In the months leading up to the end of September, known as federal buying season, the federal government works to allocate any remaining money in its budget before the fiscal year ends. Money that is not spent will be taken away from the following year’s budget. As we approach this year’s federal buying season, we sat down with Panasonic’s Michelle Chapin, Senior Director of Government Acquisition, Capture & Bids to learn about the latest trends and concerns affecting government decision makers as they evaluate purchases for their technology and IT needs.
Q: What trends are you seeing this buying season that are different from last season?
Michelle Chapin: Many things have changed versus last year. One of which is LPTA (Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable) seems to be more prevalent and I’m not sure that the government contracting officers are really considering the effects of this long term. Short term, could be a perceived savings—but long term, will the device last? And do you have service and support for it? With tighter budgets and smaller appropriated funding, agencies need to ensure technology devices last. Some of the recent changes are associated with GWAC (Government-wide Acquisition Contracts) or IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity) contracts and requirements now for LPTA. The budget constraints of recent years and efforts to reduce spending has created some new requirements, but the lowest cost option isn’t always the best option. While fiscal responsibility is important, the old saying you get what you pay for really rings true here. When we’re talking about DoD contracts in particular, durability and reliability are critical to insure that the mission objectives are met and the lowest cost option may not deliver the performance and reliability needed. If the mobile computing technology the government is investing in doesn’t meet these requirements and they are having to replace devices after a year or two, then the new LPTA language that is now written into bids, may be costing agencies more in the long run. And beyond specs, part of the decision process should be about value and long-term total cost of ownership of a device to ensure agencies are getting the best ROI for every dollar spent.
On the federal side they often list certain requirements for vendors. An agency may say “rugged” in a bid but that can be a vague term. Many manufacturers use the term rugged but it’s often difficult for the average person to know what the specific requirements are and what questions they should ask to be able to truly evaluate rugged devices. Every person or use case doesn’t need the most rugged device but vendors need to be able to substantiate their rugged claims and provide data and failure rates and documentation that backs up our rugged and reliability claims. We go a step further by giving customers a letter of commitment stating that our product is not going to fail and the immediate steps we will take if an issue occurs. We’re also seeing new trends when it comes to acquisition. Usually the acquisition process is run by CIOs and contracting officers of that specific government agency, but now the GSA is playing a larger role. There is more oversight now than there has been in years past for federal acquisition. There seems to be too much involvement from other facets, than truly the agency running the procurement.
Q: A couple of years ago we were dealing with sequestration. Are there any lingering effects from that situation, and if so what are they?
Michelle Chapin: Yes, we still see some lingering effects. Budgets are “use it or lose it” – so while people are a little more cautious about spending they realize they could lose their budgets if they don’t use them. With the upcoming change in administration and many changes overall, those that manage the projects and funding are striving to get things done quickly. There is no predictor on what the next few months will hold and there are more changes to come for sure. No one knows if another round of sequestration is imminent, but now agencies are more aware of that possibility and are striving to prepare for it if it does happen again.
In the next post, we’ll talk with Michelle about trends in form factor and device features this buying season. For information about Panasonic’s rugged Toughbook and Toughpad devices, visit the Panasonic website.