GSA preps three new business lines

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is gearing up to enter three new business areas, selling agencies technology tools for distance learning, call centers and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Marcella Banks, FTS' assistant regional administrator in GSA's Fort Worth,

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is gearing up to enter three new business areas, selling agencies technology tools for distance learning, call centers and enterprise resource planning (ERP).

Marcella Banks, FTS' assistant regional administrator in GSA's Fort Worth, Texas, office, said FTS is setting up offices to specialize in meeting agencies' requirements in each of the three areas. She said FTS personnel in those offices will act as consultants and resellers to help agencies select the correct solutions for their needs and to install them correctly.

Banks said that in many cases FTS will direct customers to existing contracts that offer these tools, such as GSA's federal supply schedule or contracts already awarded by other components of FTS. But she added that she expects to find "gaps" in the ability of existing contracts to meet agencies' growing needs in areas such as technology-enhanced learning. In those cases, FTS may award new contracts, she said.

"As soon as we get some people working on this full time, we will look at those gaps," Banks said. "I think there will be some new contracts."

Ron Williams, FTS' assistant regional administrator in GSA's Kansas City, Mo., office, said FTS also will rely on existing contracts for customers who are buying call center solutions. But he added that it is "very likely" that FTS will award multiple indefinite-delivery, indefinite-

quantity contracts for call center technology, an area in which he said the federal government spends about $2.5 billion a year.

Williams said additional contracts may be necessary to bring in companies that do not hold federal contracts or contracts with GSA.

In the area of technology-enhanced learning services and systems, FTS will field requirements ranging from finding a university or college that offers a specific course to providing a soup-to-nuts distance-learning solution.

FTS' call center offerings will include traditional call center equipment, such as automatic call distributors for routing calls and interactive response systems, as well as more advanced computer and telephony integration hardware and software. Those offerings also will cover call center outsourcing, support, maintenance and consultation services.

The ERP program, which FTS has been considering since the spring [FCW, April 26], would provide information technology products and services to agencies looking to automate financial, human resources and other core business areas.

Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates and a consultant to FTS on this effort, said the federal market for each of these three technology areas represents more than $1 billion. "Each of these three areas is a real blockbuster opportunity for FTS," Suss said. "Each one is an area where there has been a tremendous amount of success in applying technology in the corporate world."

Suss said the new business lines represent a change from the way the government normally acquires specific types of technology. He said agencies typically award contracts that amount to little more than catalogs listing a series of products and services. He noted that these contracts offer little in the way of guidance on how to buy the best solutions for particular requirements.

By contrast, he said, GSA's approach emphasizes tailoring technology solutions to the customer's functional requirements and buying from whatever contract best meets those needs.

"I think this represents a new focus on functional areas," Suss said. "Many other programs out there have been designed around particular contracts, but this is designed around functional areas."

Managers from throughout GSA will meet this week to discuss marketing and staffing plans for the three business lines, Banks said. She said FTS is prepared to begin offering the new services immediately, but it needs some additional time to begin marketing those services to federal users and to educate personnel about the new technology areas.

"We're going to have to hit the ground running and do some quick learning of our own," Banks said. "I'm not sure how much our people know about these areas at this point."

Williams said he hopes the call center program office will be in place before the end of the summer and will begin conducting business by the beginning of fiscal 2000.

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