FTS to offer financial management systems help

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service is another step closer to GSA's vision of offering more solutions that meet agency needs, offering a specialized service center to lead the federal adoption of the latest commercial financial and administrative management systems.

Unlike other FTS organizations, the new Financial Management Systems Services Center (FMSSC) will not create or maintain contracts for financial or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems unless necessary. Instead, it will serve as a center of accounting and procurement expertise to help agencies determine and meet their system needs through existing contracts.

"We're going to be the mini-[Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, or Fedsim] who will be dealing with financial systems," said Patrick Smith, executive director of the FMSSC.

GSA created the center to replace the required schedule for financial management systems, which will expire Sept. 30. When the Financial Management System Software (FMSS) schedule expires, agencies, which now spend at least $1.8 billion a year on financial systems, will be able to buy certified systems from any contract they choose.

Although many agencies have lobbied for the change in the schedule for years, the change will cause confusion, Smith said. It also could keep smaller agencies from buying the new systems needed to meet federal financial reporting requirements because these agencies do not have the expertise needed to choose a system on their own. "They bought a financial system every 20 years, and they thought they were doing good," Smith said.

Even larger agencies, such as the Commerce Department, can take years and spend millions of dollars on financial management systems and end up with a system that does not satisfy their needs, said Smith, who served as director of the department's Administrative Technology Center before coming to GSA. The Patent and Trademark Office took six months to buy its last financial management system in 1991, according to PTO comptroller Jim Lynch.

GSA hopes the FMSSC will improve the purchases of financial management systems. Like Fedsim, the center will serve as an objective support center, helping agencies define needs and find the right contracts and systems to fit those needs. The center will start by developing a "virtual contract," using contracts already in place - such as the Federal Supply Service schedule - instead of taking the time and money to create a new FMSS contract, Smith said.

A GSA services bureau will provide financial and administrative systems and services. In the end, the FMSSC will be acting almost like a commercial integrator and reseller as well as a center of expertise, Smith said.Within the center, GSA plans to set up a technology center where financial management system and ERP vendors can demonstrate products. The FMSSC also will put together pilots and create an implementation model on the financial and ERP systems for smaller and midsize agencies.

"I believe this is absolutely what the market needs," said Bob Freeman, vice president at American Management Systems Inc., a vendor on the current FMSS schedule. "There's a lot of people out there who don't know a lot about financial systems, and GSA will provide that expertise. The agencies buy financial management systems every 10 to 15 years, and they need to feel that they can go to a trusted supplier and get what they need."

Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates, the consulting firm contracted by FTS to help with market analysis, said the center will help promote financial management throughout government. "I see this office as an office that will bring the vision to the federal market, to promote the concept," he said. "This office can become a center for sharing lessons learned from parallel implementations at the agencies."

Agencies welcome the chance to cut down on the leg work involved as well as to find other federal people to talk to about the experience of buying and using the systems. "If there is some place that could be a one-stop shop for all the vendors, and especially get you in touch with some of the users to find out how the systems work at other places, that would be extremely helpful," Lynch said.

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