Ask the right questions

With the flurry of seat management articles lately, I can't help but wonder

if the federal information technology community will ever "get it" when

it comes to how best to use this powerful resource.

Seat Management is not a concept, it's a multiple-award contract run

by the General Services Administration and designed to change how federal

agencies support IT assets.

Really, any organization that operates a local- or wide-area network

already has enough desktop infrastructure to justify the support that seat

management provides, such as outsourcing hardware, software, maintenance

and help desks. For most agencies, the question comes down to whether to

use a government or commercial source to obtain it.

In answering that question, our community tends to ask tactical questions

first and more significant questions second. For example, "How much can

I afford?" seems to be foremost in everyone's mind. Or we think, "Well,

I'm spending $125 a seat now, so that's what I can afford tomorrow."

Instead, we should think: "Well, I'm paying each of my people $120,000

a year, and our system is frustrating, cumbersome and inefficient, so no

one uses it. But if I can improve the productivity of the staff by 5 percent,

my return on investment will be about $150,000 a year."

The point of seat management is to improve productivity and staff morale

by optimizing IT resources. If an agency deems it best to outsource IT support

so that it can focus on an internal IT strategy, so be it. But then the

agency needs to tell its contractors what measurable productivity they expect

from its IT investment.

Today, agencies put together requirements by predefining technical solutions,

which vendors compete for on price. Those same agencies then become frustrated

when the technical solutions they have defined does not meet their objectives.

That process seems like going to a doctor, telling the doctor what to

prescribe, how much we will pay and then becoming upset if the medicine

does not cure the illness. How can any company effectively bid to a specific

solution before it diagnoses the agency need?

Seat is not a panacea. To provide a meaningful seat solution, we need

to understand the culture of the customer. The first question is, "Does

a well-managed IT support system yield measurable, incremental benefits?"

Then, an agency can ask, "Does an external source manage my IT support and

deliver key benefits that cannot be gained by managing it internally?"

If the answers are "yes," then an agency should conduct a total cost

of ownership and a return on investment study to create a government that

works better and costs less. Using GSA's Seat Management or Federal Supply

Service contracts are two proven ways of achieving those goals.

But going it alone is often fraught with risk, especially if an agency

has not yet managed a truly solutions-driven, performance-based project.

—Guerra is president of Robert J. Guerra and Associates, a consulting firm.

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