EDS veteran returns to company's federal business

Valerie Lyons is proof that you can come home again - sort of. In late 1995 against the backdrop of the snowiest winter in recent history and the partial closure of the federal government Lyons left her job as vice president of sales and marketing for Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s Government Services unit to take a corporate sales post at EDS' Plano Texas headquarters.

Almost two years later in September Lyons returned to EDS' federal side as president of Government Services with responsibility for the company's civilian agency business. But Lyons also has returned to a market that has changed dramatically during her relatively brief hiatus. The past few months have seen the passage of the Information Technology Management and Reform Act the burgeoning of the General Services Administration schedule and the explosion of government purchasing vehicles from governmentwide acquisition contracts to blanket purchase agreements.

"The change in the government marketplace is exciting to me " Lyons said in a recent interview. "But coming back into it with a refreshed and different perspective it's chaotic. It represents both challenge and opportunity." One key change Lyons has noted in her second federal tour is the rapid pace of information technology procurement. The multitude of established vehicles allows agencies to "make a buying decision at light speed " she said.

In this fast-moving environment business has shifted toward BPAs and "smaller-scale" buys while the pipeline of large procurements has become lighter than in previous years she said. Another difference according to Lyons is the decentralization of federal purchasing with field operations making buying decisions. Lyons is now working out a federal business approach that takes these market trends into account. The nature of distributed purchasing for example means that EDS needs to maintain a sales and service capability outside the Capital Beltway.

She said she plans to evaluate the "cost of sales and how to deliver services differently." Another market difference can be measured in the size of business proposals. One of Lyons' tasks during her Plano job as director of sales leadership was to evaluate the best EDS proposals of the year. In the most recent competition she noted that commercial-sector proposals had grown voluminous while one federal proposal was a six-slide presentation - as opposed to the traditional tome. "[Federal and commercial sectors] have just absolutely traded " Lyons said.

Lyons said corporate managers have come to value the federally inspired formal bidding processes as promoting competition - hence the larger proposals. Conversely customer demand for higher service levels and an emphasis on return on investment - "things we were used to in the commercial world" - are making their mark in the federal sector Lyons said. Seat management which is the notion of outsourcing desktop acquisition and support is another new development for Lyons.

She said EDS is eyeing GSA's seat management deal and NASA's $1 billion Outsourcing Desktop Initiative. One constant in a shifting market however is the need for dialogue between government and industry Lyons said. When formal requests for proposals were the rule improving communication became a major cause for an IT industry stung by misunderstood requirements.

But "in an environment where change is occurring so fast the communication issue is even more important than it was then " Lyons said. "We have an obligation - both government and industry - in dealing with the dynamics of the market to make sure we are communicating with each other. The issue is `Do I fully understand the requirements of the customer?' " And in terms of addressing customers' needs Lyons' objective is to go beyond customer satisfaction and achieve "customer delight."

Lyons believes a service provider has to focus on the customer and that understanding a customer's business issues supersedes technology considerations. "Technology changes " she said. "If I'm focusing on technology I think I'm going to miss my opportunities." Communicating with customers and keeping them happy are perhaps transcendent business objectives. Lyons pointed out two other immutable factors that specifically relate to life in Washington: the colder-than-Plano fall temperatures and congestion on the Beltway. "I'd forgotten about the traffic " she said.

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