Fine-tuning outsourcing

Forging ahead with its major desktop outsourcing initiative, under the watchful eye of other agencies, NASA finds itself focusing on important details — the users and standardization — as it shifts from setup to delivery.

Under its Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN) contract, the agency is entering the next stage in its long-term transition to seat management.

In February 2001, the agency hired a consultant to assess ODIN. The effort culminated in a report released about four weeks ago, and NASA has begun determining what areas of the program need attention.

"Things are going fairly well from an implementation standpoint. Availability and service delivery are going really well," said Mark Hagerty, ODIN program manager. "We have deployed ODIN services to all of our NASA centers and headquarters. There are 38,000 full seats, 21,000 network-only and 52,000 telephone."

Which means there are plenty of people to please.

"Our biggest challenge is still in the area of customer satisfaction," Hagerty said. "We want our customers happy. We have some work to do in that area."

The agency plans to better evaluate technical support by overhauling its measurement system and using more creative outreach, such as Web-based surveys, said Hagerty, adding that a pilot program is under way at Goddard Space Flight Center to solicit feedback.

"They've been focusing on the traditional implementation issues, and now they're moving into next-stage focus on customer service and metrics," said Alan Balutis, executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils.

In addition to surveys and other soft measures, Balutis said NASA needs to collect some harder data, for instance, on help-desk response time. "There's a range of tools," he said. "Put together, that gives you a better picture."

Currently, ODIN users have the option of submitting feedback on how the tech desk handled a problem, but there hasn't been much to track — only 18 percent to 22 percent of users respond to requests for feedback, according to Hagerty.

Edwin Smith, on-site program manager at headquarters for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), an ODIN contractor, checks comments posted online daily. "A lot of times [the work involves] keeping track of what the customers think," he said.

Another challenge has been frequent add-ons. Some employees, for instance, request software analysis packages on top of the standard configuration, Smith said. "Our technicians may not be familiar with every package," he said.

Also, different versions and releases of Microsoft Corp. Windows are used from center to center, limiting the agency's ability to operate effectively as an enterprise.

"That's an ongoing issue," Balutis said. "One needs some degree of configuration control built in. Otherwise, a couple of years from now, you're back in the same situation you started with."

Hagerty conceded that configuration hadn't been managed tightly enough, but said NASA would make headway this year. In the end, the centers should be using the same version of software. Lee Holcomb, NASA's chief information officer, has developed software standards, but "they're not in a culture yet where mandates will work," Hagerty said.

In some areas, NASA already has recorded progress. ODIN has reduced its workforce and saved modest amounts of money, according to Holcomb.

"The cost management and control aspects are phenomenally wonderful," Hagerty said.

There are other benefits, too. Under ODIN, equipment is upgraded every three years instead of every four, Holcomb said.

Of the original 10 contractors, three — SAIC, OAO Corp. and ACS Government Solutions Group Inc. — currently have business with ODIN.

Soon, they will be working with a new program manager. Hagerty's last day at NASA is Feb. 22. He will continue doing federal IT work, but not seat management, at a Defense Department agency.

"I still passionately believe in this program and [in] outsourcing in general," he said.

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Outsourcing dialogue

At last month's annual Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN) conference, NASA formed government/vendor teams that will draft business plans for the future of outsourcing. Business plans will cover strategic components of ODIN, program metrics, communications and outreach, and partnerships with the contractors.

At the event, General Services Administration officials shared findings from their experience with seat management, said Mark Hagerty, ODIN program manager. Last May, GSA canceled its own task order under its governmentwide seat management contract because of a change in senior management and varying levels of commitment across GSA for desktop outsourcing, he said. However, GSA still supports desktop outsourcing, Hagerty added.

"Even now, there isn't a plethora of information," Hagerty said before the conference. "It's a weakness in the community."

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