'Seat' risk oversold

Federal agencies that have resisted the concept of desktop outsourcing as

too radical a solution are making a foolish mistake.

That's the message, in so many words, from the handful of agencies that

have taken advantage of GSA's Seat Management program to turn over management

of their desktop computers, networks and applications to commercial contractors.

In fact, the more seemingly radical elements of desktop outsourcing

turn out to be quite sensible, even if they aren't its strongest selling

points.

For example, some agencies look askance at bundling management services

into straightforward contract line items. It's similar to a plumber offering

to do a big job for a flat fee: How do you know you won't end up spending

more than you would have if you had gone with an hourly rate?

But Seat Management customers say the arrangement has proven to be a

real blessing. For the first time, those agencies can put a real number

on information technology costs, making it easier to manage their overall

IT investments.

Seat also has not had the deleterious impact on agency staff members

that some skeptics had expected. Rather than put people out of their jobs,

outsourcing IT management services has freed the in-house staff to work

on more interesting projects.

And so on. Desktop outsourcing, as radical as it sounds, turns out to

be quite mundane — as mundane, it seems, as the work itself. Industry proponents

of desktop outsourcing say agencies need to view technology services as

they would a utility like electricity — it's vital to daily operations,

but it's not something you should have to think about.

Desktop outsourcing makes that shift in thinking possible.

The industry proponents are right. Especially now, given the dearth

of IT workers across government, agencies should not be in the business

of managing day-to-day systems and network operations, any more than they

should be generating their own electricity.

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