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USDA, GSA accelerating Centers of Excellence efforts by releasing 6 RFQs

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The Agriculture Department kicked off the much-anticipated phase two of the Centers of Excellence initiative by releasing six solicitations on July 30.

USDA and the General Services Administration, which is acting as the acquisition and technical support for the five areas, want a quick turnaround of responses by Aug. 10, and are planning for oral presentations for the cloud and infrastructure CoE between Aug. 20 and 31.

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USDA and GSA issued the request for quotes for four of the five CoEs through GSA’s eBuy platform and the fifth CoE, for contact centers, through the Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract. Additionally, USDA issued a RFQ for support services for its business modernization office.

“Two weeks is a pretty short turnaround time,” said one industry source, who requested anonymity because they work with contractors to bid on the RFQs. “People knew it was coming but industry is still scrambling to get responses in.”

In each of the RFQs, which Federal News Radio obtained from industry because they were posted on eBuy, which is inaccessible to the public, USDA and GSA outline the scope of the work for each RFQ as well as the length of the contracts, each will last no more than two years and six months.

Mike Hettinger, the managing principal of the Hettinger Strategy Group, said there are concerns about the quick turnaround.

“While the industry days that GSA and USDA held on the COEs were interesting and well attended, they did not get to the level of detail necessary to be ready for a solicitation of this size and complexity,” he said. “In my opinion, a draft RFQ, with a 30-day comment period, would have helped everyone get their arms around what was expected. For a solicitation of this level of strategic importance, I think it’s more important to get it right than to get it done quickly.”

The White Housed rolled out the CoE approach in December with USDA being the first, or “lighthouse” agency.

The CoEs would focus on five areas of IT modernization:

  • Cloud adoption
  • IT infrastructure optimization
  • Customer experience
  • Service delivery analytics
  • Contact centers

USDA and GSA’s Technology Transformation Service kicked off phase one of the program in March with four awards to provide planning and strategy support services to the five areas.

These six RFQs constitute the implementation phase of the CoE initiative. GSA and USDA said in June it planned to award as many as eight contracts by the end of fiscal 2018.

Al Munoz, the GSA contracting officer for the CoE effort, said at June’s industry day, “Everything is on the table as far as vendors and ideas. We want to cast a wide net where there is the highest concentration of quality vendors.”

Quick turnaround on solicitations

Another industry source said some vendors were surprised that USDA and GSA chose Schedule 70 and Alliant for all the task orders.

“Companies set teams on the vehicles based on what they were told at industry day so when you have a quick two-week turnaround, it’s tougher. I think all the procurements are open and everyone is looking at them, but they are short term contracts,” the source said. “That is not what we recommended. USDA needs to think about what’s next beyond these contracts because they are only two years. But it also gives them an out if it’s not working so they don’t have huge commitment.”

The cloud and infrastructure RFQ is among the most expansive and likely constitutes the most expensive effort among the five.

USDA and GSA plan to make multiple awards across four areas of effort:

  • Application or Content Rehosting
  • Application and System Replatforming
  • DevSecOps Resources to support CPS and future Refactoring
  • Cloud Platform Services (CPS) Organization Support

The RFQ states USDA is “creating a pool of awardees with the capability and skills to migrate applications, to appropriate cloud environments as well as USDA’s internal National Information Technology Center (NITC) enterprise data center. This acquisition will provide USDA with an enterprisewide vehicle of expertise and capabilities for modernizing and migrating a portfolio of over 1,000 applications, across ~20 data centers, all by end of fiscal 2019. Rather than enforce a single ‘landing zone’ or assume that all applications can be fulfilled by a single provider, a catalogue of multiple services will makeup USDA’s cloud and infrastructure portfolio.”

USDA says it plans to consolidate down to two enterprise data centers by 2019.

Data lake expansion

Under the data analytics RFQ, USDA and GSA want a vendor to improve upon the initial data analytics capability Agriculture developed this year. It launched an Amazon Web Services-based data lake that provided an information dashboard for CxOs. USDA also established a data governance structure and began developing catalog data, applications and feedback tools for future initiatives.

“The objective of this procurement is to develop and enhance: USDA data and analytics communities of practice, data and analytics collaboration tools and to provide change management expertise,” the RFQ states. “The strategies and policies that are implemented as a result of this work will lead to long term sustainable analytics practices and data driven decision making capacity within USDA.”

USDA and GSA detailed 11 areas of work under the contract, including developing a data and analytics maturity model and score USDA programs, agencies and mission areas; updating and applying the USDA Data and Analytics CoE Playbook to at least 10 USDA agencies, expected to be completed by October 2018; and creating and managing at least five public facing competitions and at least one hackathon around data at USDA.

Under the customer experience RFQ, USDA and GSA want vendors to assist with the planning of or working on digital development efforts to apply human-centered-design to focus on customer’s needs.

As part of this effort, the contractor will establish and operate a CX Digital Support Service team to work under the CoE and USDA.

“The CX Digital Support Service will develop and apply resources, tools, training, measurement instruments and best practices throughout USDA to modernize and integrate with IT development efforts,” the RFQ states. “The CX Digital Support Service team will also design a coherent measurement framework that prioritizes innovation for continuous improvement.”

The scope of the work is straightforward:

  • Deliver customer experience (CX) strategy into all new projects
  • Embed CX methods into USDA’s agile implementation efforts
  • Assist the government to stand up a CX Digital Support Service Team

Martha Dorris, CEO of Dorris Consulting, said all of the procurements reinforce the agency’s OneUSDA mission.

“There is a voice of the customer. All the program management office requirements and the contact center will all help improve how customers contact the agency through phone, email and they are adding channels to their contact center capabilities,” Dorris said. “In the long run, all of this will make them more efficient to have tier one agents answer tier one calls and more difficult calls going to subject matter experts.”

Managing culture change

Finally, USDA released a fourth RFQ on eBuy for help turning the CoE program management office into a business modernization office (BMO).

“The objective of the CoE business modernization office is to bring the CoEs together, by coordinating strategic vision and project delivery, to ensure program and stakeholder coordination, strategic alignment, organizational change management, effective decision making and risk mitigation mechanisms, and ultimately successful CoE deliveries,” the RFQ states. “The BMO will assist the CoE in ensuring sustainability of modernization efforts by positioning USDA to take over the modernization efforts from the CoE through activities, such as re-skilling, organizational design, and transition activities.”

The RFQ’s scope includes five areas of work such as program management services, organizational change management services to obtain buy-in across the agency and re-skilling services to provide opportunities for USDA OCIO staff to assume the roles, responsibilities, and momentum initiated by the CoE.