FTS considers adding ERP services program

In an effort to expand its range of services, the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is close to launching a program to provide information technology products and services to agencies looking to install enterprise resource planning systems to automate financial, human resources and other core business functions.

The ERP program would be managed by the newly created Financial Management Systems Service Center, which provides acquisition consulting services to agencies looking into procuring financial systems. Because these systems are a large part of the integrated ERP packages, the FMSSC is leading the development of a program to help agencies buy ERP software and services, according to the agency.

More and more commercial businesses are using full-fledged ERP systems, and the systems themselves finally have come into their own, said Abby Pirnie, assistant commissioner for strategic planning and business development at FTS.

As agencies are continually facing downsizing and the loss of IT, contracting and financial talent, the FMSSC plans to be a hub of expertise for agencies. FMSSC is part of the FTS Office of Information Technology Integration (ITI).

"Most of the leading providers in this area...all have similar centers," said Dave Hofferberth, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group, Boston. "The centers help expedite the [implementation] process and probably help save millions of dollars."

The center has met with vendors and agencies to discuss what ERP products and services would be useful to them. The center also has raised the possibility of pilots and a technology center where vendors can demonstrate products to federal customers.

To provide all the tools agencies need to make their decisions about ERP systems, the office may leverage existing contracts or may create a separate vehicle.

FTS expects to make a decision on its ERP program within a month.

FTS explored ERP as part of a larger review of its services. The agency hired a firm to identify areas of interest and then assembled task forces to coordinate the evaluation and development of each area.

In addition to ERP, FTS is looking at setting up programs focused on distance learning, which involves computer-based training, and call centers, which connect phone systems to the IT infrastructure. These areas, FTS believes, are beginning to move fully into the federal consciousness.

"It's necessary, and it's in keeping with the mission of FTS to be looking for emerging agency interest and identifying areas where there is need for support," said John Okay, former deputy commissioner of FTS and now a private consultant on government IT.

FTS also is defining a strategy for "new-technology-oriented business lines" that will allow new vendors to enter a contract with technologies that were not available at the time of award, according to Charles Self, assistant commissioner of ITI.

Several contracts have run into problems with emerging technology, including the Federal Wireless Telecommunications Services contract. Since FTS awarded that contract in 1997, the agency has had to create more than a dozen contracts for new technologies that have come along, Self said.

To avoid such problems in the future, new business areas and contracts are going to be carefully chosen and crafted, Self said. "We want to focus on those technical areas where we can continue to bring in new vendors as the market and technology changes," he said.

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