After more than three years in the making, the Aug. 31, 2020 award of Information Technology Enterprise Solutions-Software (ITES-SW2) was a massive effort. Three years of working on developing a $13 billion 10-year program takes a lot of time, innovative thinking and collaboration.
A team of Army Contracting Command-Rock Island (ACC-RI) contracting professionals, led by Jill Sommer, then Procuring Contracting Officer (PCO) and current branch chief, and Charles Holliday, contract specialist, helped create an acquisition that supports Army, Department of Defense (DoD), all other federal agencies and Government contractors supporting those agencies to fulfill their IT infrastructure and infostructure goals. The contract does this by leveraging software products and the maintenance of software in 14 software categories as well as related incidental services and hardware.
The successful work on this acquisition is attributed to the enhanced relationships between involved parties.
Sommer, who has worked on the ITES-SW2 effort for several years, said an Integrated Planning Team (IPT) was established in July 2017, aligning the customer, contracting team, legal, pricing, policy and competition advocate. In March 2018, the IPT gathered face-to-face for a week of developing the strategy and developing working relationships that made the process easy after extensive market research was conducted.
“I think the most rewarding aspect was how well and how fluid this IPT worked together,” said Holliday. “There were no unnecessary hiccups other than the normal things that you go through in an acquisition, but they were met head-on and I was really impressed with our IPT. I’ve worked on various IPTs and they just were not as fluent as this one was.”
ITES-SW2 is the second iteration of this program; ITES-SW was the previous contract, awarded in 2015. It was created keeping in mind the mandate to use Computer Hardware, Enterprise Software and Solutions (CHESS) contracts for software and hardware, coupled with Product Lead (PL) CHESS’s deep analysis of Statement Of Non-Availability and Information Technology Approval System waiver requests required for Army to purchase outside of CHESS.
“CHESS realized there was a gap and took on the tasks and the steps to strategize for software contract solutions, so then came the creation of ITES-SW to fulfill a much needed gap,” said Sommer. “ITES-SW was a pilot program and awarded five years ago. The dollar value was only $49 million, supported Army only, and shared amongst three awardees.”
The program had such a high success rate, that only two years later, ACC-RI had to execute a class Justification for an Exception to Fair Opportunity to increase the ceiling by $130 million to $179 million.
“With the success of the ITES-SW pilot, we realized we needed a follow-on with greater reach – customers, magnitude, scope, and dollar value,” said Sommer.
The success in the program can be easily quantitated: ITES-SW had only four catalogs, three awardees, and a five year period of performance. ITES-SW2 supports 14 catalogs, 31 awardees, and has a 10 year period of performance.
“Additionally, ITES-SW only supported Army customers, now it’s open to Army, DoD, all other Federal Agencies, and Government Contractors supporting those Agencies,” said Sommer. “On the original, there was a $10,000 cap on ancillary items that were required to support the software, but now we have no cap and we opened it up for ancillary hardware and services.”
Once the need for an expanded program was determined and the IPT was set, the group conducted extensive market research including a Request for Information, industry days, one-on-one meetings, collaboration sessions with industry to get their advice on the best way to handle this requirement, and released a Draft Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP was released in August 2019, with the award in August 2020 using a hybrid source selection evaluation approach.
The team did employ some innovative contracting techniques, primarily via the use of waivers. This enabled them to deviate from certain things that helped streamline the process in procuring commercial software and to help small businesses as well.
For example, Sommer supported a PCO determination that under NAICS Code 511210 no small business manufacturers were capable of meeting the ITES-SW2 requirements, and this ultimately led to an approved SBA Individual Waiver to the Non-Manufacturing Rule. This waiver allows small businesses to provide software manufactured by large businesses, which ultimately gives the Ordering PCO the flexibility to conduct small business set-asides at the Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) order level.
Additionally, as stipulated by Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 219-705-4, a small disadvantaged business goal of less than 5% received approval. This conclusion was derived after lengthy industry exchange feedback, and in coordination with the U.S. Army Sustainment Command (ASC) Small Business Office, on the barriers and realistic nature of procuring commercial software.
“Our goal was to be fair with commercial practices and support industry partners both large and small while also following procedure and regulation,” said Sommer. “We believe this to be a win-win situation.”
The team was also successful in waiving the need for a Source Selection Advisory Council, all three phases of the Defense Pricing and Contracting Peer Review, as well the Senior Contracting Official-level Contract Review Board.
The reason the team was comfortable with pursuing so many waivers was the amount of legwork put into the market research phase, the use of lessons learned, a creative price evaluation, and well thought out evaluation factors done in collaboration by a highly motivated and dedicated IPT.
Holliday led the team of six contracting professionals conducting the past performance effort.
“We formed a team of individuals from ACC-RI and PL CHESS and we were able to give everybody a satisfactory passing factor for past performance,” said Holliday. “We had various entities within Rock Island that were absolutely instrumental to this award as well, mainly from legal, pricing, as well as competition advocate and we had Stephanie James assist us from the very beginning, from the Source Selection Support Center of Excellence (S3COE) – a pre award source selection team that ACC-RI had formed to help us initially.”
Sommer said the creative price evaluation required a lot of collaboration with industry.
“Ultimately, we came up with the software catalogs, which were based upon depth and breadth, so an apples to apples evaluation was not possible,” said Sommer. “Because of this, we had to develop a unique price evaluation approach. At the conclusion of the acquisition and all things considered, no protests were received.”
The foundation of ITES-SW2 has a great impact on everyday users, as technology needs are met in a simplified no-fee environment enabling a technical refresh process that is both robust and timely, as well as providing the opportunity for small business set-asides at the order level. The acquisition also has great impact on governmental cost savings and addresses acquisition reform.
“This acquisition was a main enabler in supporting the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) Category Management: Improving the Acquisition and Management of Common Information Technology: Software Licensing,” said Sommer. “This is the first capabilities-focused vs brand name software IDIQ contract. For example, it supports centralization, common terms and conditions, no usage fee, and since it is capabilities-focused, we expect this to strengthen competition among software publishers.”
It also aligns with OMB’s Best In Class (BIC) criteria.
“We will be applying for BIC, but since we awarded in August 2020 and opened ordering in October 2020, we do not have enough information at the moment,” said Sommer. “This is yet another indicator of future cost savings.”
Lastly, ITES-SW2 has a positive impact on supply chain risk management, as it is an enabler of comprehensive Army data due to our robust contract reporting.
“The Army will be able to react quickly and confidently concerning the supply chain risk management due to the level of data collected,” said Sommer.
The impact the contracting process had on many involved workforce members cannot be understated. Sommer said there is a long list of teammates from ACC-RI, ASC and PL CHESS that were part of making the process so successful.
For example, a few interns were members of the Source Selection Evaluation Board; it was used as a developmental assignment for one employee; several interns gained experience in market research, pricing efforts; systems, legal; while acquisition quality staff were brought in for their expertise; and five contract specialists assisted Holliday toward the end of the process to assist in writing 31 contracts and 31 delivery orders in order to meet the Aug. 30, 2020 award date.
“A major success I see from this lengthy acquisition are the opportunities that led to employees’ growth, enabling many of our teammates to acquire a new skillset, and that is something I am really proud of,” said Sommer.