What it will take to make carriers bullish on EIS

Telecommunications service providers hope agencies don't play safe with EIS and instead lean on them for help with next generation services.

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This story was updated with a correction on Aug. 8.

As federal agencies move to the General Services Administration's recently awarded $50 billion telecommunications contract, carriers who will supply services under it hope agencies reach a little bit with their plans to move from their old telecommunications contracts.

"We hope agencies transform" their telecommunications operations and "not just dust off" their old plans from Networx, the last federal telecom contract, Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes Network Systems told FCW in an interview. Hughes is a subcontractor to Level 3, which was one of the 10 primes awarded contracts under the GSA's Enterprise Infrastructure Services  contract.

Bardo said his company and partners would welcome agencies giving them their network basics and allowing them to craft technological solutions.

"We're hoping the RFPs [from agencies] say, 'Here are our locations, SLAs [service level agreements], performance characteristics and the addresses for our locations. Industry -- use your expertise,'" he said.

Bill Zelinski, deputy assistant commissioner for GSA's Federal Acquisition Service's IT category management said in remarks to reporters after the June 31 contract award that agencies and carriers are now engaged in the nitty-gritty work to move agency networks and facilities over to the new contract.

Zielinski described two kinds of transitions agencies could consider. The first, he said, would be a "like for like" -- a simple move from one service to a similar service under EIS. The other would entail a "modernization" approach by an agency looking to jump forward technologically, he said.

Carriers are hoping agencies aren't shy about trying a more challenging approach.

"We hope agencies don't dust of their 'fair opportunity' notices from 10 years ago," said Bardo, using the term for agencies' initial notice on what they're looking to do with the new contract.

Technology, he said, has skipped far ahead since then. Fair opportunity notices were treated very differently under Networx, he warned. "They were preconfigured for [multi protocol label switching]," he said. MPLS isn't obsolete, but new technology, such as software-defined networking is opening up new capabilities.

Agencies have all submitted their transition plans to GSA, but some are better than others, according to Zielinski.

Some of the contract awardees are looking to help agencies firm up their capability to find and inventory exactly what they have on their networks.

MetTel officials said in an interview with FCW that it's planning on addressing both the "like-for-like" and innovative transition approaches agencies may have in mind.

For the first, MetTel federal practice leader Diana Gowen said, the company has a service that offers a detailed inventory of an agency's network that can provide a starting point for what needs to be transitioned.

In addition, Gowen said MetTel can provide SDN services that can allow an agency to leap to next-generation services. SDN, she said, could allow a smaller agency with hundreds of remote offices to easily push out digital services to them. The Marine Corp. Recruiting Command, which has hundreds of small offices in small shopping centers across the country, she said, could ideally use SDN WAN services to "digitally transform their operations."

"We've been impressed by the number of RFIs that have already been issued by agencies in advance of the EIS award," said Kevin King, director of corporate communications for Verizon Enterprise Solutions in a statement to FCW.

"GSA did a remarkable job reaching out to prospective vendors on EIS to gather feedback on proposals and work with industry to ensure an effective solicitation.  Our advice to agencies is start early and actively solicit feedback from industry to help ensure the final RFP addresses the spirit of the agency's need," King said.

The contract winners are also preparing for the first opportunities to appear from agencies.

For instance, not all the EIS winners got the geographic areas they were after. GSA required all participants to bid on the top 25 of the more than 300 Core Based Statistical Areas in the U.S. to qualify for the contract. Those CBSAs roughly correspond to metropolitan areas, city and towns in the U.S.

Just after EIS winners were announced, Zielinski said that in many instances, awardees got the exact CBSAs that they wanted, but in two instances, they didn't, but he didn't specify those vendors.

However, the contract allows providers to see exactly where their efforts didn't match up in the area and use that information to bring their efforts in line, then file a contract modification to get back into it.

Additionally, the companies have a year to get their network backend support systems -- such as those for centralized billing and ordering processes --  finalized, in place and approved by GSA.

Verizon is preparing test plans required to pass business support systems verification, King said. "We also understand the importance of securing government data, so we're finalizing [system security plan] documentation and preparing to support GSA security, assessment and authorization activities," he said.

Correction: MetTel is working with the Marine Corps Recruiting Command and not the Army, as was originally reported in this story.

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