The Federal Government is to be congratulated for its cost reduction program following the 25 Point Plan and its latest component, Shared Services First initiative. My employer, Distributed Solutions Inc. (DSI) enthusiastically supports this initiative. The results of the Government’s cost reduction program depend on its effective use of any products and services, especially those that are acquired through the Federal acquisition process. It is an accepted fact that small businesses are the greatest source of creativity and innovation.
We would like to bring to the Government’s attention that despite bringing higher efficiency, improved resource utilization, reduction of waste, improved savings and cost reductions to the Government, the Shared Services First program may ultimately have the undesirable result of raising costs instead of lowering them, if the implementation constrains the Government to a limited number of shared solutions and a limited set of shared products from a limited number of large influential vendors. Any denial of opportunities to broader audience of suppliers, including small business, will deny the Government technological innovation, progress, less expensive and superior solutions. The increased costs resulting due to limited competition will offset and even overcome any cost savings envisioned in the Shared Services First initiative.
One reason why this can happen is based on the way the Government historically solicits and uses information system products and service. The Government, to date, has conducted separate acquisitions addressing different areas of information needs, such as financial systems, procurement systems, vendor support systems, and so on. These systems are required to interact with each other using interfaces for exchanging data and services, in order to provide the Government a coherent set of services, and minimize repetitive clerical labor transferring data into each of the separate systems.
Many times, the Government specifies a product from a chosen vendor as the standard, requiring other vendors to adapt their products and services to work with the chosen one. By specifying a vendor-provided solution built with proprietary and closely held interface specifications as the criteria for selection instead of open and clearly defined interfaces standards, the Government cedes any control over fair and equal opportunity for competition to the vendor of the chosen solution. This limits the solicitation opportunities to a very limited number partners of the chosen vendor who are certified as compatible.
Proprietary data and service specifications created by the vendors of proprietary solutions are often considered business-confidential, and when these vendors are allowed to dictate the acquisition requirements, they unfairly deny other competitors free and equal opportunity. The denial of an open, free and fair competitive marketplace denies the Government the ability to acquire innovative and better performing solutions at a cheaper cost.
The challenge is to amend the way new solutions are acquired as an inseparable part of the 25 Point Plan and Shared Services First initiative. I recommend a change to the current acquisition process by asking the Government to develop requirements for standardized interface data sets and service definitions and make them crucial and critical components of the evaluation and selection of solutions as integral to the Shared Services First principles.
The emphasis on standardized data sets and service definitions that are publically available for fair and equal access by all respondents prior to a solicitation, should replace the Government’s practice of references to data formats and services specifications of previously acquired proprietary solutions as requirements.
The success of the 25 Point Plan and the Shared Services First initiative depends on the building blocks of its foundation.