Is a Defense Digital IT Marketplace on the Horizon?

Published: January 20, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisAcquisition ReformAdministration TransitionContracting TrendsDEFENSEGSAInformation Technology

Digital IT marketplaces are opening across the Department of Defense.

Key Takeaways

  • One-stop shopping portals for defense IT customers are becoming more common.
  • Significant growth in the Technology Modernization Fund might result in the creation of a defense digital marketplace.

Last week’s post outlined the new cloud policy published by the Navy Chief Information Officer. That policy includes mention of a new Naval Digital Marketplace as the central portal for mission owners to purchase cloud services and capabilities. The idea of a digital marketplace is not new. Readers will recall that the General Services Administration stood up its Federal Marketplace for IT in 2019 and way back in 2016 the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) created a Cloud Services Catalog that it never released details on publicly. Now word comes from Deputy CIO Lauren Knausenberger that the Air Force is building a so-called “21st Century IT Store” which will enable Service members to purchase the computing hardware and software they need from a centralized portal. Neither the Army nor the 4th Estate’s burgeoning shared IT services provider, DISA, has announced marketplace initiatives similar to those recently started by the Navy and Air Force, but how far off can they be if other parts of the Department of Defense have success with their marketplace/catalog approaches to delivering IT?

The DOD may be aided in its effort by the incoming administration, which is proposing to increase the GSA-administered Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to $9B. In addition, the new administration would like to see changes to the TMF's reimbursement structure “in order to fund more innovative projects.” This language suggests that TMF funding, if increased to the level proposed, could be used for emerging technology projects. Think Robotic Process Automation in this context. This said, could the establishment of an enterprise IT portal approach for the DOD also be in the cards? After all, the department has tried for years to centralize the purchasing of IT hardware and services into specific contract vehicles such as the Air Force’s NETCENTS and the Army’s ITES. What if department leadership simply provided a portal similar to Amazon or Wal-Mart that mission owners could use to acquire any number of IT services or capabilities at the click of a mouse?

Developing such a Defense Digital Marketplace could have the effect of eliminating numerous contracts providing IT services and supplies to DOD customers. The appeal to taxpayers is obvious. If DOD can eliminate millions of dollars in duplicative IT spending by consolidating the purchase of IT into a central portal why wouldn’t it? The policy environment is slowly evolving in this direction, too, as the DOD makes ever greater use of GSA’s Category Management approach. Finally, if the stand-up of a digital marketplace by the Navy is indicative of the success that department is having in its transition to a cloud first environment, it suggests the rest of DOD might not be far behind.

Multiple trends on multiple fronts, from contract consolidation and acquisition reform, to technology evolution and recognition of the success logged by the TMF at several civilian agencies, appear to be converging on the potential development of a digital marketplace approach for the DOD. With a new administration now acknowledging a need for even greater use of the TMF for IT modernization by suggesting a massive 3600% increase in the available funding, how far behind can initiatives like a digital marketplace be?