look at machine learning. We currently use natural language processing to extract product information from some of the data we have. We are getting much smarter in how we think about data and how we use it. We are investing in this area. »

Stanton added during the panel that each of these efforts is aimed at improving the process for GSA customers.

She said they do this by seeking to streamline how buyers and sellers interact with FAS at all levels.

“One of the good examples we did was the agreements with commercial vendors, which only took a significant amount of time on the terms of our staff, and we really applied a process improvement effort to be able to reduce the cycle time of these by 97%,” she said. “When we think of customer experience, we don’t just think of direct contact with the customer, but we think of all these back-office processes that we’re talking about. We have an ongoing effort with our 2GIT to really see how to improve the speed of the edit process. This has tangible benefits for customers if we are able to do so, as they can access a larger product catalog which makes it easier for them to get their RFQ offers. That’s something when we think about customer experience, I think there’s often this direct face-to-face contact, and we think about it in a much broader way. We really think about the holistic customer engagement lifecycle and how they get what they need. »