Ask the right questions
- By Robert J. Guerra
- Jul 31, 2000
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.