AF to offer records tools governmentwide

The Air Force soon plans to add electronic records management (ERM) software from three vendors to a governmentwide software and services contract and is reviewing whether to choose one product for servicewide deployment.

The addition to the Air Force's Integrated Computer-Aided Software Engineering (I-CASE) contract, held by Logicon Inc., would offer federal agencies the first broad-based vehicle from which to purchase a package of ERM software, training, integration and other support services. Having such a contract in place could make it easier for agencies to install these systems, which officials complain are hard to integrate with existing applications and require extensive training.

"There's definitely a need for some vehicles out there," said Charley Barth, leading-edge services manager under the Navy's chief information officer. Although the products, from Provenance Systems Inc., Tower Software Corp. and PSSoftware Solutions Ltd., are available on the General Services Administration Schedule, I-CASE would offer pre-negotiated discounts on licenses. Being able to buy a set of services as well "would definitely be a draw," he said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force could become the first agency to commit to an extensive installation of a single ERM application, which would pave the way for a DOD-wide license potentially covering 365,000 users.

"That would be a major development if that happened because it would give the Air Force vastly better control over software upgrades, it would give them an enormous advantage in leaning on the vendor for changes to meet their needs, and it would significantly reduce their total cost of ownership, which is the big thing they're trying to do," said Richard Barry, a consultant who advises government agencies on electronic recordkeeping issues.

All Defense agencies and offices are required to deploy electronic recordkeeping software by this fall, but so far installations have been limited to a few users. Civilian agencies, with no such mandate, have been piloting ERM software, and none have chosen to adopt it agencywide.

"You can't force people to buy things if they can't afford it," said Burt Newlin, a computer specialist who is in charge of the DOD Records Management Program. However, he said, "we're trying to get things moving" by getting ERM products on a contract in time for DOD agencies to use year-end funds to buy them.

The Air Force Communications and Information Center, which is in charge of the Air Force's records management strategy, is studying whether a servicewide deployment of a single package makes sense and how such a deployment would be funded, said Toy Robinson, who is in charge of procurement for the Air Force Standard Systems Group, Gunter Air Force Base, Ala.

Robinson said no other DOD services or agencies would be required to use software the Air Force selects but added that they could take advantage of whatever deal the Air Force makes.

Whether the availability of ERM software through I-CASE will fuel the sluggish market is unclear. "We see a fair amount of demand and interest in the product, but it's fairly difficult to put a dollar figure on that," said Vince Steckler, vice president for application solutions with Logicon.

"I suspect we still have to go out to sell to individual commands," said Dave Gibbard, president of PSSoftware. "At least it's a blessing by the Air Force on the process."

John Paul Deley, records officer with the Federal Trade Commission, noted that none of the ERM products on the market offer complete solutions, and agencies need funding and records management policies in place to be able to use them.

"These [products] are hammers," he said. "They're not going to build the house any faster. We still need to know how to use the hammers."

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