Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

IT operations are becoming as critical as electric power, and the missions many federal agencies run on IT mean that reliability can have life and death implications.  Reducing the risk of performance issues is one reason agency procurements heavily weight past performance in their competitions.  They want to see that an offeror has been delivering similar services with similar scale environments. Unfortunately, choosing IT support service (ITSS) contractors on the basis of past performance runs the risk of perpetuating the old model of IT services.

Large IT environments have for decades been on in-house infrastructure, managed by fragmented tools, operated in silos, and maintained by large numbers of personnel.  The fact we don’t see many (actually, we don’t know of any) federal agencies operating their entire data centers as a FedRAMP cloud service is a good indicator that most agencies’ IT is still run in a similar fashion.  Therefore, the firms that have operated these are inherently steeped in this model.  Their methodologies, tools, the experience of their personnel, all their processes are based on this old model.  By definition, their references, however excellent they may be, prove they reliably and efficiently run IT according to the old model.  And they are invested – literally (their personnel, processes, pricing, and systems) – in using this model.  To undertake a radically different – IT as a Service/cloud-based – model, they would have to abandon what has previously made them successful.

In fact, we know of some who are abandoning the old way and enabling the new way – firms like Hygeia Solutions Partners.  These firms are partnering with cloud services, like ServiceNow, AWS, and IBM SoftLayer, to automate IT services and deliver from FedRAMP clouds.  Some of the leopards are actually changing their spots.  But the problem remains: an agency needs to balance their weighting of past performance with criteria that indicate the contractor will transform the environment even as he operates it.

Past performance may be the best indicator of low risk and reliability.  So use past performance, but also require the bidders to propose how they will transform operations to the ITaaS model.  The evaluation team should be able to understand their approach, project plan, and milestones for transforming the methods by which their services, and proposed service levels for the agency, are to be delivered. Have bidders show this in both the technical and price volumes of their proposals, with the latter including traceability of transformation milestones to price changes downward by year.  In this way, the agency can choose reliable providers with a detailed approach for transforming-while-operating.