July 6, 2005

GSA: “Tell us if you’re open”

According to FCW, GSA wants vendors on their Schedule 70 contract to "identify  the open standards their products support." This is a fantastic idea. If you’ve ever reviewed a vendor’s GSA Schedule contract, you’ll know that picking apart the specifications of what’s being offered is pretty difficult. The need for open standards compliance is high-level enough to warrant mentioning in the contract, unlike many specifications that the government may like to search contracts for, and it’s encouraging that government wants to identify products with this quality. However, I have three questions:

  1. I haven’t seen anything from GSA on this. All I’ve seen or heard is this FCW article. Under what directive or instruction is GSA urging vendors to put effort into this?
  2. GSA contracts are complicated beasts. Are there any instructions on how vendors should include this data in their contracts?
  3. Will GSA contracting officers and their COTRs actually use this information? Or is this just something that someone at GSA thinks might be useful and believes the vendor community should provide because we’re nice people?

FCW’s article has an interesting quote from Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions:

"For
most software platforms, [vendors] want to be interoperable with the
products they want to be interoperable with, [and not with] their
competitors," he said. "They’re not against us, they’re just for
themselves."

While I agree with Mr. Mather that many vendors will feel conflicted by GSA’s request for this information, concerns about interoperability are likely to lead to blind alleys for software vendors. Interoperability is at the heart of the modern architectures. Protect what is uniquely valuable that only your product can provide but don’t be so obnoxious as to believe that your product can fulfill all needs.