Taking seat to task

After creating a contract that is changing the way the federal government

performs desktop outsourcing, the General Services Administration cautions

other agencies that contracting out may not be trouble-free.

The $9 billion Seat Management contract created by GSA's Federal Technology

Service in 1998 is intended to provide agencies with a way to outsource

their everyday network, hardware and software management to a single vendor.

But when GSA awarded its own Seat Management task order, it discovered that

vendors need more program and policy assistance upfront than expected.

GSA has also had to navigate around standardization and management problems

and surmount difficulties caused by agency and vendor personnel not clearly

understanding what services were to be provided.

Every agency should be alert for such problems when entering into Seat

Management contracts, federal officials said.

"The need to prepare is something that we've been saying all along,"

said Chris Wren, program manager for the Seat Management program office

that created and manages the contract. "Seat Management is not a silver

bullet. If you have not done your homework upfront, it won't make your life

easy."

GSA, which awarded its task order on the Seat Management contract to

Litton/PRC Inc. in December 1998, this month decided to develop a second

task order. PRC will finish its implementation at Washington, D.C.-area

offices during the next few months, and the new vendor will compete with

PRC for the business at the rest of the D.C. offices and in GSA's eight

other regions.

GSA's D.C.-area implementation includes support for more than 2,100

employees. But late last summer the agency started to question PRC's ability

to serve that many seats and expand to the additional 12,000 regional employees.

"We were concerned about the support that PRC was able to provide,"

said Bill Piatt, GSA's chief information officer. "We were pushing them

very fast, and as we got into the last month, it appeared we were stretching

their resources."

Part of the problem was the lack of understanding within GSA of what

the Seat Management contract is supposed to do for employees, Piatt said.

To solve the problem, GSA now has a single person on the Seat Management

implementation team dedicated to such awareness.

PRC also worked to increase communication with GSA employees about what

to expect from Seat Management.

"That is a significant lesson learned, to have a team that is focused

on nothing but communication," said Cora Carmody, CIO at PRC. "There is

no shortage of the handholding that needs to be done. When you are taking

an organization through such a cultural change, you need to be communicating

human to human."

GSA also found that the lack of standard hardware and software within

the agency slowed the implementation.

"Our lack of standardization internally complicated the entire matter,"

Piatt said.

Agencies considering Seat Management, including the Commerce Department

and the Army Materiel Command, should not expect the contract to organize

their agency without additional upfront work, said Judy Gerber, program

manager for Seat Management implementation at the Treasury Department's

headquarters.

"Lack of standardization is a problem; the best way to manage is to

have standardization," she said. "It's easier to manage, it's easier to

support, it's easier to maintain."

Treasury's departmental offices have been working with standard information

technology for several years, with a group in the CIO's office determining

the standards.

The CIO gained complete financial control over IT investments almost

10 years ago, and both factors have played heavily in the agency's Seat

Management success thus far, Gerber said.

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