Seat management still unproven

Five years from now, the General Services Administration and NASA may be viewed as pioneers in federal information technology management for leading the push into desktop outsourcing. But that is not the case yet.

In desktop outsourcing— frequently called seat management— federal agencies turn over their computers and networks to private contractors, who handle everything from buying and maintaining the technology to providing support services. Ideally, such an approach saves agencies both the cost and hassle of managing the desktops themselves.

GSA and NASA have created governmentwide seat management programs, and each agency has plans to be among the early adopters. But they appear to be far in front of the pack. For a large variety of reasons, many other agency executives have said they are not ready to adopt this approach. In some cases, agencies are concerned about adding a level of bureaucracy to their management staff. Other organizations simply do not see the need to rush into unexplored territory, and they are waiting to see if seat management delivers the results vendors promise.

While a wait-and-see attitude is not the stuff that revolutions are made of, agencies may be prudent to approach seat management with caution. Early adopters of desktop outsourcing have found it is often more costly than they anticipated. In addition, the strategy complicates already-sticky liability issues. For example, if an application fails, who is responsible? The contractor managing the environment, the contractor that developed the application or the agency?

These obstacles are not insurmountable, but no one is offering any quick fixes either. Eventually, seat management may prove to dramatically improve the government's management of its IT resources. But it will take time for agencies to learn how to take advantage of this new approach, to push out the boundaries and avoid the pitfalls.

Until then, we applaud GSA and NASA for championing a new procurement vehicle for government and paving the way for other agencies, in good time, to follow.

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