Commerce to buy IT more strategically

Friday - 6/17/2011, 5:52pm EDT

Simon Szykman, CIO, Commerce speaking with WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Commerce Department is shifting how it buys commodity information technology.

Simon Szykman, the Commerce Department's chief information officer, said he wants to centralize the buying structure through strategic sourcing for technologies such as storage, email and other commonly used technologies.

"The Commerce Department's chief financial officer made a commitment to save $50 million next year through the use of strategic sourcing," Szykman said after a recent conference. "The strategic sourcing initiative is not all IT, but we plan to spend less on commodity IT."

He said Commerce also will look at office supplies, shipping and professional services, but IT plays a big role.

"The government is going to need to buy IT to support its mission. Some programs may shrink and go away, but there will be new programs and priorities," Szykman said. "We plan on spending less for the unit things we are buying when it comes down to commodities. [Vendors] have to be aggressive on pricing. People have to be willing to look at larger volumes and be willing to offer better pricing."

Szykman said the $50 million goal is a stretch goal set by outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. He said there are several different areas that his office will explore for savings, including hardware, software and services.

"The ones we are looking at first are the ones that are most ubiquitous, so that includes PCs and monitors, printers, copiers, faxes and those types of managed printing services, and wireless phones, devices and cell phone plans," he said. The General Services Administration recently kicked off a strategic sourcing effort around wireless plans. It released a request for information through its BetterBuy wiki in April.

Szykman said Commerce currently is doing its own analysis of wireless devices and plans in preparation to moving to a strategic sourcing effort - whether through GSA or done internally.

"We need to do a deep analysis of our overall spend in these areas," he said. "We are doing a lot of analysis now. We are doing planning. You need to understand what standard configurations you want to be purchasing. Right now we are at the stage where we are really focused on understanding our internal needs, developing baselines and developing requirements."

Commerce's analysis includes performing asset management assessment and a review of historical spending, which is most difficult because of the decentralized purchasing that has gone on over the years across the department.

But strategic sourcing is just one element of a larger acquisition reform effort across Commerce.

Szykman said he's also looking at expanding the use of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's IT services contract, NOAA Link, across the entire department.

"There are a variety of challenges [to expanding NOAALink]," he said. "Some of them are culture and some of them are in fact potentially legal processes that we need to put in place the right memorandum of agreements and then we also have to do a fair analysis on the impact of small businesses of doing some of these type of things."

Szykman said the discussion around NOAALink is an example of how the budget pressures every agency is facing are bringing a greater collaboration among CIOs.

He said the larger bureaus want to make available their contracts and technologies to the smaller bureaus, and more bureaus are partnering on acquisitions and services.

"There's a lot more emphasis on squeezing out the inefficiencies," Szykman said. "Every dollar that can be saved is now effectively becoming a dollar that may not be something that has to be cut out of programs. So there's a lot more pressure to find and eliminate inefficiencies."

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