Three hot technologies for the millennium

What are the most important new technologies for federal agencies? After more than a year of intensive research and analysis, the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service has come up with three answers:

1. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and services. These powerful systems will enable federal executives to achieve dramatic improvements in internal operating efficiencies while enabling unparalleled flexibility and speed in the retrieval, analysis and delivery of information for policy-makers and citizens.

ERP systems will help eliminate redundancies in data entry, storage and processing between federal financial services, human resources, logistics and service delivery functions. Benefits are derived by using embedded, switch-selectable business process re-engineering modules along with a new generation of distributed, World Wide Web-enabled architectures. When used effectively, ERP systems will provide a new generation of dynamic tools to enable federal executives to optimize agency operations with unprecedented speed and effectiveness.

2. Call center systems and services. A new generation of call center technologies will eliminate many frustrations involved when the public interacts with government. The technologies also will give agency personnel a centralized, responsive point of contact to address internal administrative requirements.

The new call center technologies will not only help reduce the frustrations of "phone tag," but agencies also will be able to use them to improve the quality of each subsequent interaction with the public or agency personnel. By providing a centralized "portal" to the agency for the public and government employees, well-designed call centers will improve the speed of processing requests and resolving problems. They also will make the process of interacting with agencies, externally and internally, more personable. The latest generation of call center technologies was designed to support inquiries via the Web and by telephone.

3. Technology-enhanced learning. Technologies such as distance learning and Web-based training will provide agencies with a cost-effective, convenient way to upgrade the skills of the federal work force. By providing the ability for federal employees to access their training anywhere, anytime, these technologies will fit into the busy schedules of today's federal executives, managers and front-line workers. They reduce the costs and overcome many limits of traditional classroom-based training and easily can be extended to include contractors and industry/citizen groups that also require access to federal training programs.

FTS is initiating three new "product line" groups to help agencies get the most out of these technologies. Here are six reasons why agencies and industry will benefit from using FTS as their partner in deploying ERP, call centers and technology-enhanced learning:

1. FTS will bring leading commercial solutions to the federal arena. Companies in every major sector of the economy are serving customers better and enhancing productivity with ERP systems, call centers and technology-enhanced learning. The government lags behind the private sector in adopting those technologies, but almost every federal agency can use them to better serve the public and to enhance government operations.

2. FTS will help agencies make the best use of powerful new solutions. These technologies are not for the fainthearted. ERP systems offer tremendous promise for improving agencywide financial services, human resources, customer service and logistical management. To fully achieve ERP benefits, agencies must select the right systems and support services to fulfill their objectives, prepare themselves for significant changes in operational processes and procedures, and avoid schedule slippage, cost overruns, technical pitfalls and transition problems.

Call centers and technology-enhanced learning present similar benefits and challenges. FTS is setting up three dedicated teams to make sure that those technologies fulfill their promise for the federal community.

3. FTS will help industry "make the market" for these technologies. The size of the federal market for them is enormous. Preliminary assessments indicate that potential governmentwide demand for each technology exceeds $1 billion annually, but current federal spending has not reached even 5 percent of the potential. FTS is building three product line organizations to stimulate and fulfill the federal demand for those technologies.

Industry needs a strong internal government advocate for these technologies, and FTS needs to leverage the resources of industry to get the job done. The industry partners that join FTS early with a significant investment of sales and marketing resources will achieve the "first mover advantage," which will propel them to market leadership.

4. FTS will enlist commercial market leaders. Because the commercial marketplace is a leader in these three technologies, FTS is targeting industry partners with a successful track record. Some of these commercial market leaders already are major players in the federal arena, and FTS will support their ongoing marketing and sales efforts. Other commercial market leaders have little exposure to federal customers, and FTS will facilitate their entry into the federal marketplace. FTS also will work with its industry partners to introduce key federal agency requirements into the product development planning cycles of their industry partners.

5. FTS will establish pilot programs and shared facilities to showcase the new technologies. Because these technologies are new to most federal users, FTS will do what it takes to demonstrate their value in providing better service to the public and promoting greater efficiency in government operations. FTS is planning multiple pilot programs for each technology, using a combination of FTS seed capital, support from user agencies and support from the vendor community.

In addition to the pilots, which will be dedicated to the needs of individual agencies, FTS will establish shared facilities, where agencies can evaluate the technologies and where smaller agencies can access the technologies on a service bureau basis. FTS will approach both the pilots and shared facilities as joint ventures with their industry partners. Those prepared to make the greatest investments will reap the greatest rewards.

6. FTS will mix and match contract vehicles to meet the needs of federal customers and will create new vehicles only if they are needed. GSA has established a large number of schedules and indefinite delivery, indefinite-quantity contract vehicles. Some of the vehicles include systems and services related to the three technologies. FTS will create new vehicles only where they are needed. The program will place its highest priority on promoting use of the technologies and ensuring successful implementations, not on generating new IDIQ contracts.

FTS has selected leaders for the three new product lines - Patrick Smith for ERP, Henry Lai for call centers and Marc Santini for technology enhanced learning. You'll be hearing from them soon.

Pirnie is the assistant commissioner of the Office of Strategic Planning and Business Development for GSA's Federal Technology Service. Suss is president of Warren H. Suss Associates, a management consulting firm in Jenkintown, Pa.

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