Private/public deals pave way for seat management

Seat management, the outsourcing of desktop systems and services that has been successfully employed in the private sector, has now become available in the public sector. While many are quick to believe that all good business concepts originate in the commercial world, I contend that the federal government has long excelled in a key aspect of any seat management solution: business partnership. As such, agency managers should have less trouble than their private counterparts incorporating the shift in desktop management.

The federal government has long relied on the private sector to provide the many products and services that keep the government running year in and year out. Information technology has become a critical support activity— and in some cases a dominant activity— in the mission of many government organizations. Therefore, IT should offer a good opportunity to outsource work to the private sector.

Yet many government managers are hesitant to consider partnering with the private sector to provide IT services, in part because they are concerned about losing direct control of their desktop infrastructure and about protecting sensitive data.

The private sector has had a difficult time in the past 20 years forging the intimate business partnerships that enabled it to focus on its core competencies. Although you can often read about productivity increases brought about by outsourcing government work to the private sector, you rarely read about the gut-wrenching change caused by relying on a third party and the monumental risks that companies took by betting their survival on the performance of a business partner.

For once, government IT managers should have it easier than their private-sector counterparts when introducing new management initiatives. Of course, agencies have to work hard to establish the day-to-day working details of any partnership with business, but because government managers have been forging similar relationships for years, agencies should have little trouble restructuring their organizations to rely on the private sector to provide products and services. What is new about seat management, however, is that it will be applied to IT, an area in which government has had little outsourcing experience.

Although the Federal Acquisition Regulation may not be the best example of a public/private partnership, its existence is evidence of an immense effort to codify the business relationship between the public and private sectors. The FAR is also a testament to government experience and expertise in managing the public/private relationship. This relationship is unique, and its character does not exist in transactions between companies in the private sector. In the private sector, business relationships support strategic objectives but may be affected by factors such as corporate take-overs, management changes and quarterly earnings reports from either company. In the public/private partnership, the government's public service mission is enduring and consistent, offering a solid foundation for engagement by private-sector seat management vendors.

Federal managers have a definite advantage over their commercial counterparts. Federal managers are experienced at partnering with the private sector, and because government is not faced with competition, the risk of trying seat management does not threaten the government's survival. These factors should ensure a successful launch and produce strong growth in the seat management segment of the federal IT market.

-- James is vice president for communications and information infrastructure at Litton/PRC Inc.

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