Survival of the fittest

Advances in technology are sending the General Services Administration on a quest to redefine the future role of the Federal Technology Service, but how this change is managed will determine success or failure.

Any change in technology will require input from agencies and telecommunications companies as FTS evolves. "We need to have an engaging dialogue with our customers to find out what they need," said John Johnson, assistant FTS commissioner for the Office of Service Development. "We want to evolve our customer base toward convergence but do it in a disciplined way that looks at the good, the bad and the ugly."

Johnson led a panel of technologists from major telecom vendors in a discussion of emerging technologies that converge voice, video and data at the GSA/FTS Network Services Conference 2001 in Las Vegas April 2-5. At issue are promising technologies — such as voice over IP and wireless networking — and barriers to their implementation, such as government billing practices. "The technology is a given," said Steven LeFrancois, the technical director of WorldCom Government Markets. "It still boils down to a policy and management-of-change issue. In order for convergence to be effective, IT and telecom need to be married together. You can't have IT and telecom staffs working separately."

The communication will be ongoing: Johnson said he plans to hold similar forums every six months as he works toward integrating FTS' information technology and telecom offerings to achieve greater efficiency for customers.

Both internal and external changes will need to take place. As the transition to the FTS 2001 telecommunications contract reaches its delayed completion, FTS must articulate its usefulness to government customers.

FTS plans to continue to act like a business in negotiating low prices with vendors and offering a variety of services for a fee, said Sandra Bates, FTS commissioner. FTS is prepared to offer wireless, Internet and security technology in the future, she said. However, Bates believes the real value of FTS will be in its ability to help agencies manage the change to new technology by offering converged solutions and using Sprint and WorldCom Inc.'s networks internationally.

Bates gave an upbeat address to conference attendees, who included representatives from federal agencies and telecom and technology vendors.

"Our strategy remains solid as we move to the future," Bates said. She noted that federal agencies paid $150 million less in 2000 for telecommunications services than they had the previous year. This year, the government is expected to save $250 million.

Bates is likely to cite those figures again when she defends GSA's management of the FTS 2001 transition at a hearing scheduled to take place April 26 before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.

GSA is at a critical juncture, said James Payne, senior vice president of Qwest Government Systems Division. "It's absolutely paramount that they revisit their strategy," he said. "There are successes in FTS 2001, but they're asking us to take these anecdotal stories and declare it all a success." Payne said he is concerned that GSA's role in telecommunications contracts is influencing the award of other contracts outside FTS 2001, such as the Social Security Administration's contract with WorldCom for an automatic call distribution network. The General Accounting Office reported this month that in December it upheld a protest by Rockwell Electronic Commerce Corp. regarding the SSA contract. The company maintained that the price evaluation of the bids in that contract was unfair because SSA did not evaluate FTS 2001 services as part of the cost of WorldCom's solution. Payne said he wants GSA's role in that contract investigated.

MORE INFO

Convergence

The General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service hopes

its government customers will buy technology and telecommunications services

as "converged services" consisting of voice, video and data.

Who is FTS working with? The FTS Office of Service Development will

sponsor forums twice a year to bring together federal customers and industry

representatives to discuss new trends and the best way to implement new

technology at federal agencies.

At the first forum in Las Vegas, federal representatives were asked

to complete a questionnaire about what types of technologies their agencies

use and which aspects of the acquisition process hinder their use of new

technologies.

What's happening inside FTS? Internally, FTS will work to make sure

information technology and telecommunications services are viewed in a unified

way, and that the solutions offered to government agencies by FTS meet agencies'

needs for cost-efficient services.

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