Survey: Feds undecided about seat management

Few federal information-technology managers say they plan to use two recently awarded, high-profile desktop outsourcing contracts, according to a survey released last week.

About 15 percent of federal managers said they planned to use desktop outsourcing contracts— specifically the General Services Administration's Seat Management or NASA's Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN)— while 37 percent said they would not use the contracts, according to a survey conducted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM).

The majority of respondents, 48 percent, said they were undecided about whether to use the seat management contracts, which call on vendors to take full responsibility for equipping and managing agencies' desktop systems. More than half who replied said they would consider using seat management in pilot tests.

Seat Management, an estimated $9 billion contract awarded to eight companies last month, and ODIN, a pact estimated to be worth up to $13 billion and awarded to seven vendors in June, are billed as revolutionizing the way agencies buy and manage IT on the desktop. The contracts will permit agencies to hand vendors the responsibility for everything from buying computers to maintaining and providing support.

Bob Golas, director of business development for civilian agencies at Oracle Corp. and leader of the AFFIRM team that conducted the survey, said the survey proves seat management is viable for federal agencies.

"There appears to be a wait-and-see attitude," Golas said at a meeting of AFFIRM members last week. "Some of the respondents said we need to see more government experience.... There was a real question as to whether or not [the contracts] could generate savings."

Charlie Self, assistant commissioner of GSA's Office of Information Technology Integration, said he believed agencies have no basis for their concerns that a seat management solution cannot save them money. He said most agencies do not know how much they are spending to manage desktop systems.

"If you can show me a federal manager who really knows what his cost is per seat, I'll buy you lunch and dinner for the next two years," Self told the audience.

Bob Welch, director of acquisition management at the Commerce Department, said cost is not an issue he would consider. "I will pay anything to get my PCs working right and to get everybody on the same version of [Corel Corp.'s] WordPerfect or Microsoft [Corp.'s] Word," he said.

But Welch said he was concerned about other potential obstacles. For example, he said it was unclear how these contracts would deal with security issues or issues of who would be accountable when systems fail.

Analyst John Okay, senior vice president for telecommunications and special studies at Federal Sources Inc., said the AFFIRM study shows that GSA, NASA and its contractors will have to educate seat management customers on how they can benefit.

"They have a job to do helping agencies understand what seat management is and how it can help them," Okay said.

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