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5/28/2010
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Gov 2.0: GSA Crowdsources Procurement With Wiki

The GSA BetterBuy pilot site wiki represents a culture change for government procurement, but shows promise for streamlining the process said assistant commissioner Mary Davie.

The wiki that the General Services Administration is piloting to engage more people in the government procurement process is slowly gaining momentum, said the executive in charge of the project.

Through a pilot website called BetterBuy launched a few months ago, the GSA is providing a wiki for vendors to provide feedback on acquisitions and suggest ways to improve the process. The wiki makes what was previously a rather closed process more open.

"This isn't a sea change, it's a culture change," said Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for assisted acquisition services at the GSA's Federal Acquisition Service.

Davie spoke about BetterBuy Thursday in a keynote at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, and later discussed the project with Informationweek.

Davie said there was some resistance to using BetterBuy at first for several reasons. She said people were hesitant to engage so freely about a process in a way they never had before and were daunted by the technology.

"It was everything from "How am I going to use the technology, I haven't done that before?' to 'This doesn't fit into my current business process,'" she said. "People were concerned that putting their effort into it isn't going to result in something beneficial."

However, she said BetterBuy is slowing winning over employees who are seeing the benefits of using a social media framework for discussing what has traditionally been a complex process.

Davie said Thursday she heard from one skeptic -- a contracting officer leading requirements on the wiki -- that BetterBuy had won her over.

"She wasn't really excited about it [at first] but said today, 'I've seen some results with this, I think I'm sold,'" Davie said.

The government acquisition process is currently time-consuming and inefficient for vendors and does not allow for interaction, and BetterBuy aims to remedy that.

"Whether you're on the government side or industry, the whole process tends to be complex, confusing and is quite challenging with the stuff that we're buying," Davie said. "It has become more and more complex."

Currently there are three acquisition projects being tested on the site. One project is for improving Data.gov's data storage and hosting capabilities and the other is for a project called "Clearpath," through which the government seeks technical infrastructure.

The third requirement of the wiki shows the GSA eating its own dog food; it's to help the GSA decide the best way to move its e-mail to the cloud, Davie said.

"We wanted people to give us some suggestions for our acquisition strategy," she said.

Davie said the GSA currently is "heavily invested" in Lotus Notes and is mulling alternatives such as cloud-based collaboration services from Google or Microsoft. No decision has been made so far, and the potential acquisition is still open on BetterBuy for debate.

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